We discuss the power of the mindset and the role it plays in either facilitating – or inhibiting – success. Adopting the right mindset can make all the difference when it comes to creating new habits, adopting new approaches, and achieving desired outcomes.
0:00:05.0 Robert Peake: So welcome, everybody, to another Change Your Game with GTD podcast. My name’s Robert Peake. I’m here with Todd Brown.
0:00:12.5 Todd Brown: Hello, everyone.
0:00:14.0 RP: Hey, Todd. So the purpose of this podcast is to draw out some of the more subtle, interesting themes and ideas around the Getting Things Done, GTD methodology to enable you to implement it a little more effectively, a little bit better. If you’re wondering what that even is, it’s really just a way to get more done with less stress. It’s a way to improve work-life balance and to improve well-being while also helping you be more effective. So while we get into some of the more advanced points with all of this, we’re hoping, also, that it’s pretty universally applicable, as well, to anyone that just wants to basically work smarter and find a better way to both work and live.
0:01:03.5 RP: And so as Todd and I were talking just ahead of pushing go on this, we were talking about some of the ways that we see people falling into the trap of having, I guess, a sense of identity or a mindset, a fixed mindset about themselves or about how they relate to their work, that can sometimes hold them back from fully adopting all the aspects of the methodology that can actually help them, for actually getting things done, in the truest sense of the word, more effectively, that the blind spots, the blinkers, those things that sometimes trip people up. And so we broadly thought of that as mindset, and some of the different kinda mindsets that people can fall into. And Todd, just curious, you’ve coached many, many, many people and led loads and loads of seminars around this topic and been a practitioner for a really long time. What are some of the mindsets you see or some of the maybe preconceived notions that you see that sometimes get in the way?
0:02:07.4 TB: As you’re talking it through, I think… Let me just start at the very beginning, which is that there is a… I think one of the prerequisites for success with this work is not a conviction right at the beginning that it will be right and it will be life-changing, and all of that, although it is for a lot of people. But it’s an openness to the possibility that there is a different way to work, and that I can generate different results. So you need to be, I think, as obvious, maybe, as that sounds, you need to be open to the possibility that it’s going to make a difference and open to engaging in the process. And the reason I mention this is because sometimes, when this happens mostly in seminar work, we’ll have groups where some of the folks in the room have been… They’ve been gently encouraged to be in the room and don’t really believe that they need to be in the room.
0:03:12.1 TB: So I think the first thing is, is just a mindset, which says, “Okay, this is something that is worth trying out. It’s been successfully implemented by millions of people around the world, it might be right for me. It might not be right for me, but I’m gonna give it,” as we used to say in the States, “The old college try, and see if it works, see if it does work for me.” So I think that’s openness to the possibility that you might be successful with GTD. It’s probably a preliminary mindset that’s important. I don’t know. What do you reckon?
0:03:48.1 RP: Yeah, no, I think that’s really, really important. I do find that people that gravitate toward this work have a mindset of self-improvement, of optimization, of learning and growth. To put it the other way, people that I think, sometimes, get a little tripped up with the GTD methodology are those who have a sense of identity of, “Well, this is how I am. This is just how I am. [chuckle] It’s always been this way, always gonna be this way. This is me, this is what you get.” And so for those people, obviously, introducing, really, any kind of new ideas that would fundamentally challenge the ways in which they work and operate can be unnerving, unsettling. And so it might not be right for them at this time, is what I would say, if you really have a fairly fixed mindset about who you are.
0:04:41.2 RP: But those kinda manifest, too, in some subtle ways, I think. One of the things I’ve noticed, for example, is in working with people that… Where a lot of their job is to be organized, to be efficient, to… In fact, to organize for another. So those executive assistants and personal assistants and secretaries who are assigned to one or more individuals, usually, fairly senior people in the organisation who can use support and help with managing the calendar, but also just managing all kinds of other things, potentially, in their world that need close tolerance, that need organizational precision, that need clear, clean boundaries, all of that. People that gravitate toward that have a sense of identity about, “I’m an organized person, and that is a good thing.”
