Todd Brown and Robert Peake discuss how the Getting Things Done® (GTD®) methodology can support the transition out of lockdown and into a ‘new normal’.
0:00:04.7 Todd Brown: Hello everyone, and welcome to another Change Your Game with GTD Podcast. My name is Todd Brown, and I’m here as always with Robert Peake.
0:00:13.2 Robert Peake: Hello.
0:00:15.3 TB: Our goal in this podcast is to give you some thoughts, or some inspiration for getting more out of… Getting more out of your working life, more out of your non-working life, helping you to both maximize your productivity and to reduce stress with the help of the Getting Things Done methodology. And Robert when you and I were talking about what we were gonna talk about just before you hit record, something that seemed really timely, and would probably be of help to a lot of people is so I’m thinking about now that for some of us coming out of lockdown after the covid pandemic is becoming a reality. Slowly becoming a reality. For some people, it’s more of a reality than others, and it might be a longer road for some of our listeners.
0:01:01.1 TB: But we thought we might talk some about how to think about your GTD system and in your GTD practices as a support for you as you do come out of lockdown and life starts to return to normal. What are you thoughts about that? Any sort of kick off ideas to get us going?
0:01:21.9 RP: Yeah, I think very broadly, we’re into the theme of uncertainty and how to manage stuff that you don’t really know ultimately how to manage, but I think there’s some GTD basics that really help with that. And I think for me it’s a lot around commitments and timing. In my case, I’ve been finding a lot of comfort in the… During the kinda lockdown era, which we’re still very much in as we record this, in the incubate part of GTD, there’s the six places that basically any stuff, any unclarified things can end up.
0:02:11.7 RP: And in the not actionable yet category, we have incubate, and for me, it’s been really useful to think about things that I can’t do now, but that I don’t wanna lose, that I don’t wanna forget about, that are still important to me that just aren’t really possible right now, in the covid era. An example is I really didn’t quite feel right trying to go get a new passport photo during the stay-at-home orders when it was just like, there’s no photo booth here in my tiny village, it wasn’t really quite a stay-at home thing for me to do, it wasn’t absolutely essential ’cause I wasn’t gonna be traveling anyway. At the same time, it’s incredibly important to me and it represents something underlying, which is I really wanna go travel and see family when I can again.
0:03:05.0 RP: So having that in a deferred context, and again, there’s a couple of ways to do that, one is to have something like a someday/maybe list, or lately, I’ve been proposing to people actually a kind of post-lockdown list, that you can actually have a very specific list for when things are possible again that aren’t possible now. And another is the calendar, right, but I’ve been using the calendar and what I’ve been finding is that actually dates and deadlines when I thought things would be opening up or things would be different weren’t.
0:03:36.9 RP: Things were more uncertain than I thought. Things haven’t gone always to plan, and so having a place to put all that stuff has been really… Has been really useful to me just to go, “Okay, it is a commitment, but it’s not a commitment I can act on now, but I’m not gonna lose it, I’m not gonna lose it, and therefore my brain doesn’t have to keep cycling around with all of these,” Oh, can’t do that, oh, can’t do that, oh, can’t do that,” kind of kid thoughts, which are just really unhelpful and frankly kind of depressing the more you think about what you want to do, but can’t, I think the harder lockdown feels…
0:04:10.3 RP: So that was one for me, that was kind of a revelation is that I’m gonna be going back to that post-lockdown list as things gradually ease and during my weekly reviews, looking at that and going, “Okay, that’s now possible. What’s my next action? What do I wanna do with that?” So that’s been one for me. What about you as you think about, let’s just say the greater possibility of a range of activities in your life that you haven’t had, whether it’s coming out of lockdown or this could, I think, maybe even apply to other circumstances where people are going into a busy phase or going into a different phase of what’s possible, what do you think about it, what do you rely on in your GTD system to help you when you know things are maybe gonna start to speed up or ease, or come out of hibernation?
0:05:03.0 TB: Yeah, I love what you’ve already suggested, this idea of a post-lockdown list, and I’m thinking about the way that we’ve created that here, and I sat down with Debbie, with my wife, and we did it really as kind of a brainstorm, and it was actually a lot of fun. It was almost kind of cathartic, it was really interesting to sit down and just put ourselves in a mental space and that said, “Okay, we believe that lockdown will end, and here are all of the things that we would like to do.” And even just externalizing all of those ideas and coming up with that list together as a couple was wonderful. It was a really, really good experience. So that’s something I can highly recommend, co-generate a list like that if you’d like with your nearest and dearest.
