In our latest podcast episode, Todd and Robert discuss how long it takes to learn GTD and the fact that this is a journey.
Click to play this episode
0:00:05.9 Robert Peake: So welcome everyone to another Change Your Game with GTD Podcast. My name is Robert Peake, and I’m here with Todd Brown.
0:00:13.5 Todd Brown: Hello everyone.
0:00:13.8 RP: Hi Todd morning. So the purpose of this podcast is to help you get a little more done with a little less stress in your day-to-day life, if that sounds interesting, we’ve found a methodology, a comprehensive methodology that supports you in doing just that, in decreasing your stress levels and increasing your effectiveness or increasing your well-being while optimizing your efficiency, if you like. And this methodology getting things done is something that Todd and I have been teaching and practicing for a very, very long time, very much to our own benefit and also supporting clients in implementing from all walks of life and all over the world. As we were getting started this morning and just chatting, a topic that had come up sort of between last podcast and now is just the question, an ongoing question of, how long is this gonna take? How long is it gonna take to really learn and get this GTD thing? What am I in for in terms of a ride? And Todd, I think it was someone that was asking you about that, about why our programs last the duration they do in terms of coaching and seminars, and just what we’ve seen generally in terms of how long it takes to stick. How long did it take you? I’m curious, what was your process and your kind of trajectory and journey with all of this?
0:01:43.9 TB: I think it’s a great question. I quite often use the metaphor… So to answer your question in a very straightforward way, I don’t really view it as a journey, which has an end in a sense. I think of, as I’ve mentioned quite often in some of our other podcast, one of the things I do when I’m not doing our work is I’m an amateur jazz musician, and I sometimes think about my own abilities as a jazz musician and my own abilities as a GTD as being related in the sense that… To ask me when am I done, learning to play the bass? Well, not really a hugely helpful question, right? An interesting question, by the way, is how good do I wanna get? Do I just wanna be able to play, you know kind of play basic bass lines that which many, many people would listen to and think that’s a good solid bass line, or do I wanna be able to improvise and do I wanna be able to solo, and ultimately the answer to that question drives the amount of activity and the amount of energy that I put into the activity, So… And I think of GTD in very much the same way, there is a…
0:03:07.0 TB: How good do you wanna get? I think is a great question, right? There is no particular finish line. I think one of the things about GTD is that it is… It says, as… Well as you and I are aware and as some of the folks who are out there listening to us who’ve implemented the methodology are probably aware, it’s the kind of thing that is a very comprehensive look, provide you with a very comprehensive look and some tools for optimizing your ways of working, and that takes you in a lot of different places, it takes you to, hey… What am I… Am I aligned Day-to-day? It is the… The job that I’m doing, the role that I have professionally, is that aligned with what I wanna be doing? So some big fundamental purpose kinds of questions, and at the other end of the spectrum, GTD gives you some tools for answering questions like when I send an email and I say to myself, if I don’t hear back from them within a few days, I’m gonna go and chase them? How do I make sure that that chasing happens. So right down to the very tactical end of things.
0:04:15.2 TB: So yeah, as I said, it’s a… When did I get to the end of my GTD journey? I’m not there yet, [chuckle] and I’ll come back to you if I ever do get there. But I find that what GTD does provide me is constant… Constant inspiration and interesting frameworks, for thinking about and optimizing my ways of working. So that’s my quick take. How about you? Are you already at the finish line, are you… Have you… Have you hang the laurel wreath.
0:04:47.2 RP: Yes, behold the pinnacle of stress-free success? No, definitely not. It’s an ongoing journey. And thinking about your metaphor about playing jazz bass, one of my more recent, within the last few years hobbies has been wood working and very similarly, and similar to learning an instrument, the thing about wood working is you can do most things, just not at the speed you want to. And I think the same goes for a musical instrument, you could learn a new bass line very, very, very slowly if you wanted to, but you’re not gonna be able to accompany anyone in any kind of tempo where they’re gonna recognize it as a song, and along the way, there’s a huge amount of tips and tricks and supportive things that once you get these and then start to ingrain them into muscle memory, so both of our respective interests involve muscle memory. At some point I went, “Wow, my arm knows how to cut a straight line with a saw, really, really straight line.” But along the way in that journey, I also had to learn, for example, that marking out the cut with a knife rather than with a pencil, gives you a little notch that that cuff of the saw fits into, then suddenly you’re cutting is considerably more precise and straight so there’s stuff to know and there’s stuff to practice.