0:05:32.5 RP: You’d think they’d be the first to just glom on to these great, new ideas, all the GTD. But sometimes, what I’ve found is that proposing new ways of working or thinking about it out of the blue really can be challenging to that sense of identity. And there’s this great thing in the Harvard Negotiation Project where they talk about one of the main impediments to a good negotiation is when you get into what they call an identity conversation. So it’s no longer about what we’re trying to negotiate; it’s about, “This is striking at who I am as a person.” Of course, you’re gonna defend your sense of self to the bitter end, to have a congruent good sense of yourself as a good person.
0:06:14.8 RP: So finding ways to really tease out the fact that GTD is an extension, a natural extension of a lot of best practices people have already implemented, and particularly, those that are highly effective and do value organisation, is a really important part, I’ve found, in educating and supporting people who already have that kind of, “I’m an organized person,” identity, if that makes sense.
0:06:42.8 RP: So if you are one of those people and you do feel challenged by some of the practices, just consider that these are potentially just an extension of a lot of stuff that you may have already found and developed for yourself, and that these are tried-and-true general principles that aren’t necessarily trying to go against or wholesale replace a lot of the good things that are working for you, but that there are ideas that can support you in a trajectory you’re already on, I guess, is the way I would put it for those people who gravitate toward this because they already feel pretty organized. I don’t know, what have you found in terms of other… People that gravitate toward this or people that are repelled by GTD or any of that?
0:07:29.5 TB: I had this conversation many, many years ago before I left my last big corporate job with my boss, as I was starting to get into GTD and learn more about it, and implement it for myself. And I was talking to my boss about what it was all about. And his response was, “Well, when it comes to the kind of thing that you’re talking about, anybody who’s risen to any level of seniority within the organisation will have figured all of that out.” That was sort of his take. And you do hear that. You do sort of get, “Well, okay, well, if somebody’s risen to a level of management, they must have all of this sorted out.”
0:08:11.5 TB: And what’s interesting for me, as I have reflected on that conversation over the many years, and I thought about what I would say differently that I did at the time, one of the examples that comes to mind for me quite often is I think about the work that we’ve done with incredibly high-performance organizations. And the one that’s coming to mind for me is athletes. We’ve worked with some of the folks who are world-class, absolutely world-class athletes in their sports. And when I think about the fact that… Well, I think about not the work that we do with them, but the work that they do in terms of building their own skills and capabilities in their sport. They don’t assume that they’ve just sort of got it all handled and got it all done. They’re constantly looking at ways, “How do I refine? How do I make more efficient? How do I make more effective? How do I reduce,” if they’re doing a sport which is about racing, “How do I reduce my times? How do I make the team work more effectively?” So they’re on a constant journey toward optimal performance.
0:09:22.7 TB: And I think, again, going back to this question of mindset, the people who are most successful with GTD are people who are open to that possibility. It’s not that they’re spending all day, every day thinking about how to optimize their systems. But what I think is quite nice about GTD is that when you do come to the realization that there’s something going on in your ways of working which isn’t optimal, GTD gives you the frameworks to say, “Okay, well, this thing, whatever it is, I feel like I’ve got the wrong context lists. They don’t serve me very well.” Well, the GTD, the best practices and the thoughts about what a good context list might look like can serve you in those moments.
0:10:11.9 TB: And so yeah, I think I’m with you. I think people need to be ready to be coachable, as it were. They need to be open to the possibility. And as I say, I think that’s key. As I’m thinking about mindsets more broadly, let’s talk maybe a little bit about people who are… Let’s imagine people who are already into getting things done. There are sort of varying levels of enthusiastic adopters, let’s say, of getting things done. But we’re not at the level of trying to convince them, as it were, about the core ideas. What do you think what kinda mindsets come into play for people who are already GTDers that might get in the way of their own success with the methodology? What have you run into in your travels when it comes to that?
0:11:05.4 RP: That’s a great question. And I think it ties into a lot of what you were saying, in some ways, about highly effective people thinking, “Well, I’m highly effective, by virtue of being at this place in my life.” But one of the things I ask is, “At what cost? At what cost did you get here? And do you really need to pay that price or not?” So one of the big traps that is subtle and pervasive, even really seasoned GTDers can fall into this, is the “busy is good” trap. “Being busy is good, and busy for the sake of busy, sometimes, is good.” And to me, that comes back to a whole… There’s a whole big thing.
