In this episode, Robert and Todd discuss how creative thinking is supported by your GTD® system.

watch time: 23.5 mins

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0:00:05.6 Todd Brown: Hello everyone, and welcome to another Change Your Game with GTD podcast. My name is Todd Brown and I’m here with Robert Peake.

0:00:12.6 Robert Peake: Hey, Todd.

0:00:13.9 TB: Hey, Robert. Our goal in these podcasts is to give you the opportunity to gain the benefit, I suppose, of our experience and knowledge in many, many years experience between us in the use and the instruction of, and the coaching in the GTD methodology. The goal ultimately helping you to get more of the right things done, the things that are important to you with the minimal amount of stress and in the least amount of time. And Robert, as we were kicking around ideas as we before you hit record, one of the things, especially as it’s sort of summertime and hopefully life is slowing down for quite a lot of people, that it might be interesting to talk about GTD or maybe just more generally productivity and self-expression, right? And the idea that I think there is sort of a tension in this sometimes because of the stress that comes for a lot of people in their working lives, right? Their experience day-to-day is not of ease and friction-free forward motion, their experience is more of stress. And so it can feel a little bit like you can either be creative or you can be productive. I think that’s a perspective that’s probably pretty common with folks. But anyway, I’m curious to know your thoughts. How do those things hang together for you, if at all?

0:01:37.9 RP: Yeah, quite a few ways. So people sometimes are surprised when I say to them, look, I teach this productivity methodology, but I don’t fundamentally think of myself as a productive person or an organised person. I fundamentally think of myself as a creative person, as a creative being, that’s mostly how I would self-identify much more than I’m a really organised guy. So there’s some extent to which I think this is in service to that to create and clear the space, right? The Flaubert quote of, “Be steady and well-ordered in your life so you can be fierce and original in your work.” Your work, meaning, the work of… The creative work as it were in his case.

0:02:21.6 RP: But I think also what’s interesting is that the methodology of keeping track of what has your attention in appropriate ways is absolutely applicable to creative work, is absolutely applicable to the production or the expression of creativity out into the world. So I think there’s a lot of ways in which the two intersect. I think being creative about the methodology once you understand it then can help you a lot when you kind of pull it back to some of these first principles like, get it out, get it off your mind, get it out externalized somewhere, and then review it at appropriate intervals so that it can spark good new creative thoughts and ideas. It’s just one of many of the principles that absolutely applies to, let’s call it the artistic expression. And it doesn’t even have to be that, right? As David has often said, we’re all creative beings. Cooking a wonderful meal is just as creative an act for friends than as painting a canvas. So I’m curious with you too, I know you… Music is your kind of main creative outlet and creative discipline. What do you find in terms of method… Method in the creative madness as it were?

0:03:40.2 TB: Yeah, and yeah, I think for me, there’s sort of two sides to this as I’m thinking about it. On the one hand, if I’m playing music, the last thing in the world I wanna be doing is when I’m trying to focus on what is hopefully a good performance is be distracted by the fact that, oh, yeah, I need to discuss that with somebody, and oh, yeah, I need to buy that. And oh, yeah, right? I wanna have my head as clear as possible. And for those of you listening in that don’t know, so my I’m a very keen but very amateur bass player, and I play a lot of jazz. And of course, as one of the big things about jazz is improvising. And when you’re improvising, my experience of that is, man, you need to be in the moment.

0:04:25.3 TB: You need to be completely focused on what am I hearing? What am I hearing from the other people in the band, right? Also, what’s coming in terms of what are the chord changes that are coming in the song? And it’s not, if you’re gonna do that effectively, it’s not something that you can do at all well, if you’ve got a head full of other things. So one of the major benefits for me is just being able to stay clear-headed, whether, again, whether I’m playing the bass or whether I’m having a nice meal with Debbie, with my wife. On the other hand, I think there is this idea that I think a lot of people come to the pursuit of productivity with a little bit of a heavy heart in the sense that they have a suspicion maybe that being productive is not sort of aligning with who I am as a person, right?

