Having Fun with GTD (Video Podcast) - Next Action Associates

In our latest Change Your Game with GTD® podcast, we discuss how Getting Things Done® (GTD®) can open up space for creativity, leisure time, pursuing hobbies and interests, and quite simply – having fun.

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0:00:05.2 Robert Peake: So welcome everyone to another Change Your Game with GTD Podcast. My name is Robert Peake. As always, I’m here with Todd Brown.

0:00:11.8 Todd Brown: Hello everyone.

0:00:15.1 RP: And today we’re going to as always, talk about how you can use something called the “Getting things done,” or GTD methodology. A framework, a methodology that’s helped I think probably millions of people at this point, given the reach of the book and the work that we do to support its education in just getting their head clear, creating space in their lives by systematizing their approach to commitments. So that basically, you can stop using your head, you can start using better systems, you can create some freedom and a sense of focus at the same time in your life and your work. So if that sounds good or even if you’re a long time GTD practitioner, stick around. Our goal with this podcast in particular is to just kind of elucidate some of the different aspects of that. What’s worked for us, personally, what we’ve seen work in the client base, the wide range of clients in different industries and sectors and walks of life that we’ve worked with over time, to get this and to apply this.

0:01:21.6 RP: So, just before we kinda went on air, as it were, Todd and I were talking about, “What should we talk about?” And the nice thing is there’s just always a rich base of opportunity there. There’s a lot that can be talked about because GTD… My experience kind of intersects with everything in life, everything that you might have a commitment toward, which is to say you have some energy and attention toward. So wherever you’re going in your life, if you want to, GTD can kinda go there with you. And we talk a lot about work, we talk a lot about work because frankly, you spent a lot of your life, time, and energy there. But what came up and what seemed fun for us to talk about is, is fun itself, and how GTD I guess, can support having fun in life. So Todd, why don’t you kick us off? What drew you to that topic? What are some of your kind of initial thoughts on… Again, the fact that we so often talk about work and productivity in a very sort of serious and adult fashion. What are your initial thoughts on GTD and fun?

0:02:36.5 TB: Well I think… And you know this is… You’re right, we basically picked this topic about three minutes ago. But one thought that’s come to mind for me is that there’s sort of two angles you could take on this. One is, to what extent does GTD and the practice of GTD enable fun in other bits of your life? And at the same time, there’s an interesting question around, what does it look like if, as you make your way through your day and as you make things happen, as you engage in productive activity, to what extent can that be made fun? So sort of two things. And I think the question, in some ways the easy one is, “What does GTD enable in terms of fun?” It helps us to keep our heads clear, it helps us to be very aware of the things that we’re not doing at any given time.

0:03:32.5 TB: And because we have that knowledge, we can make decisions about, “Hey, you know what? Yeah, I’ve got loads of commitments, things that I at some point will need to be doing. But at the moment, I’m just gonna decide… Eh… Eh… I’m gonna go… ” And speaking personally, “I’m gonna go play the base for a half an hour.” And that’s okay, because that enables the fact that I know what I’m not doing enables… Not just that I can then go off and play the base, but it also enables me to do that in really clear-headed ways, so that I can really enjoy that, engage with it and enjoy that activity as far as I possibly can. So what do you reckon? What kind of fun does the practice of GTD enable outside of your… As it were, your productive world?

0:04:21.0 RP: Yeah. As you were talking, I really like that idea, that it enables you to kind of set things aside and go have fun. So it occurs to me that, in a way, accomplishing things is fun. To be completing things, accomplishing things, doing things you want to do in your life is… There’s some level of fun about that. Or at least let’s say satisfaction in doing that. But also not accomplishing things is kind of fun too, in a way. There’s this idea, I wish… Credit where credit is due. If you Google it… If you Google “The dark playground”, you’ll get who originated this idea. But the basic idea is that if you’re putting off important things, and it’s still… So let’s say in your case, Todd, you gotta do your taxes, but instead you’re playing the base.