0:11:50.9 RP: There’s this great book called The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism that goes into this fundamental idea that hard work makes us good. Hard work makes us good people, morally. The idle hands are the devil’s workshop, as it were. So being busy is inherently good. And whether or not you’re a devout Christian, you’re living in a cultural context that really has started to… Been espousing that for a long time, the busy is good. And so you get presentism, you get this grinding away at a 996 workload, and it’s like, “Wow! Is that really… Do you really need, feel like you need to do that, to make those sacrifices to justify your salary, your position, your whatever? Are you open to the idea that there actually could be a better way? And that you don’t have to necessarily put in that amount of time and stress?”
0:12:51.9 RP: There was… I’m still struck by… There’s this billboard at the train station where I would commute into London, and it was a picture of a sleeping child, and it said, “You invest in missed bedtimes. Make that investment count. Invest your money with us.” And I went, “Is that necessary? Is that really necessary to have a successful, happy life? To have good investments, to be financially secure? Is it really necessary to invest in missed bedtimes? Is that really an investment? Is that, perhaps, a false economy?” [chuckle] And it’s subtle, it’s really subtle, this thing that we get into of, “Look what a good person I am because I’m grinding away. I’m really, really busy.”
0:13:33.5 RP: So effectiveness, yes; but well-being, increasingly, I think, is coming more and more to the fore in our day and age as a real concern and consideration. And GTD really does let you accomplish both, but you have to, I think, get past some of this, frankly, programming. I think it’s cultural programming that we have that says, “The more you work, the better you are,” rather than, “The more effectively you work, the better results you’ll get, the more value you’ll produce in the world, not only professionally, but personally, and in all those areas that matter to you.” And that is actually, for me, anyway, that’s an ongoing mindset shift, being open to the possibility that being more effective is really where it’s at, rather than just, “Look how hard I’ve been working.”
0:14:30.2 TB: Yeah, I think about this whole idea… One flavor of what you’re describing is, “I’m overwhelmed by email, and I wear that as a badge of pride. If I’m getting all these emails, I must be really important,” is sort of a flavor of that, that I think that we do run into from time to time. I think what you’ve mentioned about The Protestant Work Ethic and Weber and his work, I think, is fascinating. This whole idea that you, in a sense, you prove that you are worthy by being productive. That was behind, the idea behind Weber’s writing was, “Hey, look, we can’t… You cannot achieve salvation through works,” he would say. He would say, “Look, you basically prove that you are saved by the way that you live, in essence.” I’m boiling him down, I suppose, hopefully, in a helpful way.
0:15:31.6 TB: But I think that’s a really interesting lens to put on us as human beings. “Are we,” and what I mean by that is, “Are we purpose-driven? Do we believe that we are purpose-driven?” And if we believe that we are purpose-driven, with or without the underpinning of religious belief, then what Getting Things Done allows us to do is to express that, the purpose, in the most effective ways. So again, I think that’s an interesting spin on that whole idea.
0:16:06.6 TB: The other thing that came to mind as you were talking, and talking about these new… The new world now that we are… We’re taping this in May of 2021 and in the UK, anyway. Lockdowns are starting to ease. The picture, globally, is looking a little bit more dicey. But one of the things that just got announced this morning, the BBC apparently polled 50%, sorry, 50 large companies throughout the UK and asked about their plans for post-lockdown working. And of the 50 that they polled, 86% of them said that they were not going to require people to come back to the office full-time. So hybrid working is going to become the new standard for a very, very, very large number of organizations.
0:17:00.2 TB: And I was thinking about that, and I was thinking, again, it sort of goes to this idea of if you’re not in the office, then the opportunity to be… For presentism goes away because you’re… Well, at least physical presentism. You can express your presentism in other ways by being online and available, I suppose. But I think it sort of goes back to this question: If in this new way of working, in this new world where working looks different, what mindset do I need to be in, in order to be successful? And the whole topic that you mentioned earlier about work-life balance. A lot tougher for a lot of people to draw those boundaries when they’re basically working from home, and something that is in their personal lives and they might view as distracting at any given moment is right there and very available.
0:17:57.9 TB: So maybe that’s an interesting one for us to dive into a little bit. What’s the, if we think about GTD as underpinning in the new world, let’s imagine this new hybrid as being, by and large, a standard way of working; what kind of mindsets do we need to have? What kind of mindsets does GTD encourage us to have to be most effective in that new world?
