In this podcast episode, Todd and Robert discuss what it means to have a comprehensive system and what the benefits are.

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0:00:00.0 Todd Brown: Hello everyone, and welcome to another Change Your Game with GTD podcast. I’m Todd Brown, and I’m here, as always with Robert Peake.

0:00:13.9 Robert Peake: Hey, Todd.

0:00:14.4 TB: Hey, Robert. Our goal in these podcasts is to give you the opportunity to deepen both your understanding of getting things done methodology and how it can help you to get more of the right things done, with more ease, with less stress, and also to, talk as far as appropriate about the real, technical details around how all of this happens and, how you adapt your tool set, how you adapt your thinking, how you make it work in your life. And Robert, as you and I were talking just before you hit record, one of the topics that we thought might be helpful would be to talk about, hey, GTD I think for a lot, an awful lot of people, GTD, they latch on to certain GTD practices, right?

0:01:03.0 TB: To a particular thing that, for them, it might seem to them a bit of a tip trick, sort of, thing that they’ve adopted a new way of working or a new element of their system, a new list, something like that. And one of the topics that it’s been on my mind, and I think you and I agreed this would be good to talk about would be, Hey, how do you sort of ensure that your GTD system is as comprehensive as it can be? And when I say can be is maybe the right way to put it, how can you make sure that it’s comprehensive enough to serve you well, right? To serve you in an optimal kind of a way. So we thought we talk about that today, right? How do I ensure that my practice and my system are as comprehensive as I want and need them to be, to get the most from them? What are your sort of kickoff thoughts about that? Any sort of framing ideas that might be helpful to get us started?

0:01:56.4 RP: Yeah, so the first thing that comes to mind is something I sometimes hear from people, which is, why, why would I want to have a comprehensive GTD system? For a lot of people, I think, as you kind of alluded to, GTD is a work thing. It’s a thing about being more productive and effective, and being productive is about working. And so I think it’s really useful to look at, what are the dynamics in play that GTD addresses? And I think fundamentally, GTD addresses the dynamic that we are intentional beings that commit to outcomes, right? We are, agents of change, hopefully positive change, sort of in our world, in that we want things to be true that are not yet true. And the simple matter is that that happens across a wide range of activities, incredibly wide range of activities.

0:02:50.5 RP: And so, what GTD does is helps you, have a much better way to keep track of those commitments, your progress on those commitments, your next actions in relation to those commitments, who else is supporting you and how, what the state of play is for all of those things, so that your brain doesn’t have to basically. So, we often say the brain doesn’t differentiate between work and home. It’ll wake you up in the middle of the night about work stuff. It’ll nag you all day at work about a personal matter, and particularly so if you don’t have a trusted system that encompasses the comprehensiveness, not only of life and work, but all the different aspects inside of that. So it’s a little theoretical, but I think, if you can get the concept that your brain will in fact, not really care or differentiate about what domain the commitment resides in, terms of your compartmentalized view of your life, then I think you can start to understand why it would be useful to have a comprehensive system. What about you, Todd, when you’re, when you’re thinking about, yeah, moving along the journey toward comprehensive, what was your journey like? What have you seen from others?

0:04:04.5 TB: Yeah, I really like the way you framed that. I think, comprehensive, it’s funny when, we decided we were gonna talk about what does a comprehensive system look like? I was thinking about comprehensive, not so much in terms of personal and professional, although I completely agree with you, that’s a key thing for a lot of people, right? Comprehensive means as you say, sometimes people push back on this idea that, hey, if I’m doing a mind sweep and I’m writing down things that are personal and a mind sweep that I’m doing at work, that’s somehow feels wrong, that I’m crossing a boundary there, that’s wrong. And the point I quite often make is, hey, you’re actually in service of your professional self when you’re doing the mind sweep and getting those personal things off your mind because you’re less likely to be distracted by them, right? While you’re working, while you’re doing the stuff that you get paid for, let’s say.

0:04:56.0 TB: But for me, comprehensive also means moving beyond, you know? So for example, if someone’s been along to one of our… What we call our fundamental seminars, right? Our introductory level seminars, then they’ve had an introduction to the elements, the models, the practices of a GTD, of the methodology and of a system that helps them to get into control, right? So we talk primarily there about the workflow model, right? Capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage. And we use that model to sort of optimize how we work. And for a lot of people that, I mean, that’s a huge eye-opener, a huge game changer. It’s one of the reasons, of course, the GTD has been so popular for as long as it has been.

0:05:38.7 TB: But one of the things that, that doesn’t really address directly is, more perspective level questions, right? So longer term outcomes, the more strategic view of our world. And those fall into this domain of, those kinds of commitments fall into those domain that, we use the horizons of focus, which is another model to address. So when I was thinking about the word comprehensive, what I was thinking of was, well, a lot of people have systems. Some of them good, some of them not so good, some of them excellent, which helped them to stay in control. And fewer people, I think, have done an awful lot of work in the direction of, okay, control is great. The perspective would be control is great and control is important.