0:05:15.6 RP: It’s fun, but it’s a kind of slightly guilty fun that doesn’t feel totally right. There’s a little bit of an unease to it. You’re playing in what they call “the dark playground,” rather than… There’s a sense of it needing to be a bit secret or you’re kind of tricking yourself or what have you. Rather than that full confidence feeling of going, “You know what, I have time set aside, I know the taxes are on track,” or, “I’ve done the bit I said I’d do. I’ve handled my commitments and I can really just fully be present, guilt-free. This is my me time, and I’m happy with that.”

0:05:52.4 RP: This weekend, in my case… So I grew up in the desert, so the idea of doing a variety of activities on a sunny day was kinda no problem, because they were all sunny days, every single one. When my wife, my English wife, moved to Southern California, and I suggested we go to a matinee, she said, “We can’t, the sun is out. We have to do some kind of outdoor activity.” And after a few years of living there, she finally realized, actually going inside an air conditioned place and watching a movie is kind of appropriate, because the sun’s gonna be out. I’m here now, the sun isn’t always out. This weekend, it was kind of for the first time. And so, my experience was I had some stuff that needed doing. Like really need to get through my personal inbox in particular.

0:06:47.7 RP: And what I realized is that I have confidence that I will be able to get through that comprehensively and well, and handle all of that in due course. In the past, I would often look at that and go, “Oh, well, I’ve gotta kinda do my chores first, and then I can have fun.” But the reality is these days, I did a lot of my personal processing after I’d spent the daylight hours having fun, doing what I felt like. And that’s different than the kinda dark playground experience of, I know I’m putting it off, and I’m not quite sure that I’m gonna get to it or whatever, ’cause I’ve made a very conscious agreement with myself. “I’m gonna go out and enjoy the outdoors while the outdoors are enjoyable, and then I’m gonna shift focus as appropriate. Almost kinda seasonally, if you like, to doing more of the indoor things when that’s appropriate. And I know I’m gonna get through it all. I know I’m gonna handle it all.

0:07:41.1 RP: So, in a way not accomplishing or just doing what I feel like or having unstructured time during the weekend was fun. And then in a way, equally, thanks to GTD and thanks to this systematic approach to being able to get through what’s come at me in terms of new inputs and get it captured into a trusted system, accomplishing all of that and getting to an empty inbox and seeing that was also kinda fun. So it’s kind of interesting that it both enables, I guess, guilt-free downtime, in my experience, but also enables me to set my sights on specific things I do want to do that are structured, that are defined and equally feel good about that stuff. So… I don’t know.

0:08:30.3 TB: Yeah.

0:08:30.8 RP: Go ahead. Yeah, what do you think?

0:08:32.2 TB: As you’re saying that, I’m just taken back to the pre-GTD in my own life. And one of the things I vividly remember was an awful lot of times I’d be watching a movie, or I’d be at a theater thing, or I was watching a sporting event or whatever I was doing. And quite often, I would find that I was really not enjoying it, because I had a whole lot of other things on my mind, and I just had this nagging doubt. I had this sense that, “Hey, I really should be doing something else.” So I think this whole idea of recreation or down time, to use a more modern… The more modern phrase maybe… Is avoidance… Was kind of the sense that I came away with. And I think it’s been one of the really profound changes in my life that GTD has enabled, is I can choose when to shut off.

0:09:25.2 TB: And I can know that, yeah all those things that I know that I need to do, they’re gonna be there in the morning or a day after or whenever I choose to focus on them. But in the meantime, I can shut off with a clear head. When I go into an evening these days, since I’ve been doing GTD, I really do go into the evening with a clear head, fully able to engage with Debbie over dinner now that we’re in lockdown, and I look forward very soon to be able to engage fully with friends and family face-to-face as that happens. But I think that’s a really important thing about all of this, is enabling that kind of freedom. And I like what you said as well about this idea that GTD itself can be fun. I was reading over the weekend an article in one of the newspapers about the fact that they were doing analyses of people’s New Year’s resolutions, now that it’s February. And pretty much all of those New Year’s resolutions have been completely lost.