0:05:25.7 TB: I can either be me or I can be productive, right? So it’s a sort of a polar, I suppose, of what I was talking about earlier. And I think one of the really interesting things about getting things done is that it gives you the opportunity to be clear… Or to explore the idea at the very least, that being you is being productive. And that those two things… It goes back to what you just said, right? That you… That ultimately, you don’t see yourself as an organised or as a productive person. You see yourself as, and I’m not using your words here, but you’re aligning the things that you choose to focus on, right? With what you feel to be really core and crucial for you. And that’s GTD in a nutshell, right? It’s like, how do I make sure that I am, as I make my way through my day, focusing on the things that feel like they’re the most important for me?

0:06:21.4 TB: Now, don’t get me wrong, I am completely aware that some of those things we have to get done are whatever, do the laundry, right? Which you might not particularly feel like is a creative endeavour. So it’s not like it’s all self-expression in the ultimate sense. But on the other hand, I think that there is that… It’s, I think, one of the really inspiring things about getting things done is it helps us to be more in tune with who we really are and what’s really important to us. And then, as I say, to ensure that as we make our way through our day, the things that we choose to undertake are aligned with those things that are core and important to us.

0:07:05.6 RP: I think that’s such a huge and valuable point. I was on mute, but I was going yes, yes, yes, inside, when you said that people do, I think, come to this model of, I’ve got to push in this direction that’s not entirely me in order to be productive and effective. And I think GTD really is about being productively you, being effectively you, and for the longest time I think a good example of that is for me, I didn’t have a lot of the creative pursuits in my system, right? There were years in the early days of GTD where GTD was really all about work and about chores, about admin stuff in life, the stuff I needed to get done in life. And that would then clear the space so that then, as you said, when I’m effectively making the jazz chord transitions or improvising in the fun aspects of my life, that the space was there for that.

0:08:00.7 RP: But I look at my project, I just had a look at my project list now, and it says, optimising tax position clean and effortless claw, hammerer ukulele sound, revisiting our work and life insurance cover, building an online game for some friends, demolishing the brick shed and making some wooden presence for some friends that I’m gonna visit later this year. So, literally, interleaved one to the other, right? In my personal project list are things that are very much about what I sometimes call adulting in life, and things that are very much about outcomes that I also want to achieve, that I’m also committed to that are very much creative and fun and enjoyable, that involve music, that involve woodworking, that involve playing games with friends. So they’re all also equally important in a sense to my brain, right?

0:08:58.5 RP: My brain doesn’t differentiate, and that’s one of the points we make about this methodology, why it’s so applicable to any of your areas of focus work, life or any of the others. So I just thought that was such a great point. And it was a revelation. I didn’t put it that succinctly and well, but there was a revelation point in my life and in my GTD journey where I realised, yeah what it is about aligning with all of me, and all of me happens to be a big umbrella that encompasses a lot of unusual things that people don’t necessarily think go together, but I’m a kind of pickles and ice cream guy, apparently. And that’s okay, right? And GTD can help me actually embrace that by externalising that, by keeping track of that, by making sure that that’s not all crammed up in my head and sort of shouting in my head in terms of the different aspects that want different things, but it’s out there and it’s moving along.

0:09:51.9 RP: So I just thought that was such a great point. One of the things that people have been asking, we get questions on this podcast and someone asked, what do you do with material of a more creative or inspirational nature, right? So it’s not a project, it’s not an action, it’s not something strictly. So I’m sure you have sheet musics, you have recordings of favourite artists or favourite versions of particular pieces that you’re working on. You have material right around your practice of jazz music. I have material around poetry, I have material around woodworking. I have various material as well. So curious how you see some of that stuff fitting into the GTD model. And, again, kind of in the spirit of getting it out, reviewing it regularly, helping it spark you, like what do you do maybe on a practical basis to keep yourself inspired and fresh with the stuff outside of the strict project and action domain?