0:06:15.5 RP: And I love what you said about how good do you wanna get. There’s a certain degree where if you are gonna be accompanying other people or you are gonna be enjoying the hobby or enjoying the new way of working, which is what fundamentally GTD is, you have to be at a certain speed to just deal with… To deal with life, to deal with the speed of what’s actually coming at you, but weirdly enough, the best way to get to where you can fluently and again, almost with muscle memory, deploy those tactics at speed, you need to slow down and examine the components. I had to do a lot of really slow sawing and then re-examining those little mistakes and seeing where I drifted and seeing and throwing away the scrap wood or putting it under the wood pile to burn.
0:07:06.2 RP: So I think there’s a journey that does require subject matter expertise and the wisdom of a lot of people that have gone before you in making those mistakes and having that frustration, that’s what we do when we teach the courses and the coaching. I think one of the things that’s deceptive to people is that the principles are really built on good advanced common sense, but so is advanced economics is built on common sense, supply and demand, so is some really advanced mathematics is built on stuff like addition and subtraction. So we’re already working, unlike taking a new hobby, we’re already working, and we are already kind of work what works for us to an extent.
0:08:00.2 RP: So I think that combined with the fact that the principles are real fundamental and easy to understand in the abstract, I think lures people potentially into a false sense that I can just pick this up quickly and conceptually, you can. You could pick it up in a couple of weeks, in a couple of minutes to describe the five-phase workflow model, but then to really ingrain this and make this something that works at speed is a journey and getting all of those best practices and digesting all of those and utilizing all those takes some time as well. So curious what you’ve seen in terms of other people’s journey of… At what point… Yes, it’s an ongoing thing. I’m still improving my GTD system, but at what point does it become fun and fluent like there’s a point at which your bass playing became fun and fluent, there’s a point at which my woodworking became fun and fluent, there’s a point at which in learning a new language you’d say, “I can have a conversation, this is great.” Rather than, it’s so slow when you’re consulting the translator every few seconds to try and eke out a sentence, at what point do… What’s a typical path or what are some of the paths and waypoints and timelines to get to, let’s say fluency with GTD?
0:09:22.5 TB: Yeah, I think this is such a rich… A rich vein to explore it. So let me just say that I think a lot of the people who come to us early in the process, so whether they’re getting coached or whether they’re in on the seminar early in the process, quite often, there’s a real impatience, there’s a real sort of can’t we get… Can’t we do this more quickly? And I think what’s behind that… Well, some people are just kinda wired that way, fair enough. Some people are… Some people are generally more patient than others, but I think that for a lot of people, the mindset that, sort of helps to foster that impatient is this mindset that, okay, GTD, as they understand it belongs to this family of things called personal productivity, time management, whatever that is, this whole area… And they might have been exposed to other things in this area in the past, and quite often those other approaches will involve tips and tricks. So let’s spend 20 minutes teaching you all of the Outlook keyboard shortcuts that we think are relevant if you’re using Outlook or let’s help you to explore this little app which might plug one hole in what you perceive to be your… Perceived to be the problem that you have in your system.
0:10:44.8 TB: So a lot of people come, as I said, a lot of people come to the table with this kind of expectation that GTD, like those other things they’ve been exposed to will probably be just a load of tips and tracks, and this is where I think it is fundamentally… GTD is fundamentally so powerful and so unusual, because it is… It is a set of frameworks. The whole methodology is a set of frameworks which can help you to work with more control and more perspective, it’s taken me three seconds to say that, but to your point, to get there, theoretically, as you said, pretty quick, the models… When you look at the models, they’re not models that feel like they are… It’s gonna take six months of advanced study to get them, the models are pretty straightforward, but actually implementing them and actually, I think coming up with ways that you… The other thing about the models is that they are quite flexible, we’re not selling software, we’re not in the business of saying you should use this tool under all circumstances.
0:11:54.4 TB: It’s based on very solid principles, but the actual implementation of it is down to the individual, and so that flexibility, as I’ve said in some of our other podcasts, that flexibility, I think is one of the reasons the GTD is so popular, because it doesn’t say, “Okay, first thing you have to understand is you’re going to be put into a box, and whether or not you like being in this box, that’s the box you’re gonna be in.” That’s not the way GTD is… GTD is about the frameworks, which then allow you to figure out what are the tool sets and how am I gonna implement them. So what I’m getting at, I hope, is that there’s this… GTD is as sophisticated as your productive life is, and if you think about all of the things that might impact on your productive life, I’m not using the tools that I’ve got to best effect. I’m keeping too much stuff in my head, I’m being reminded of things when I can do nothing about them, when I’m trying to find something that I’ve filed for reference before, I can’t find it. When… I’m neglecting certain of my ongoing responsibilities. There are certain things in my life that I’m responsible for on an ongoing basis whether personal of professional, they’re not getting enough energy from me, and that feels wrong.