0:10:35.4 RP: Oops.

[chuckle]

0:10:38.0 TB: Oops. Yeah… But they said that… And I forget the number but let’s call it… It was something like 50% or… 50% or 60% of people… Something like that, had included, “Get organized,” as part of their New Year’s resolutions. That that was a really common thing. And I thought about that, and I’m sure that on the one hand, a lot of people say that that’s their resolution, because they recognize that they’re feeling a bit out of control. That they feel like, “Wow, there’s just too much, and I feel like I’m sort of awash in commitments.” Not managing them particularly well. Not really enjoying the process, etcetera. So I’m sure that’s part of it. But at the same time, I’m guessing that they’re also acknowledging the fact that, as you say, being organized, getting organized, whatever kinda words you wanna put behind that, actually can be really enjoyable.

0:11:29.8 RP: The experience of flow that comes with having implemented GTD is powerful stuff. It’s one of the reasons… And I’ve said this in a previous podcast, but it’s one of the reasons that when I talk to people who are interested in buying GTD… Quite often, people in HR departments who are working on wellness programs will come to us and say, “Hey, we’d really like to do GTD… ” Based on… We’ve done a little bit of advertising around this. The thing about GTD is it makes the act of being productive, if you will, the act of working, less stressful, more enjoyable, and who doesn’t want a bit of that?

0:12:11.5 RP: Yeah. Yeah.

0:12:12.0 TB: I think that’s an important part of it as well. I’m curious, when you think about your own GTD system and your own GTD practices, what kind of stands out for you as the thing that’s most enjoyable? Is there anything in particular?

0:12:28.8 RP: Well, it’s funny, I would say doing a really good… The effect of doing a really good weekly review is I think, very enjoyable for me. The lead-up to it, I will say 21 years in, I still sometimes have some resistance to doing that. To going and looking at it all. But more and more that resistance is defeated by the experience at the end of it and knowing that I will feel frankly, refreshed and a lot more relaxed and back into this headspace of, “Oh, okay, I got it. It’s under control.”… It’s moving along. Things are in their right place. It’s a great feeling. I think it’s the reason that so many people do gravitate toward the physical equivalent of this, which is the spring cleaning, the clear out, the Marie Kondo-type approach of getting your physical environments where it feels like things are appropriately organized.

0:13:33.0 RP: They’re in a place that makes sense and that works for you. It’s refreshing. It’s incredibly refreshing. And I think it’s interesting that for a lot of people, the weekly review can feel like it’s potentially a big, onerous thing. Or, “Oh, I’ve just gotta push myself through it and do it,” and whatever. But more and more as I get in touch with, consistently, the result and the experience at the end of it, more and more, I go, “Alright, let’s do this.” With a smile on my face rather than a grimace of determination and discipline. What about you? I’m curious what you enjoy about GTD. And also part two of the question, is there a fun project currently on your list that you’d like to share that’s purely for fun?

0:14:20.8 TB: Oh, okay. Well, as you were talking about your own experience, I was reminded of a phrase… I’ve been a runner for a lot of years, and one of the things that I read many years ago from another runner was, “I hate running. I love having run.” And when you were talking about your weekly review, that quote came to mind for me. I don’t particularly hate running, just for the record, but that really did kind of resonate for me at the time, was this idea that we do this in the interest of the reward that comes at the end.

0:14:54.1 RP: We have the exact same thing in the writing community, I think it was Robert Hass, the poet Laureate who said, “It’s hell writing, and it’s hell not writing. The only good state is having written.”

[laughter]

0:15:04.5 RP: Same thing, same idea.