0:10:58.5 TB: Yeah, that’s a really interesting question for me. So the quick answer to your question is yes, by all means, right? So just over my left shoulder here is a music stand, so you might have noticed already, there are two things that are on that music stand. One is an article, which also has some music in it that I’m looking forward to playing that gets into a particular way to think about hand position and various things that we play in jazz. And so that is at this point if you think about it in the GTD context, that’s a next action reminder. Next action is read through that two or three pages and play along, right, or practice that a little bit.

0:11:46.8 TB: I also have in the cabinetry behind me that I knew [laughter], when I had the home office free for not long ago, one of the things that I recognised was I had a lot of reference material when it came to music, and I do. I have exercise books, and I have sheet music as you’ve implied, and I have binders that are full of songs that I’ve played in various concert formats where I played in jazz camps, jazz assemblies that I’ve done and that I’ve run. So there’s a lot of that information there. And the way it’s organised at the moment is it’s basically just broken down by type. So there’s a section which is full of song books.

0:12:31.6 TB: There’s another section which is full of technical exercises. There’s another section which is full of biographies, right? Great bass players out of history, that sort of thing. And as I thought about how I was gonna organise that information, I thought that will be… That struck me as a very natural way, not just to organise it, but also to think about, “Hey, when I come back to this material in the future, what do I think the primary or the important categories would be for me to then be able to interact with that or get my hands on what I was interested in getting my hands on quickly and easily?” Right? So again, at the moment, if we put all of that in GTD context, that cabinet is a… It’s a very, very large someday maybe file in essence, right?

0:13:24.9 TB: With lots of different things. There’s a little bit of reference there as well. Some things that I’ve worked on in the past and have filed away and probably won’t be actively engaged in anytime soon. But yeah, I mean, I think… So coming back to your question, I do have… We talk about the importance in a GTD system of clean edges. I do have clean edges in my system, and that’s how they’re broken down, right? So I’ve got some very current next actions over my left shoulder on the music stand. I have a big old pile, as they say, of someday maybes. Those are the kind of things that I will pick through if I’m hungry to find the next thing that ought to go on the music stand. And that’s kind of it in a big nutshell, I don’t know that… Was that too much detail? Did that make sense?

0:14:10.1 RP: Made perfect sense to me. And I think it’s helpful to probably to others who yeah, have gotten some of how valuable GTD is for, again, the commitment stuff, but are interested in the practice. ‘Cause I really, that’s what I hear you talking about is the practice of any kind of art form. So yeah, I think that’s great. One of the things I hear too, in addition to clean edges is that you’re setting your future self up. You’re being kind to that future self that’s gonna go into the practice room or the practice mode or have time to engage with music to be inspired, to be informed or educated. And to have fun, right? To have something to look forward to and something fun to engage with when it comes time to do that.

0:14:56.8 RP: And it’s very similar for me, right? So books I think would be the primary thing. I have books on woodworking, your sort of traditional green woodworking and old time hand tool woodworking which are inspiring and romantic and fun for me. Poetry books, just a handful of ones that I really resonate with. And I think part of that too is that the practice doesn’t ever happen in a vacuum, right? We don’t just show up and go, “Right, let me now… Time to write something.” Or show up and say, “I wonder what notes I’m gonna play.” Right? We’re part of this long continuing tradition, and we’re also responding to our own past and our own progress, or hopefully a sense of progress about our practice as well. So being able to dip into that, having something set up is very valuable.

0:15:44.4 RP: And as you said, it sounds like some of it’s reference, some of it’s read and review kind of category. Some of it is setting up a next action, but it doesn’t have to be on a list. It can just be available in the place where you’ll do that action. So I think it’s good to break out of the “everything has to be on a list all the time” mindset too when we come to these kind of things. Just the other day, I found myself… Someone was asking about how do you go into greater detail on things like areas of focus or goals, some of the longer term stuff, some of the stuff that maybe we touch on later in the GTD process beyond projects and actions? And I found myself talking to them about things like mood boards.