0:05:56.4 TB: Get on a… Even if you can’t meet up with people, get on a Zoom call or a WebEx call or whatever your tool of choice is and just have that conversation. What are all the things we’re going to do after lockdown eases? So I like that a lot. I think when I think about my own system and how I think about it supporting life after lockdown, I think… It’s interesting, as I look at the contents of my system, one of the things that’s really clear is that some of the lists that have gotten basically no attention at all over the last year plus, are going to get a lot more attention.
0:06:34.1 TB: So the good old office list, which is part of my system has really been empty for a long time for obviously for good reasons, and so that’s gonna get some more energy. But you know, it’s interesting, as I’ve been seeing in the news over the last while, a lot of very large corporations have started to set people’s expectations that the new normal will look more like a mix for a lot of people, we won’t all be in the office all the time. We will be… Again, many of us, not all us, we’ll be splitting time between home and the office, and I think that’s gonna provide us with some interesting challenges. I think it’s one of the reasons that our work… And I think about how busy we’ve been over the last year or so, I think one of the reasons that we’ve been so relevant is because GTD provides us with ways to help, frameworks for thinking about how all of this can be made, how the transition can be made as seamless and friction-free as possible.
0:07:48.8 TB: Other than that, I think being… You talked about commitments earlier, I think a regular review of not just what we call projects, these more than one-step outcomes that we’re gonna make happen in the next 12 months or so, and that we would typically look at… We talked a lot about how, hey, it’s a really good idea to look at that at least once a week, we suggest as part of your weekly review, go through that projects list to give yourself that kind of higher perspective on things.
0:08:17.7 TB: But also looking a level higher in what we call the horizons of focus model, and thinking about your ongoing responsibilities and then your areas of focus as we call them. And what I think has been interesting, again, I’ve been doing a lot of coaching, almost all of it virtually, but these conversations have come up over and over again. People… One of the wonderful things I think about the areas of focus is that by externalizing those and then making clear what are my ongoing commitments to people in the roles that I have. And what’s interesting is I think for a lot of the coaching clients that I’ve been working with, thinking about those areas of focus has brought them some renewed and more helpful thinking about the balance that they have in their lives.
0:09:11.1 TB: So in other words, which of those areas of focus in my life have been in lockdown, getting too little attention, which might have been getting maybe too much attention, and how as I come out of lockdown, am I going to be re-allocating focus to make sure that everything is in harmony. So those are some thoughts, what do you reckon?
0:09:35.2 RP: Yeah, no, I think that’s really great and I think… Yeah, you mentioned I think a lot of important things here, that the new normal being hybrid working I think is an interesting challenge because I think when we all sort of started in lockdown and working from home and so forth, things kinda slowed down and expectations I think to some extent, hopefully, in those more humane and benevolent organizations were somewhat lowered. It was like, “Look, we’re getting through this in the early phases,” but as we come out of getting through this as things get faster expectations may increase, the need for creating focus in a home working environment is only gonna go up really as stuff gets faster, but we are not on sort of pause, there’s not the this sense of, “Okay, we’re on pause mode, we’re just kinda coping.”
0:10:32.1 RP: It’s like, no, now we need to “get back to it.” And when you talk about the higher horizons, that to me is one of the biggest places where I think focus can come both professionally in terms of, Okay, what are the areas of focus in the organization that I need to look after? What are the company goals that are pulling us toward our expectations for revenue or for growth or all of those kinds of things, but also as you say, personally as well.
0:11:07.5 RP: And I do feel like this has been for me, certainly, I’ll say a time of reflection, a time of getting more in touch with what really matters in life, what makes life rich and interesting and meaningful, an opportunity to slow down and really revisit that. So in addition to areas of focus, I would say kind of goals and vision, where do you wanna head, where do you wanna be several years from now, what do you wanna look back on this time as having been about for you, and purpose and values as well. The big why, I think is something that some of us, and certainly me have had time enough and space enough to some extent to start to think about.
0:11:53.3 RP: And I think that if this is a kind of quiet before the storm, if this is a kind of time when we’re going to be start ramping, starting to ramp up from here… It’s a great time to look at those. For me, I certainly recognize that quiet is a value for me, having quiet, having space, psychological space and quiet, a sense of quiet, just as a practical example, the planes overhead have stopped, the traffic in the street has decreased, and so finding ways to create that, to create space and create a quiet and to align maybe that just a little bit more with my values in that way, even as maybe expectations are increasing, the rate of activity is increasing, the rate of transactions are increasing, all of these kinds of things, finding a way to do that.
0:12:43.7 RP: And the simplest way is, A, to acknowledge it, and B, to regularly review it, that’s what I find with the horizons of focus, they exist, our values exist, but if we’re looking at them once a year, once a quarter, as we do at next action associates, where we look at our values and our purpose to refresh and remind ourselves, to inspire ourselves, frankly, if you had a difficult or challenging situation to overcome, getting back in touch with how much the work we do matters to clients, how much we believe in the kind of company culture we’ve created, really can be a huge boost.
