Sharing GTD Systems at Home (Video Podcast) - Next Action Associates

In this episode of Change Your Game with GTD®, Todd Brown and Robert Peake respond to questions about making GTD work at home, and in particular when you should–and should not–share systems with your family.

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00:00 Speaker 1: Hello everyone and welcome to this episode of The Change Your Game with GTD Podcast. As usual, I’m here with Robert Peake, and I am Todd Brown. Our goal in this podcast is to help you to get the most out of the getting things done methodology and thereby have a life which is as productive as you want it to be, reducing the sources of friction in the ways that you make things happen, and at the same time, enabling some mental clarity and enabling the ability to shut off from work when you no longer wanna be focused on work. And Robert, as you and I were talking at the beginning of the session, just before we clicked record, we were talking about the fact that there seems to have been a little bit of a trend in the requests for topics that have come in from our listeners and our viewers. And specifically, a lot of people have been asking questions that have to do with GTD in the personal sphere. And I think with the end of the year coming up and the holidays for many people coming up, that that’s probably not a bad topic for us.

01:10 S1: How do you make sure that in environments or in situations like the end of the year, where you got so much going on that is not professional, that you, both you as an individual, but also you as maybe a member of your family, again, make it through the holidays without any major broken bones or hurt feelings, that you get everything that you need to get done, but that it’s an, as far as possible, an enjoyable experience for everyone. So maybe if we start a little bit, talk about one of the questions that came in, Robert, is I think if I’m remembering this right, was to what extent does it make sense to share lists? Do I have that right?

01:55 Speaker 2: Yeah, lists and calendar. So both of those have come up as kinda hot topics. And the particularly the idea of in your household how do you manage different shared calendars or possibly shared lists, independent of the tool, is that a good idea? How do you do that? So initial thoughts?

02:20 S1: I guess the first thought that I have is just make sure if you’re going to share lists or share calendars, make sure that everybody’s got the information that they need, that there is the… They’re being informed as they wanna be informed. And I think it’s also pretty critical that you make sure that the, as we like to say about a good organizational system, that the edges are clean. So that if I’m, for example, if I’m sharing a list of things to do, that it’s pretty clear who’s gonna be doing what. I’m just reflecting on some coachings that I’ve done over the years with executives and their assistants, and quite often in those kinds of environments, we will set them up so that they share reminder lists, but we also make sure that they’re always in a position to be really clear about whose responsibility is where and who’s got to do what. I don’t know, what’s your experience been in this area?

03:24 S2: No, I think that’s a great, a great tip, both for lists and calendar, that you really need to know who owns what. And pretty much in this model, it’s either you own it or you’re being informed about it. My wife and I share a calendar and we still heavily make use of the calendar invitation feature because, basically, the theory there is if it’s not on my calendar, it’s not really something I’ve committed to or something that I necessarily need to have in front of me as a really important reminder that day. So as a result, I can toggle off or on the overlay of my wife’s calendar and know that that’s really an FYI type situation.

04:09 S2: I just go, “Oh, you have this client at this time, you’re gonna be out over here on this day.” It’s information about what she’s committed to do, but the place where I have actively booked things on my calendar, either I put those in myself or she’s actually sent me an invitation ’cause we’re doing something together or it’s something we both need to know about, so she’s getting it on my calendar, via the calendar invitations feature. I think a lot of people don’t realize that that’s just as useful and applicable in the personal sphere as it is, as most people know, in booking meetings in the professional space.

04:45 S2: So that’s something that certainly has helped us to, as you say, create that clean edge around… ’cause I think, I think the traditional thing is the family has a calendar up on the refrigerator or something and it, usually it’s mom or whoever the more kind of the person is that’s at home all the time, is scribbling on the different appointments and things, but in the modern day and age I think you really do need to have more clarity than that about who’s doing what, who’s committed to what, and who’s simply being informed about what the others are doing.

05:18 S1: Yeah, I think… And yeah, as you said that, what occurred to me was I know an awful lot of domestic situations where it would be… It would possibly be the father or one of the males in the house who was the person who was more organized and spending more time in the calendar. And I think that’s really an interesting one. And as you said, some families keep a calendar on the fridge, that’s actually our house. So we have a shared calendar that is actually in paper form. This is kind of my wife’s preference, she prefers to work with paper, and she’s not a huge fan of digital solutions for things. And so what we do is probably every other week, it’s not generally a weekly thing, but every other week, we’re doing exactly the kind of review that you’re talking about, where we’re looking out into the future, we’re talking about who’s gonna be where, when, what we need to be aware of, is there anything that’s coming up that where some preparation is required and therefore one of us needs to be taking some actions to get prepared for those things.