0:13:10.3 TB: So when you think about all of the things that could be getting in the way, whether something is… One of your ongoing responsibilities is getting enough energy is not something that an Outlook keyboard shortcut is gonna help with it. And so GTD provides us with comprehensive… I don’t particularly like the words… Well, let’s use the word complex in the following way, GTD is as complex as your productive life is complex, so it doesn’t sort of assume that the answer to the question about how you optimize the way that you work, and by the way, that’s something you might have developed over years, decades, many decades, depending on where you are, GTD provides you with the tools to address all of those things, and that’s not a two-hour, here’s a bunch of tips and tricks, and you’re gonna walk away… And walk away and feel like you’ve mastered the art of stress-free productivity. I don’t know. Does that resonate with you?
0:14:16.3 RP: It does, it absolutely does. And what occurs to me when you’re talking about the journey and the potential length of the journey is that there’s also benefit all the way along it, so that it’s not a really long game that you’re playing, that’s gonna take quite a while to reap the rewards from, it is a long game, but it is a game that rewards you with success with winning all throughout. So my journey, I was very lucky to get GTD very early in my career. 22 years ago, met David Allen did a one-day seminar with David. And got all the theory, got all the concepts, and was really… Really caught fire and went away and implemented, and spend a good… The next day, I think just really implementing tooling out and continuing to implement for several months, maybe a year after that, and felt really good, I felt like I was just really at a whole another level of getting stuff out of my head that in itself was a revelation to me.
0:15:23.0 RP: I thought at some point that part of intelligence was just knowing stuff in your head and having your calendar kind of memorized, and I soon came to realize it’s really… That’s only impressive for weight staff in restaurants that they don’t have to write your order down everyone else in the world, you know, that’s not an impressive use of the brain, so that was a huge benefit. And then I was lucky enough to get coached for two full days, and I realized how much I didn’t know, and I thought I’d kinda mastered this game, and in comes the coaches and I go, “Look… ” And they go, “That’s great, well done, and here’s a ton of improvement opportunities that are gonna make things even better.” And so that was an enormous step change for me. I did that for a number of years, further on in my career, really gaining benefit, rapidly rising from sort of writing code, to managing people who write code, to even a more sort of executive level above that, managing the people who manage the people.
0:16:27.2 RP: And then join the David Allen Company. And of course at the David Allen company, very much the culture is one of, you’re getting coached regularly and you’re being supported in your career progression as well with different new elements of GTD that can help that like shifting from having an enormous waiting for list when you’re in charge of one department, to having a projects delegated list when you’re now in charge of three departments, so shifting the levels up as you grow with the organization, so GTD has grown with me throughout my career, but there have been these waypoints, these step changes and pretty much, all of them had to do with intervention from the outside with a seminar, a coaching in one form or another, being in a GTD-enabled culture for a long time, all of these things were really important parts of my progression, and it occurs to me that in terms of the work we do, the teaching, the coaching, all of that, I did an MFA in master of fine arts in writing.
0:17:31.8 RP: And one of the faculty members there was someone who was a self-taught writer, who was very successful, who sold a lot of books, been very successful very well-reviewed and never did an MFA himself. And so he came into the program to teach and was skeptical about what an MFA could do for you, and at the end of a few terms of teaching, it was a really good program, and he said, “Okay, I get it. This is giving you… ” In one or two years of doing this program, “this is giving you a 10 to 20 year boost on your writing ability.” You would have figured this stuff out about dialogue, and about narrative, and about structure, and about the telling detail rather than rambling on it, you would have figured all this stuff out in 10 to 20 years, and you’re paying for a degree that gets you there and two. So you can start writing better books, much more rapidly. To some extent, I think that what we do, coaching and teaching and so forth is a bit like that. People… If you’re really gung-ho about GTD through forums and YouTube videos and just a lot of self-support and hard graft, you can get really far. Absolutely.
0:18:45.2 RP: But when people say, “Well, why I’m… Why do I have to spend two days in a seminar.” I go, “Well, two days in a seminar or five years of trying to stumble your way into it, it’s kinda your call.” So that’s kind of my take on the journey, is that it is a journey that constantly pays dividends, and there are ways to boost it, to step change all of that, which is why I love doing the work we do, because people have these epiphanies and go away, and there is this bout this leveling up of their practice. I don’t know what have you seen in that regard? Does that resonate or…
0:19:27.8 TB: Yeah, totally. I’m just reflecting on… I think that the event that sort of motivated me to bring this up as a potential conversation was a client who… We were… A potential client, and we’re talking through what are their issues and how can we help, and what are the things that we address and what are the challenges in their organization? It was a… As it always is, just a conversation about what can we do to help and is that something that would be helpful for you at the moment? And this was someone who was in the learning and development function, so someone who’s used to… Used to buying these kinds of services from organizations. And I went through… And I went through all of this and then talked through the various delivery options, and she said, “That’s great, we would love that, it would be really helpful, and we’d like it in a half a day please.” And again, it was in that moment that I… And look, I used to work in… When I was back in corporate life, I was a leader in the L&D, L&D department for a big organization.