0:13:24.4 RP: And as we know, energy isn’t just about food and air and rest, it’s also about motivation, so having that motivation, motivating yourself toward maybe a slightly better future, using this as a kind of inflection point, I think is certainly something I’m challenging myself to do as we look toward the easing of restrictions and the increase in activity, so I thought that was a great nod to the Higher Horizons for sure, as a way to make focus. What else do you kinda do and think about when you think about we’re gonna get busy? Or things are gonna change?
0:14:03.8 TB: Yeah, just as you were talking about it, and I love what you were saying about your own realization about what’s important in life, and I think that’s absolutely been my experience over the last week, valuing the things which are important to me in life and figuring out what those are has been a benefit of all of this. In an a time which has not had for many people, a lot of benefits, that’s one thing that I can look back and say, that’s been quite helpful. But it’s funny, as you were talking about that, I was thinking in particular about one coaching client who is run off his feet, he is absolutely run off his feet. He’s in an industry which has become much, much, much busier as a result of covid.
0:14:54.4 TB: And so he’s already in this state of, “How do I just deal with all of this? How in the world can I possibly handle all the things that have been going on?” During the period of lockdown, they have grown by five times, if you can imagine it. So not everybody… And by the way, he is one of these people who…
0:15:15.3 TB: I think it’s funny, I think sometimes about the conversations that you and I have, and of course, we bring our own experience to this and our own personalities and our own, which is important, and I’m also aware that as ambitious as you and I are about being successful in the work that we do, there are also people that we know who are just on a mission to take over the world, and this client is one of those people, and he’s absolutely focused on, “Okay, how can I… ”
0:15:48.1 TB: He knows where he wants to go, he’s got a very clear vision for where he needs to go, for where the organization needs to go, and he’s all about, “Okay, how do I get sources of friction out of my life? How do I make sure I make progress in the right direction? How do I bring everybody along with me?” And I really enjoy working with him because it’s just a reminder to me that G… We talk about the benefits of GTD, we talk about the fact that it relieves stress, we talk about the fact that it keeps your head clear, we talk about the fact that it enables you to come the end of the day, the end of the week, to shut off and say, “I really don’t wanna be distracted, thank you very much by my thoughts about being productive.”
0:16:32.6 TB: But at the same time, let’s not forget, GTD is also about helping us to make the… As much progress as we want to make and be as effective and as efficient as we want to be. And that just occurred to me, in some ways, it’s one of the wonderful things about this work, if you’ve got somebody… I’m thinking again about another coaching client who after working together, he decided that he could do this very, very large job, he had a huge job, big organization, lots of responsibility, a huge budget. He said, “I can do this in three days a week,” right after that. And he was quite happy with that. He got into other things, got into… I might have mentioned him in one of our previous podcasts, got into the arts and became an author and all kinds of thing. Whereas other people, you free up eight hours and they’re like, “Okay, how can I use those eight hours to go and get more done in the professional realm?”
0:17:30.9 TB: And we’ve got the secret sauce that somehow enables all of that. So I guess what I’m saying is, some people virtually at least, are already out of lockdown and they’re gonna be… And they will be joined, I suppose, by quite a few of us as time goes by in that world where the demands are huge and there’s just lots to be dealt with.
0:18:01.0 RP: Absolutely right, yeah, no and I think it’s an important point to make that really, I think what we’re talking about here is capitalizing on opportunity, and for some people, this huge shift in market dynamics that’s going on as people, as human behavior and consumer behavior has radically and suddenly changed, has been an opportunity or they’re in a field that’s absolutely necessary, right? I’m thinking distribution of medical supplies right now, and this kind of thing is absolutely I’m sure I’m not surprised at 5X or more in terms of growth in those areas, there’s this massive shift that’s happened, and GTD absolutely lets you capitalize on opportunity because so much of capitalizing on opportunity is knowing what to say no to.
0:18:53.0 RP: We’re just in an era where there’s more to do than can be done, David was saying that 20 plus years ago, that there’s more to do than can be done, and now we have a generation of natives to that idea, people that are being born in an era where from day one, they’re more, I don’t know, brands of pacifiers and bottles and play toys and whatever, than they could ever possibly consume, and it just goes on from there. They’re on screens pretty early on with more apps and more children’s programming than they could ever watch and whatever.