06:00 S1: So what I find really interesting about it is, it’s a great framework, I think, for generating conversation, about where lines are drawn, and who’s got what. And then after we’ve had those conversations, the calendar is back up on the wall, it will have been updated with Todd’s gonna be in Frankfurt on these two days and Debbie’s going to Scotland for these three days or whatever. So it will be up-to-date in terms of the calendar will reflect our upcoming reality, but then we will also then… We will have also taken some next actions into our individual systems, which we then are gonna execute in order to prepare for the things that are coming up in the calendar.

07:04 S1: So yeah, I need to put my hand up and say even in the 21st century, that’s our solution. And by the way, I don’t think there’s any shame in paper. I think, generally speaking, paper has a lot of advantages. I pretty regularly, when I do seminars, I’ll ask the room, “Hey, who takes paper to meetings?” and pretty much every hand in the room goes up. There are lots of situations where paper is preferable to some of the digital solutions that are out.

07:37 S2: Absolutely, yeah. I’m thinking of one of our core lists that we live and die by, it’s a paper list called groceries. And both of us, it’s our responsibility to put stuff down. When we run out of cumin, cumin goes on the grocery list. And then, it happens to be my wife who does the grocery order, but that’s an example, a classic example of capturing in the moment rather than having to inventory the whole pantry and fridge and whatever else prior to a grocery order. We capture in the moment, what we’ve run out of. We, more recently, we’ve also started on the run-up to a grocery order, putting down stuff to make sure not to get this time.

08:27 S2: [chuckle] We’re drowning in pickles or whatever it is, we actually have a not-list to just make sure that we don’t on auto pilot carry over some of those frequently ordered items. “We got too much.” So yes. And that’s all paper, and that all works extremely well to make sure that we get the kinds of foods we want with the regularity that we want and need that to happen in. So that’s an example of a shared list that works really well because one of us owns the execution of this, both of us own the collection. Collection and clarifying means pretty self-evident what coffee is or cumin, or whatever we need. But yeah, absolutely, paper is the perfect approach for that.

09:07 S2: I think a lot of times, people get caught up in the dazzle of the technology itself, and you can forget that the principles you use for a paper calendar, the principles use for paper lists, whether it’s a grocery list or a list of things to get when you’re out and about, or any of these other kind of paper manifestation, like the bills to pay go into a tray and you do the bills all at once. These simple physical approaches are the stuff you do there that works well, really does apply equally to all of these fancy digital see it six ways in four different views in 3D VR with your whatever, the principles apply there just as well. So if you have… One of my tips where you have any paper-based, lo-fi, simple approaches that are working for you, carry on with those, but also see if you can deconstruct why those are working and make sure you’re doing just the same things in the high-tech approaches as well.

10:08 S1: Yeah, as you’re talking about it, the other thing that I’m reminded of is that we also make use of… There are loads of tools, many of them free, some of them which are pay a little bit sort of tools which enable you to have shared calendars in the Cloud, and we do actually make use of some of those as well for trying to coordinate calendars among several members of our family, of our extended family. So that provides us with one place to go to find out what are the arrangements for this or that, this or that family activity. And that works, that works really well for us as well. It does mean though, and this is I think always one of the tensions in anybody’s GTD system, is how many places do you need to look in order to find the information that’s helpful for you?

11:04 S1: I think one of the big ahas for a lot of people in the work that we do is the fact that we recommend really getting very serious about consolidation of reminders. So I don’t want to, when I’m ready to go and be productive, I don’t want to have to look in eight different places to find reminders. That’s just… That’ll be frustrating, it’ll take a lot more energy than it needs to, and I’m unlikely, because not all those reminders are in the same place, I’m unlikely then to have the confidence that I’m focused on the right thing. So we do spend a lot of time talking about consolidation and having a core system that is in a place wherever that is, whether it’s digital or physical.

11:47 S1: So again, I mentioned we’ve got this web-based shared calendar, which works very well for us, but it’s also the kind of thing that you can’t, as soon as you’ve got any element of your organizational system, any new element that… You need to make some commitment to reviewing it on a regular basis because any element of your system that you don’t look at just causes stress, it creates stress, it doesn’t relieve it. So yeah, I guess that’s a little bit of… That’s a little bit of good news for those folks who are just thinking, “Yeah, enough about the paper, let’s talk about the digital world.” But a little bit there about the trade-off. Again, make sure you’re reviewing everything appropriately.