0:15:07.3 TB: Got there, got there. It’s an interesting one. I think for me there is, as you say, there is a real satisfaction that comes with the clarity that you have when you’ve done a review of all of your commitments, and you’re really clear, “What are all of the things that I could now be focused on?” And I suppose that satisfaction for me as I think about my GTD practice it comes in stages. Just having captured everything is a huge plus. Even before I’ve done any clarifying and organizing, as long as I’ve captured everything that makes me go, “Okay, well, at least it’s all there in the ins somewhere.” In my various capture devices somewhere.” And then going beyond that and making decisions about what things mean for me, again, brings more clarity, brings me more relaxation. So I suppose it’s a kind of a progressive thing.

0:16:09.4 TB: And you ask the question about projects. And yeah, you and I were talking just before we clicked record about something that I’ve got going on the side, which is a project I’m sort of helping out on, to set up a series of what are called jazz retreats. And so what we’re going to be doing is… Looks like a couple of times a year, we’re going to be creating the opportunity for folks who either play jazz, who are interested in jazz to come along and be be part of these jazz retreats. The teachers will all be professional musicians, studio musicians, people who are very, very accomplished on their instruments and in the jazz and blues idioms in particular.

0:16:56.7 TB: And that’s something that’s just come up… It’s been kind of bubbling along for quite a long time, but it’s hit a little bit of a stride at the moment now that lockdown looks like it might be ending. So we’re looking at doing our first one of those in August. And that’s great. I’m just really, really looking forward. It’s not gonna be a huge amount of time commitment from my part, but I’m just really enjoying advising and sort of watching that sort of take shape. I don’t know, how about you? What have you got on your projects list that’s feeling good these days?

0:17:30.3 RP: Well, that’s super-cool, Todd. And so those of you that are just listening, you could see it probably, but Todd’s smile was ear-to-ear talking about the jazz retreats that he’s organizing. And I said this as you were talking about it earlier, they’re lucky to have you because someone that’s incredibly organized, is a real secret weapon in the arts often to really be able to wrangle all of those parts and pieces.

0:17:58.3 RP: So for me, I have a project about becoming a more competent green wood worker. So I have been digging a lot into working with wood as it’s recently felled from the tree, and there’s this whole Swedish tradition of doing that. So that’s actually a project with a load of sub-projects, one of which involves different types of knife grips. We predominantly use knife and axe. So I was out this weekend on a chopping block, and I gotta say it’s the most therapeutic thing in the world in the COVID era to just swing an axe in your own back yard. [chuckle] It feels good. And then to come in and refine the piece, the spoon or whatever you’re working with, with a knife. Different knife grips. I’ve got a whole project about creating some really good quality kind of reference spoons, some traditional spoons.

0:18:49.0 RP: And getting better at identifying species of British tree. So this kind of spans a lot of different potential areas when you start to get into understanding wood in a different way than the whole kinda pre-processed and packaged way that you normally think about wood used for building and for carpentry. So that’s just a ton of fun. And it’s also… It’s such a big area, and I’m fairly new to it, being able to wrangle that and to say, “Okay, well, this is my kinda main project, and these are some sub-projects along the way.” And then just in the evening, to kick over to my action list… My kinda personal home action list, and go, “Oh, my next step is hollow out a spoon bowl with a hook knife, and hang out.

0:19:35.0 RP: There’s a meet-up of spoon carvers worldwide on Zoom. They go, and they literally just click onto Zoom, and you just see mostly the tops of their heads as they hang out and chat and whittle wood. It’s the most relaxing thing in the world, and it’s also something that is not only downtime but something that I do wanna feel a sense of progression about, I do have a clear outcome for me about doing this, so it’s a bit of both. It’s a bit the accomplishment of it and also just the process of being in the moment, hanging out and whittling wood. I gotta tell you, if anybody’s interested in that, I think it’s incredibly therapeutic to just carve a bit of wood these days. So that’s me.