0:19:31.2 RP: So saying no is one of the biggest, I think, skills of the 21st century, frankly, being willing to face the fear of missing out with confidence that you are gonna miss out on things, you are gonna say no to things in order to say yes to in some cases, the kind of things that will help you to take over the world or make this kind of level of success that you want in your life in terms of what that means to you, and that GTD can also help you capitalize on an opportunity without losing sight of what matters most to you, right, that kind of thing where… Steve Jobs that someone write his biography so his kids would know who he is, right, it’s like there’s…
0:20:17.5 RP: There are sacrifices to be made and just how many do you wanna make? And I think one of the messages with GTD is when you have a really clear project list, it really comes down to the mechanics of that, a clear, straightforward project list that marries up to goals, that marries up to vision, that’s in alignment with your sense of purpose, where you’re maintaining the various areas of focus you need to maintain. You can prune that and manage that and bring things in and out of that in a very conscious way, whereas those who are only holding sight of the top three sort of things in their life are losing track of what we find to be anywhere from 50 to 70 other multi-step discreet outcomes, anything from 10 to 30 other areas of focus that may also matter to them.
0:21:01.6 RP: So there’s gonna be a big shift and GTD really, to me, handles big shifts well, if you’re doing your weekly review, if you’re keeping your project list up to date, and if you’re being really judicious about, “I’m committed to this, I’m not committed to that. That’s not something in my area, that’s not something I do anymore, I’m letting that go to create room for this,” whatever this is, that’s coming at us.
0:21:29.6 TB: Nice stuff. Great stuff. Well, listen, we’re coming to the end of our time, any sort of final top tips for the folks out there if they were gonna sort of implement one thing or think about one thing in preparation for the end of lockdown, what would you leave them with? What’s the key idea?
0:21:47.3 RP: Uncertainty is kind of the nature of the world. I think we’ve just gotten a really big dose of it in the last year, but in 21 years of doing… Of using the GTD methodology, I’ve certainly found that probably one of the biggest most important elements of dealing with big change, both positive and negative, capitalizing on opportunity as well as mitigating the unforeseen unpleasantness that life sometimes throws us, is this ability to rapidly re-negotiate, to really have a clear but permeable membrane between committed and not, to be able to move stuff into, for example, an incubation state when it’s just not possible to do certain things, to relegate good ideas to good ideas, when actually you need to focus elsewhere, it’s both what has kept me sane and what has allowed me to be as successful as I wanna be according to my own terms and definitions of what that is.
0:22:46.0 TB: So get clear, get clear on a weekly basis in the weekly review what you’re committed to and not, is it a project or is it a nice idea, is it something you really ought to be focused on, or are you just trying to please someone else and live someone else’s life, it’s really important to understand what is your active set of commitments and what’s that gonna do for you in terms of your ability to deal with life as it flows in. What about you Todd?
0:23:13.5 RP: Yeah, yeah. You know, it’s funny, I’m just thinking that one of the things that has been… That’s so gratifying is to, in all of the ups and downs that we’ve gone through in terms of the pandemic, in terms of the last 20 years of economic disturbance and boom and bust and market movements and all that, what’s really interesting is how relevant GTD is, right? I mean it is future proof. It doesn’t talk about, “Go buy this app, and that’s your answer,” it talks about frameworks for thinking that are… Well, I was gonna say, as relevant, possibly more relevant today than they ever have been, again, given the speed at which things are coming at us, and the speed and the likely accelerating speed at which things are gonna come at us after lockdown.
0:24:06.6 TB: And that’s in some ways, it will be a challenging world, but it’s incredibly reassuring to know that whatever comes our way, we’ve got a way to… We’ve got the tools for reacting to it in ways that will leave us in the place, in the maximally optimal place, if that’s a phrase, given everything. I’m not saying everything that happens to us will be pleasant, everything that happens to us will be unchallenging, but it will be… We’ll be as prepared as we can be, and we’ll come up with outcomes which are as positive as they can be, and end up, again, with a good GTD system in practice maximizing the chances that those outcomes come to pass. Yeah so I’m feeling quite well equipped, I look forward to working with folks to help to make sure that they are as well.
0:24:58.9 TB: Well, thank you all, thank you for being with us today, for this Change Your Game with GTD Podcast. If you haven’t already, please do subscribe. We keep a very keen eye on that number, as you might imagine, and we have… And our goal is to continue to provide you with lots of incredibly high quality content… That’s our desired outcome. As well, what I’d suggest if you’d like to get… To make sure that you’re on the list to hear from us, not only when we produce podcasts, but also when we do blogs and produce other kinds of content around GTD, then head over to our website, you can find us at next-action.co.uk. Scroll down to the bottom of the home page and you’ll find a place where you can sign up for our newsletter list. We look forward to being in touch in the future. Robert, great to talk to you as always, and we’ll talk to all of you next time. Bye for now.