0:06:29.2 TB: If I don’t have control then trying to get perspective is probably gonna be a bit of a fool’s errand, because I’m gonna spend so much time being distracted by the things that are coming at me, the things I haven’t done yet, the things that are sitting on my list that I’m not getting around to. ‘Cause I’m not looking at my lists, right? It’s gonna be a bit of a fool’s errand to try to get a much focus on, the strategic outcomes at all. So that’s what came to mind for me as I was talking about comprehensive and, that there could be, I suppose, a whole other podcast just in that, but I don’t know, what do you think? So, for you, it’s pretty clearly, if I’ve understood you right, let’s make sure that your system is, is one that encompasses your complete world, as it were, personal and professional. Is that right?

0:07:12.8 RP: Yeah, it is. But I think it ties very nicely into what you’re talking about with the horizons of focus model, because people, I think, often erroneously think they want work-life balance, right? And the reality is that the horizons, a focus model encompasses all the different facets of work, all the different facets of life in terms of those ongoing areas that you have to support and maintain and nurture and so forth. So I think one of the beautiful things about the model is the way that perspective and control interrelate in that as you start making your system more comprehensive in terms of understanding the higher horizons, you then necessarily make it more comprehensive in terms of having the right projects, the right next actions that you’re getting operational control of in the system as well. So I see it as a really nice, counterpoint, those two kind of ideas.

0:08:11.4 RP: And you’re absolutely right. I think on a practical basis, when, people want to get more comprehensive, the next best place to look is to bump up to the horizons of focus, and start to look at what are all the areas, health and being a parent and sales responsibilities and, et cetera, finance, that are ongoing in your life, and are those well and accurately represented in terms of the tactical parts of your system, in terms of the things that you need to keep to keep moving to make those right, to make those good, to make those match your standards for how you want your finances and your health and your parenting and your sales responsibilities to be. So to me, that’s one of the first entry points actually, when people say, how do I get this more comprehensive, is to say, well, what are you not representing? Or what are you under representing? And very often, one of the most underrepresented places for people that are fairly new to GTD and just getting control, as you say, is exactly that, the horizons of focus, which can then help precipitate down, projects and actions in the places where needed. Does that that make sense? Does that kind of match your…

0:09:24.1 TB: Yeah, No, I’m with you, I think you’re right. I think those things do dovetail and they dovetail quite nicely. Let’s though, let’s put a supportive arm around though the people who are struggling with the issues around, personal and professional. And it just strikes me, it might be really helpful to just get terribly practical for a little while here and talk about, okay, if you’ve got someone who has, let’s say, made a start with GTD and, they’re using it primarily in the… Or maybe exclusively in the professional sphere, not really given much thought to, okay, what do I do with this now? If I really wanted to expand it, then what would you say? I mean, what kind of advice would you give somebody who’s really just at the beginning of expanding their thinking, expanding their systems, expanding their practices, so that it will become a more comprehensive system? What’s your goal?

0:10:17.2 RP: Yeah, I mean, I think my own experience has been that I’ve sometimes had resistance to getting comprehensive in certain areas and certain places. So I think the first question to really ask is what are you filtering out? Or what are you hiding from yourself to some extent, in terms of what is a real commitment, something you really want to be true? And for me, strangely enough, a lot of it, from time to time has been the so-called fun stuff that still is an active commitment that still requires multiple steps, that still requires coordination with other people to get done. And interestingly enough, more and more, I’ve had to come to the idea that, look, work is fun and fun is sometimes work, right? There’s a component of it that it will become less fun, if it’s all up in your head about what the next step is, and you’re having to keep track of kind of where you are and what the state of play is in, in your head.

0:11:13.4 RP: So for me, one of the first responses to that question, what are you filtering away, was, well, some of the fun stuff. Now some of it is nibble away, one off as you, like, whatever stuff that doesn’t go into the system. But some of it, as I say, it does require multiple steps. There is a clear outcome there, and it can actually take up unnecessary amounts of, psychic RAM or a term I’ve heard more recently that, people are getting into is cognitive load. It can add to your overall cognitive load, as it were, to have to keep track of this stuff. So I think it’ll be different for different people. What are you filtering away or what are you hiding? For some people I’ve seen, what they’re reticent to put into their system is tracking other people’s responsibilities or inner relationships with them.