0:20:21.5 RP: So we touched on a lot. We touched on how GTD itself can be fun or satisfying, even I would say even cathartic. I have a client at the moment that keeps going, “This is so therapeutic. This is so therapeutic.” And I go, “Yeah, it’s amazing how just really, really getting clear about your commitments can have such a buoyant feeling with it.” We also talked about how it enables you to really disconnect and just be present with what’s up for you. And how it can help you drive fun things forward in a fun way and keep it fun, rather than getting bogged down in the logistics or having it all… Suddenly your hobbies are churning in your head and what was supposed to be fun has become a chore, because it’s not appropriately staked down or organized.

0:21:16.5 RP: So I think a lot of great stuff there. Todd, if you were to kinda give some parting thoughts on, let’s say, how to make your use of GTD more fun. How to increase the fun factor based on all the people that you’ve worked with and coached in your own experience. What would help make GTD more fun or have more fun with GTD?

0:21:40.9 TB: Yeah, let me just very quickly… That was a great quote from your client, the coaching client. I had another one that came to mind as you were describing it, which was somebody after a seminar they did at Google. This was a few years ago, but he said the seminar was a spa day for the mind.

[chuckle]

0:21:56.6 RP: I love that.

0:21:58.2 TB: I thought that was absolutely, absolutely a great way to describe what we do. So look, I think that my advice would be: If there are things in your world that are causing you stress, causing you concern, causing you not to be as happy as you might be. What’s great about GTD is that it gives us frameworks for identifying, “Where is the rub here? What’s in the way?” The rub could be, “Well, I just don’t have a really good way of dealing with the incoming social media posts.” That could be it. Or at the other end of the spectrum, it could be, “You know, I’m just not in the role I should be in. I’m in the wrong job. I need to be thinking about that.” And what I think is great about GTD is, no matter where the rub is in all of that, it gives you frameworks for thinking about and therefore correcting what’s wrong. We can’t, of course, be in control of everything in our lives. That’s not on offer. We need to be realistic. But I think for an awful lot of people, the sources of stress that they have in their lives are things that they can do something about and GTD provides the keys for that. I don’t know, what do you think? What’s your advice?

0:23:17.0 RP: No, that’s absolutely been my experience, that it can help you mitigate the un-fun and really just release what’s kinda naturally there, which is a much more clear, focused, fun state. I’m gonna go the other way and say, if you’ve been practicing GTD in any form, if you don’t have something on your project list that is just for fun and just for you, then I would suggest that there’s a real opportunity for you to start actually managing the stuff that’s fun and getting that in view and getting that folded in. Because getting really good at managing, let’s say work-related things, means that you’re really gonna get on top of that and potentially even give a lot of focus to that. So I would say, give some focus to the stuff that’s a pure fun in the same way.

0:24:11.4 RP: Treat it the same way. Treat it as a real commitment. Treat it as a commitment to you and to your well-being. Get it in your system. So that’s an encouragement. That’s an invitation to those of you that have only been kind of using GTD for work. Even if it’s just on the someday/maybe list for now, get something in there that is gonna be just for you and just for fun. And see what that’s like managing that as a commitment to fun with next actions and with steps along the way. Personally, I wouldn’t live without it. Work, life, it’s all very much in the system and very much helping me to give appropriate attention to both sides or to all the different sides of life. So I think we’re kinda coming to time here. Thanks Todd, as always, for a rich, fun, frankly conversation.

0:25:06.4 RP: I certainly enjoy these. I hope those of you listening and watching have enjoyed it too. If you’ve picked up anything from this that seemed useful or interesting, first of all we’d love to hear from you, [email protected], our email address is a great way to do that. Or just next-action.co.uk, you can contact us there. You can also, if you’re not already, be sure to get on our newsletter. We basically just put out tips and ideas like this once a week. If you’re getting this on YouTube, be sure to hit subscribe or on a podcast feed as well. We do this fairly regularly and our goal, again, is just to help you have more of that real fun. That deep satisfying fun that comes with knowing that you’re on top of stuff, knowing that your commitments are appropriately managed, your focus is appropriately managed and you’re getting the right stuff done.

0:26:01.1 RP: I hope this has gone a little way to help you in doing that. And from me, from Todd, thanks for being here. We’ll see you next time.

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