0:18:22.8 RP: Yeah, I think that’s such a great question for the world we’re going into and frankly, are already in. And what occurs to me is just that increasingly, I think organizations need to be outcome-focused; outcome-focused in the way that they evaluate the effectiveness of the organisation and those individuals that contribute to the success of the organisation. Measuring success with a stopwatch is just gone out. I thought it went out in the 19th century with workers coming in on time and this whole punch-in, punch-out thing, but it’s definitely carried on through the 20th century and into the… Spilled into the first part of the 21st.
0:19:07.4 RP: But I think now, it really comes down to: Are we achieving the outcomes? Are we clear on what the outcomes even are, to begin with? And are we achieving that effectively with each contributor pulling in the same direction toward the same kind of goal? And if so, I don’t care if you’re running your kids off to soccer practice in the middle of the day. I don’t mind if you wanna take an extra long lunch once in a while. It doesn’t really matter if we’re achieving very high levels of focus, of effectiveness. And really, that word, “effectiveness”, I think, is so much more important, even, to some extent, than efficiency. It’s not about how you’re using every minute of every day. It’s about: Are you focused on the right things? Are the right things getting done? Do we have a sense, as a team, that everyone is pulling in that direction in a meaningful way?
0:19:57.8 RP: And I think in some ways, it’s a little more work, it’s a little harder, or it feels harder because you need to be more clear and explicit about what the outcomes are. But in reality, as we say in GTD, you gotta get clear about those outcomes at some point. Why not do it upfront and give everyone a very clear vision of where we’re headed, rather than at the 11th hour as a reactive way to scramble toward the finish line?
0:20:25.3 RP: So front-loading the thinking, not just for individuals, in terms of, “Okay, what does this mean? What is my outcome? What do I want to be true about this new input?” But front-loading the thinking for organizations, I think, is gonna be increasingly, incredibly important because again, we can’t just measure through presentism and stopwatches and whose mouse is moving on the screen or not. And always, for me, as someone who’s managed quite a few people now, it’s been that way, it’s been that kinda focus. It’s like, “Look, I care more about you finding the smartest, fastest, most effective way of getting the stuff done we need to get done, and then some, ideally.” And within that, there is latitude. And I think the rest of the world is coming round to that quite a bit more, to you can trust your employees to do the right things if you support them in creating the right kind of focus. I don’t know, what do you think, Todd?
0:21:24.1 TB: No, I think that’s really well said. In some ways, the forced proof of concept of global virtual working, which so many organizations ended up in has been, I think, really shocking for a lot of them, and really… And wrenching for some. And I think back on our own experience of it as an organisation, so Next Action Associates. What’s our experience of it been? And I won’t say it was a ho-hum ’cause it wasn’t a ho-hum. But we’ve done, over the years, I think we’ve done a really good job based on good old GTD thinking. We’ve done a very good job of making clear who’s got what roles, what responsibilities lay with which person in the organisation. What are the outcomes that we’re driving toward? What are the ongoing communications that we have about all of that? And we’ve made evolutions. Yes, we have, we absolutely have made evolutions in the way that we work, but it certainly doesn’t feel to me like it’s been a wrenching thing.
0:22:37.9 TB: And that, for me is a… It’s really gratifying to look back on that and say, “That, for me, in a way, is another bit of data that says, ‘These ideas can support you.'” We talk in the level two seminars about this idea that a good… What does a good integrated system look like? And we use the word “integrated” to include meaning it supports you no matter where you are. And in the same way, GTD ideas implemented well can mean that the organisation can have a lot more flexibility about, frankly, where people are at and how they interact effectively together. So yeah, that’s our own experience, to me, to be quite instructive in that moment.
0:23:27.2 RP: Absolutely, and that matches my experience of it all, too. As I hear you talking, it really sounds like the mindset, a lot of the mindset that gets in the way, both individually and organizationally, is this idea that we gotta squeeze, squeeze and push. We gotta push the people, we gotta push ourselves, we gotta squeeze all we can out of one another and ourselves. And so the contrary to that is this openness that there could be a better way. And what a great thing to be thinking about, that there could really, genuinely, be a better way in the hybrid model, in the sort of new world that we’re going into, or hopefully, going into increasingly, as things, at least, start to look a little bit brighter in some countries. So yeah, it really sounds like there’s a company mindset shift that that’s an opportunity that’s very much in alignment with GTD best practices that I think could support wider organizations in adopting hybrid working in a way that actually promotes, not only effectiveness, but well-being. And we’ll see. We’ll see this, certainly. I think that’s a very… A bright way to look at what’s ahead.