0:12:06.5 RP: So I’ve dealt with CEOs and MDs who’ve said, well, I shouldn’t have to file a waiting for, they should just do their job. [chuckle] And my point is, if you care about it and you know it’s gonna be on your mind, otherwise you really need to get it into your system as well, so that you can follow up appropriately. If part of your job is follow up appropriately. If it doesn’t happen, then that’s gonna be an active, drain on your cognitive load or your psychic RAM, unless it’s in a trusted system. So, it’s funny the way we kind of, I think, trick ourself that it’s gonna be okay that this little area kind of more or less stays in my head. And I think the real, for me anyway, the real way to get through that is to just, really sit down and say, look, what am I filtering and is that really appropriate or not? What about you? What have you seen as ways to make inroads to, really get the system full?

0:13:05.7 TB: Yeah, I think there’s some, some fundamental questions that tend to come up. One of them we’ve already talked about, right? Am I capturing all of the open loops that I have, right? Whether they’re personal or professional, and that’s maybe sort of thing one, right? Making sure that people are setting their, or are allowing themselves, to have their filters open to, recording things that are out of their personal lives. I think in addition to that, they’re… Start to become, then those are very quickly followed by some other questions. Should I have two systems, right? Should I have a system at home and a different system at the office, or should I have them consolidated? And that’s again, I think a really interesting system. I think one of the side effects of the really challenging, time that we’ve all been through in the last couple years in the pandemic has been that people have been doing, because more people have been working from home, they’re living in a hybrid world, and they’re in, almost constantly many people are in a state where they could do, right, both personal and professional things, right?

0:14:06.8 TB: More of them in the physical space that they’re occupying. And one of the subtle changes that I’ve found is I think, is more people have been saying, I kind of get it. Maybe I should just have a single system, right? Not everybody’s open to that, right? Some people also believe, Hey, no, no, no, no, no. I really, really, in the interest of effectiveness, efficiency, sanity, whatever. Their perception is, I wanna have two, systems. And I’m open to that. My question then would be, how do we make sure that those two systems, operate as efficiently as they can, as discreet systems, but also that you as the pilot or the driver of those two systems don’t spend too much time, sort of thumbing back and forth, and was that here or is that there and how do I synchronize, and oh, maybe this is a different tool than that and therefore… So if you do have two systems, I think it’s helpful to think about how do I make my working with the, with both systems as efficient as possible.

0:15:12.4 TB: What some people end up doing is they’ll go for something dead simple If they’re gonna have different systems, they’ll go for something really simple at home, right? They’ll go for something which is, maybe just a to-do list app or something like that, or even paper, right? They’ll keep the bulk of their system on paper at home. And that can work, that can work. Some other people, and I’ve seen this work very well, will use the same software at home that they have at the office. So, if they’re in a Google environment, they’ll use, they’ll use the same sort of G-suite applications just with a different account at home as opposed to when they’re working, as opposed to when they’re working in the office. So that can work, or, you could, if you use Outlook at the office, you could, or Microsoft 365, you could load that right on your, computer at home if you use a separate computer at home.

0:16:03.4 TB: And then at least what you’ve got is you’ve got the same, you’ve got the same procedures, the same tool, right? So that, will facilitate probably, efficient working. So yeah, early on, as people are, are sort of making this transition, again, whether it happens in the fundamental seminar or whether it happens a bit later, right? As they sort of realize that they’re gonna wanna evolve their system from a work only system to a, more comprehensive system. Those are some of the early things that I see happen that, that ring a bell with you.

0:16:36.1 RP: That makes a lot of sense. Yeah. Yeah. And in an interesting way, as I hear you talk about the personal and professional system and the importance of really figuring out how to do that in a way that works for you in a funny way in the hybrid world. I think it actually helps you create better boundaries to have your system be comprehensive across the personal and professional domain, whether it’s separate or not, because, really what it helps with is that kind of, that leak, that psychological leak of personal stuff sort of leaking into the professional world as you remember, and think about it, maybe I should just be handling that little thing on my lunch break and whatever. To be able to say, no, I’ve done my weekly review. I know what’s moving both personally and professionally. I can give my full focus to work, and then I know what I’m gonna kind of be moving into in the evening, because the system actually helps me with that.

0:17:25.7 RP: So, interestingly enough, people that say, oh, well, like you said, I’m doing the mind sweep. I shouldn’t write down personal things. I think actually systematizing personal things can help with focus at work. So I think that’s interesting. Another area just to touch on is, is having a system in relation to, I guess one of the things that’s happened in the hybrid world is we’ve inherited systems. More and more groupware systems are coming into play. People are using Slack and Teams and a host of other solutions to try and help focus the mind to try and help teams focus on outcomes and collaborate. But there’s this, this great quote by the Poet William Blake, who said, I must create my own system or be enslaved by another man’s.