12:27 S2: Absolutely. I think that’s a really important point, to review it and to review it potentially with the others involved, so that you have some kind of point to check in. This stuff delves a little bit into one of the questions we got was about GTD in the household and specifically, how do you handle non-GTD partners, people that haven’t been inculcated, inducted into the heady ranks of GTD practitioners. And I think one big key is reviewing together. Your systems, if you’re tracking things, having that opportunity to come together with your other half or halves or whatever fractions that the house holds and to review, just as you said you were doing with the calendar. A few other kind of key points where you can effectively manage your own GTD practice and support the household without having to without having to inflict or mandate or try and get others to do the GTD thing with you, I think basically it comes down to you need to keep a waiting for list that’s good.

13:33 S2: You need to keep probably a projects delegated list that’s good. And you need to keep an agendas list and have those frequent opportunities to check in. How’s it going with this, that, or the other. Those really… Armed with those, your colleagues, your partners, anyone around you can be not necessarily doing GTD or doing it in the canonical precise way that you’re doing it. And you can still get really good outcomes and you can still manage to work as a team, ’cause that’s basically one of the functions of the family is to be a team just like your colleagues are part of your team. Again, without necessarily having to have a fully fledged GTD system amongst every other member. I don’t know if you… What’s been your experience with non… I don’t know if you have any non-GTDers left in your… [chuckle] if your aura of GTD evangelism has just engulfed everyone in your wake, but what’s your experience? If you have any left.

14:33 S1: I think… Well, first off, absolutely, there are people in my family and my extended family who are aware, obviously, what GTD’s about and have heard of it and by no means has everyone in my family been required or been interested in implementing GTD. But coming back to your point, I think you’re right, a really important question to ask is if I’ve got somebody in my world, whether it’s my partner or whether it’s a colleague, who isn’t doing GTD as it were, isn’t okay with the language and the concepts, then how do I arm myself in a way that makes sure that I can at least have the confidence that I’m interacting with them in the most effective way? So that’s kind of one thing. But I think the other thing that you can consider is as it were bringing GTD into the shared space in ways where you don’t have to give everybody a copy of the book and require that they read it, you can just introduce some elements, I think, of a shared system that would come across as common sense, and un-objectionable.

15:44 S1: So one thing we see quite often is a shared projects list for a team, and quite often those are kept in in some sort of shared technologies in a corporate environment that’s set up on a server somewhere. But you can have the same kind of thing, of course, at the family level, right? You can have a shared projects list. And that’s not to say that you spend every meal time with a furrowed brow and talking about status on the various projects, but in my experience, it can be a tremendously stress relieving activity simply to sit down, start with a joint mind sweep. Don’t call it that, but just take your beloved by his or her elbow and walk around your house and identify the things that need doing. So just a physical scan of your environment. And then sit down with that… Armed with that list and just agree who’s gonna be doing what.

16:45 S1: And I found in a lot of cases, and this has been in coachings primarily, that that kind of activity has been really, really helpful. And again, you don’t need to be saying, “Well, what we’re doing now is capturing, and then later we’re gonna clarify, and then we’re gonna have a project list which is part of organizing. Here’s what the best practice in organizing looks like.” Again, I think, probably very few people would push back on the idea that agreeing what needs to be done in the house and who’s responsible for it is… Very few people would say that’s an unreasonable activity or that’s something that’s not worth doing. And by the way, I’m not saying that it’s not… That it’s necessarily friction-free, some of those conversations, but it can bring out I think some very helpful ideas and agree roles and agree… It can help us to figure out if someone is feeling like they’re doing too much. Well, maybe that needs to be addressed. So it’s, again, it’s like a lot of what we do when we get into in GTD, it’s not for the faint of heart, on the one hand. But at the same time as I say, this allows you to sort of get some of the benefits of GTD into the home as it were, without having your partner or whoever it is, your other family member, feel as though they’ve been hit over the head with it.

18:08 S2: Yeah, absolutely, I think that’s a big key with all of this, is… Not curbing your enthusiasm, but certainly channelling it in practical ways, and I like… I really like what you said about understanding the shared responsibilities ’cause it is a natural extension, it is a very practical common sense thing. Families all the time decide at a very tactical level who’s picking up the kids or walking the dog, right? And so this is just saying, “Can we bump it up a bit?” My wife and I do this all the time. It’s like, “Who’s driving the tax filing this year? We’re gonna file together and can we have someone on point about this one? And you’ll come to me when you need stuff and you’ll make sure it gets over the finish line,” and it’s perfectly fine.