0:20:32.2 TB: And I get it, I’ve been in that seat. I know how impatient my people are, I know that they’re gonna say, “What? You want me to spend how much time? Doing what?” So I’ve absolutely been there, but I think that at the end of the day… Let’s go back to this idea of how good do you wanna get. If you say to me, “Well, what I want my people to do is be aware of the models, have a sort of a high level understanding of how it might help them, but it’s not really so important to me that they’ve actually implemented anything and it’s not really so important to me that they’ve actually done anything with it, shy of a few exercises.” Then yeah, we’ve got a 90-minute overview, if those are the boxes that you wanna tick. But to your point, I love the metaphor of the MFA by the way, to your point. That’s not gonna get them to the point where in the next few days and weeks, they’re working much more effectively and efficiently, that’s… It’s just not gonna happen, they might be inspired, they might implement a few things which will make a difference, but it’s not gonna make the kind of difference that we’ve seen.
0:21:46.7 TB: I’m thinking about the question you asked me at the beginning of the podcast where we’re… You said, you know what have I seen in clients about how long this takes? There are clients that I’ve been working with for 10 plus years. Not every week, but they come back to me regularly and say, “Hey, it’s been a while, it’d be really helpful to have a bit of a tune-up.” And these are people, these are CEOs of organizations, they are middle managers of organizations they are… They’re in various roles, but they recognize that there is something to be done, it’s a bit like… I suppose it’s a bit like saying, “Hey, I had a personal training session three years ago, it was with somebody who really helped me to work on strength in a particular area of my body, and now I wanna go back because I’m feeling like that needs more attention or something else in sort of way. In my personal fitness needs attention.”
0:22:45.8 TB: It is always, not always, it is sometimes an interesting conversation to have with people. And all I can say is, I really encourage folks to think about… Think about all of the different elements that go into how we work day-to-day, it’s the mindset, it’s how we think about the work, it’s what we gather… What we gather about the work that we need to do, it’s what the tools are, it’s how the tools are configured, it’s how the tools work together, it’s how do we make sure that we’re hitting our deadlines… Yes, but also creating space in our lives to move forward on the things which are strategic and long-term and that the boss will ask us about at the end of the year when we’re doing the review of our annual goals. It’s a complex thing, work, and not everybody, right off the bat has an appreciation of how complex it is, and so if they’re thinking, “Yes, this is a two-hour thing and that’s all we need.” For me, it’s probably because either look, they’re just looking to take a box, it says, we wanna provide some people with a little bit of inspiration, a little bit of high level ideas. Cool, right, absolutely okay with that. But if what they really wanna do is fundamentally change the way people are working, that’s a bigger ask, that’s a deeper dive, that’s more time. That’s something that’s not gonna happen in a quick session.
0:24:10.5 RP: Absolutely, right. And the amazing thing is that it is potentially transformative, that there is something that can actually change the way you live and work for the better, permanently. I say to people at seminars, that’s why I do this work, and no I don’t just say that about every new fangle thing that comes my way, there are very few life-changing events, but finding GTD was one of them. So we’re about coming to time here, but I think this was hopefully a useful conversation for those of you listening in to get a sense and hopefully get some hope and inspiration if you’re on the journey and you’re not an insta black belt, there’s a reason, but again, some also encouragement that there are these waypoints and step changes coming your way, where you will just be getting more and more benefit throughout the journey. We’re here to support you in that journey. So if any of this seemed interesting to you and you want to reach out, were available for supporting you formally and informally, we also take questions and thoughts and comments about the podcast. We love to get those [email protected] is a great way to reach us.
0:25:32.0 RP: If you just wanna get more of this, we do unpack what the journey is and what those waypoints are and how you can get benefit from GTD, so this is in a way, one of those interventions and it’s free, so feel free to hit subscribe. If you subscribe on the podcast, we do this about once a month. If you subscribe over on our YouTube channel in addition to these podcasts, we also have other associates talking about various aspects and finer points of GTD about once a week. So you’ll get those as well. For now, from me from Todd, thanks for tuning in. We wish you increased success in your life and in your work and all that comes your way, may it be low stress and rich and beneficial to you. Until next time. Thanks for tuning in. I’ll see you then.