0:18:13.9 RP: Now he was talking about these wild imaginative worlds that he was creating, but I think it applies just as well too, in the hybrid working world to, do you have your own trusted system that really works for you, or are you in a sense reliant on teams threads and slack threads and having to kind of make your way, wage your way through all of that and deal with all of the other systems that are kind of imposed on you. So getting comprehensive in relation to that, I think is important as well. And not just assuming, well, it’s in the, company system, it’s in the shared system, therefore, I’m just going to take that on completely wholesale. It’s like, no, figure out how that works in your world in relation to your world of managing all your commitments, rather than just receiving as red that that’s gonna be, the best or optimal way in terms of how that works for you. So I think, encompassing that wider system and the team and groupware system is an important part of being comprehensive too. I don’t know if that.

0:19:21.3 TB: Yeah, that’s a really good point. And I, yeah, sorry.

0:19:21.4 RP: I don’t know if that rings bells for you. I think teams comes up a lot. I mean, in the lowercase T of dealing with team teamwork a lot.

0:19:31.8 TB: Yeah, yeah. No, completely agree. And, it’s becoming… I had this conversation twice with two different clients yesterday, right? How do we, in an environment where email is still a thing, right? I have yet to meet anybody who said, yeah, we managed to completely illuminate email by making a transition to Teams or to Slack or whatever the tool is, right? I have yet to hear from anybody. And by the way, if there’s anybody out there in the audience who has absolutely managed to banish email from their lives completely, we’d be very, very interested to hear from you. But, so as I say, I’ve not heard from those people. So a lot of people are trying to make this, make this kind of transition to a more integrated, as you say, integrated world in terms of integrating multiple tools.

0:20:15.8 TB: And that’s the challenge, I mean, for a lot of people, I think it’s not really clear because they haven’t had the conversations within the organization about what, are my commitments about being a member of a, let’s just say a teams channel, right? What are my commitments? What can people expect in terms of the amount of time that I’m gonna spend reviewing the messages there? Well, how about an email? Right? And email’s been around for a lot longer, and yet those conversations are very rarely had, right? Teams are not sitting down. Again, teams with a small T, are not sitting down and saying, okay, when we send messages to each other in email, in the form of email, what’s our expectation? How long is it gonna be before the recipients have put their eyes on it?

0:21:00.7 TB: And those kinds of standards can reduce stress in teams, a lot. Just having a conversation and agreeing those kinds of standards, I think can have a big impact on effective team working. And as we’re adding these tools, as we’re adding these, sort of as it were, internal social media tools and things like Teams, they’re going to, the requirement for those, the complexity of the system goes up, and the requirement to have those conversations in order to set those standards, I think becomes, more important, becomes more a key part of helping the team to, operate most effectively. We’re sadly, this has gone so fast, I’m not quite sure why, but this has really gone quickly today. Really enjoyed the conversation. Robert, just, some final thoughts around core ideas. If someone is struggling with any of the, sort of flavors of, comprehensiveness that we’ve been talking about for the last half hour or so, what would you recommend, what kinds of advice would you give them around, first thing to do? What’s a suggested next action? Maybe put it in those terms.

0:22:13.6 RP: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s hard for us to be comprehensive about being comprehensive ’cause it’s so individual in terms of what’s gonna be missing as it were. But as you said, the inroad, the inroad to, getting started with that is, I think really what you’ve said earlier is look at the capture practice. What are you capturing and what are you going, oh, I don’t need to capture that, I don’t need to deal with that, that’s in some other compartment or place. And to really start to, look at capture to start doing really good mind sweeps with a comprehensive mindset in mind. You can also use the, in-completion trigger lists from the methodology guides as a way to sort of mine out and sort of wear down the filters that might be in there that are stopping you from really catching what everything is that needs to be systematized. So I think you hit the nail on the head earlier with really starting with that capture practice, but again, with the mindset of, “Hey, I want to, I’m open now to look at all the commitments.”And I think once you’ve come a certain distance along in the GTD journey, people will be ready for that. What about you? What’s…

0:23:21.8 TB: Yeah, I think that’s really good and, I so, I, the only thing I guess I would add to that is, and this is going back to something that you said earlier, underlies this whole topic, is just be ready to have the conversation with yourself about the negative impact of not having a comprehensive system, right? So how is that holding you back? Right? That probably means that you’re being more distracted about personal things at work than you wanna be. Or even when you’re just sort of, dealing with downtime or, in downtime. We’re trying to sleep for Pete’s sake, that’s all, that’s probably a negative. So be open to the disadvantages of not having a comprehensive approach. And of course, focus a bit, on the why as we’ve been talking about today, the why of having a comprehensive system and what kind of benefits that would bring for you.

0:24:13.0 TB: So thank you all for being with us, once again for this Change Your game with GTD podcast. Please do hit like and subscribe down below. Like if you’d like this and subscribe if you’d like to hear more about what’s going on, when we publish new versions of this podcast. As we always say, if there’s anything that we can do to be of service to you in your, GTD journey, please do let us know. For me, and for Robert, until next time, bye for now.


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