18:57 S2: It’s just as normal to us these days to say who owns this project as it is to say what all families do, which is, “Who owns this particular discreet activity,” like being somewhere at a certain time or fixing a meal or preparing the bath tub. So we’re constantly, I think negotiating and deciding who owns what at the action level already in all families. But I think it’s a really great opportunity to extend that up to some of the more multi-step or longer term things, and say, “Hey can you kinda drive this one and pull me in as needed?” Try It. It may be totally weird in your family culture. It might be not. This actually really helps so that I understand what I’m on point about and I’m not assuming the other person is the one on point about it and we’re both kind of… We’re both in a waiting mode or something like that. So yeah, I think a lot of this is common sense. Common sense extended, if you like.

20:00 S1: Yes, yeah, so tell us. So when the tax project comes up, do you fight over who gets it?

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20:07 S2: Oh yeah, who gets that one. Yeah. Yeah, that’s a very popular project for us to take on. Yeah, we… We have to alternate each year because otherwise it’s not fair. The person that doesn’t get to do it that year feels really… Starts to feel really…

20:21 S1: Completely… I completely understand. Yes, absolutely.

20:24 S2: Yeah. Absolutely.

20:24 S1: Right. Well, look. So I know we’re kinda coming to the end of… The end of time at this point, Robert. What would you… If you were going to make some recommendations to somebody. And again, let’s keep the season in mind, right? We’re coming to the end of the… Coming toward the end of the year, anyway. What would you be recommending to people in terms of how they… Let’s imagine that they’re sort of starting from scratch. That they haven’t really implemented any of this in a shared way, but their goal was, “Yeah, I wanna get through the holiday season in the most pleasurable way possible.” What would be some sort of top tips, first things to think about, first things to try?

21:05 S2: Yeah, well, I think the first thing is get a piece of paper and just individually see what’s stressing you out. Is it gift-giving this year? Is it preparing an event or a meal for friends? Is it… ’cause this is a potentially, a bit of a pressure cooker time, for some people. Relieve a little bit of that individually by getting it out, by doing a little bit of a mind sweep and going, “Okay. What’s on my mind?” Then from there, you might encourage the people around you to do the same or similar, and just kinda bring it all together in a big pot. And you just kinda say, “Okay. Well, these are our outcomes. These are the things we all agree we want to have happen this year around the holidays and around the end of the year and whatever we’re doing. Can we make some agreements about who’s kind of on point for what?” That doesn’t mean you’re doing it all, but it means you’re kinda looking after it and bringing the rest of us in, as needed, to make those things work.

22:02 S2: It’s amazing how often families just kinda operate on default. It’s like, “Well, so-and-so did it last year, and we’re just gonna assume and rollover.” So make that conscious. Make it conscious what has your attention, what has other’s attention, and see if you can bring the group attention together in a way that feels fair, that feels conscious, that feels like you are acknowledging that, “Hey, there’s a bunch of projects here. There’s a bunch of stuff to do. It’s gonna be fun, it’s gonna be wonderful. It’s gonna be connecting and celebrating and all of that, but we also wanna know who’s doing what, who’s on point for the logistics of it all.”

22:41 S1: And I think that’s a really good observation, that part of what I think is important is that people are recognizing not just what… Not just who has responsibility for each thing, but also what does the desired outcome look like? So what is the project in GTD terms? Is the project that we’ve made it all the way through to the 2nd of January, everybody’s really had a great time, reconnected, enjoyed whatever activities they enjoy… I guess what I’m getting at, is paint as vivid a picture as you can of what a positive outcome would be. And that, as you said there, that can be a really interesting co-creation kind of activity. What would good look like? Rather than just sort of, “Okay. Well, we know the gift-giving holidays are coming up and New Year’s Eve is coming up, and all of that. And it’s been stressful in the past and we’re just gonna be worried and stressed about it now.” If we start to focus a little bit more on, “What would this look like if it was a great experience?” That’ll help to ensure that it’s more likely that that’s what the experience is. It will be… It’s not a guarantee, but it’s… But if you start to say, “Well, this is what I would like our family dinner to be like,” then the chances are better that it will be like that.

24:06 S2: Yeah. And just as in a team setting, when you open that up, “What’s our vision here?” You get buy-in right away. It’s a lot harder to be begrudging about anything or to criticize anything when early on, everyone’s pitched in their bit about what we want this year. So, yeah. I think it could be very powerful.

24:29 S1: Well, thank you all for joining us for this episode of The Change Your Game with GTD podcast. Again, as always, if you have suggestions, topics you’d like us to talk about, we’ve in the last year or so talked many times about topics that have been suggested by our listeners and our viewers. And we’re very happy, as I say, to take requests and so please do be in touch. From me and from Robert, thank you very much for being with us, and we look forward to being with you next time.

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