0:24:44.7 RP: So we’re coming close to the time that we normally do for these kinds of conversations. This has been a lot of fun and very rich, and I think there’s a lot more that we could unpack, maybe, in another session. But if you were to distill it down maybe to some practicalities or some things that people might be able to take away in terms of what to look for, what to look out for in terms of sub-optimal mindset or thoughts or beliefs that you could overcome, or what to nurture in terms of positive orientation toward this material and these ideas; what would you say to someone that would put their hand up and say, “Yeah, I have been struggling with a somewhat limited mindset in relation to my GTD practice.”? How would you support them?
0:25:34.3 TB: Yeah, I guess I’d start with what we said earlier about being open to the possibility that there are smarter, better ways of working, regardless of how much success you’ve had in your life so far, what lofty peaks you’ve achieved. Beyond that, I think it would be the mindset that it’s a, “Be open to be sensitive to where the friction is in your life. Where are the things that don’t feel like they work very well? Where are the things you feel like they could be done better, smarter, faster?” And focus on those with GTD best practice in mind. So it’s…
0:26:19.6 TB: Let’s go back to the elite athlete metaphor. It’s just looking at yourself as an elite athlete; someone who wants to get 3% faster every three months, something like that. Gross that up over time, and it’s gonna make a big difference in your ability to be productive? Absolutely. To be effective in all of the things that you choose to do. But also, of course, given that it’s GTD, to be clear-headed, to be relaxed, to have the confidence that you’re consistently giving things appropriate attention. That would be sort of it in a nutshell. What comes to mind for you?
0:26:57.0 RP: I think that’s great. And as I hear you talking about those incremental gains and the fact that those incremental gains add up over time, you need time. You need time to be able to recognise the benefits of that. So you need to be in this for the long haul, rather than as a way of trying to get a few sort of quick tips or to implement a little bit of a sprint forward. And so for me, what I’ve found with long-haul, long-term behaviour change is it’s really key to celebrate successes and wins along the way. And I think, both individually and organizationally, as people realise they need to be more focused on effectiveness and on achieving outcomes, rather than grinding away and putting in the time, recognising that, just recognising, “Wow! You know, I’m getting a lot done and I’m having better quality weekends, and I feel a little more relaxed.” That’s good, right? That, that measure, the pre-GTD me being really stressed out and getting a lot down; the post-GTD me is still getting as much more done with less stress.
0:28:06.9 RP: So finding ways to measure that, finding ways to celebrate that and organizationally, to celebrate that as well. So it’s like, “Hey, we achieved a major milestone and everybody did it,” rather than, “Hey, everyone’s working 12 hours a day, six days a week.” So celebrate your successes, celebrate your wins. Be open, as you said, to the possibility that there are better ways. And then, very much, notice when those better ways start to be better and produce better outcomes in your life.
0:28:38.3 RP: So hopefully, that was useful to those of you tuning in. If you did find any of that interesting, we always love to hear from you, [email protected]; [email protected]’s an easy way to reach us with thoughts and topics, and that kind of thing. As always, if you did enjoy this, please subscribe. So on YouTube, you just hit the red Subscribe button. And we’re on a variety of audio podcast platforms; there’s a subscribe button there somewhere wherever you’re tuning in.
0:29:08.4 RP: And tell your friends, let people know, those in your world that are interested in getting more done with less stress, which frankly, all of us can use, but not all of us always recognise as possible, even. And I think that’s one of the themes of this podcast. Share this. Share this with those that can benefit from it because frankly, I think we’re heading into a phase, and potentially, into a new world of recognising that it’s possible to support well-being and effectiveness, that they’re not mutually exclusive. That’s, I think, the message of a lot of this. Hope you’ve taken away some of that, and taken it to heart, and taken it into your world to share. And from me, from Todd, it’s always fun, always rich, and we’ll just see you again next time. Bye for now.