0:16:27.9 RP: So we did a mood board. We got a load of Country Life magazines and cut stuff out and did a mood board for our house, the goal of the home we wanted to own and live in. Creating ideal scenes is also a great thing for that. And it also can work for areas of focus, right? The ongoing things, having visual representations that inspire you, having spider diagrams or mindmaps that let your mind roam around those various topics can inspire you. And again, anytime any one of those things sparks something actionable, you know what to do, create the project, create the action, get going for that. And I just have an inspiration folder too, right? For work, I have people that have written to me out of the blue to say how much the GTD work has helped them.

0:17:15.8 RP: And if I’m facing a busy day and I haven’t had much sleep the night before, and for whatever reason I’m at a lull, which happens in life, let’s admit it, I can whip out that inspiration folder and remember why I do this work, basically, right? I can come back to that. So I think there’s a lot of different creative ways, as it were, to externalise and engage with the material that feeds us, the material that supports us in being inspired. And I think it’s one of the fundamental premises and dynamics of GTD too, which is that productivity isn’t just about the air you breathe, the food you eat, the… It’s not just about physical energy levels, it’s also about how you feel about it, how motivated you are toward it. So having that project support for that project that inspires you, that engages you, that gives you the picture, the vision, the idea, the sounds that immerses you in the experience of success you’re going toward, I think is a huge part of productivity. Just as much as having the good projects and actions to mode being motivated toward that and being kind to that future self that may not always feel as fired up as you are now about, about doing that. I don’t know. What do you think?

0:18:32.7 TB: Yeah, no, that’s… I think we’ve touched on an awful lot of things that are important. You know as we’re coming a little bit close to time here, I think if I summarise what I’ve heard is, on the one hand, we wanna make sure that… One of the benefits of GTD is that it helps us to keep our head clear and for a lot of… Let’s just put them in the bucket of creative pursuits and taking on board what you said at the beginning and when you said pretty much anything can be considered a creative pursuit. That said, let me put it this way. A lot of people when they find out more about the work are surprised how many “creative” people, right?

0:19:15.2 TB: People in film, people in music, people who are actors, and the people… Artists, painters, poets like yourself. How many people who are from those worlds find that they get a huge amount out of GTD because for a lot of people, they go, well, okay, it’s about productivity and effectiveness. Well, the last person in the world that’s gonna be interested in that is a poet or a songwriter, or a… And it turns out those people are really motivated by that. And again, I think that’s because… Sorry, motivated by GTD and I think that’s because, again, it helps them to keep their head clear and it helps them to ensure, to your point, that they’re focused on the right things as they make their way through the day.

0:19:53.0 TB: So that’s one thing. I think your phrase, which we’ve used quite a lot over the years is being kind to your future self. So setting yourself up so that whenever you are ready to engage in that productive activity that you have access to the information, access to the reminders that you wanna have access to, that’s key. And then having a good organisational system that has clean edges, that allows you to… So, for example, that piece of paper over my shoulder there, right? Once I’ve worked that through, I know exactly where that’s gonna go. I’m gonna hold onto it. It’s gonna go into one of the folders, sorry, the drawers behind me. And that’s going to be… I know exactly where it’s gonna go. So having a good organisational system that has clean edges, right? So only the things that mean one thing are in one place. Those things all, I think, can sort of support us in our creative lives. And I’m sure I’ve left something out. So does anything come to mind for you that I’ve… We should be sharing with people before we say goodbye for today?

0:21:01.8 RP: You know, Todd, I think that’s a great summary. I just want to point out that this is… None of this has been a setup, right? You didn’t put that music stand there beforehand just because we knew we were gonna talk about this particular topic and we chose the topic well after you’d sat down and this happens to be the space you’re in. Likewise, I didn’t groom my project list to have a mix [laughter] perfectly interleaved as it happens, mix of more creative things and more administrative things on my personal project list. This is working for us as a living thing, right? So we’re speaking from our experience. Your, of course, mileage will vary in that regard. But I guess I just wanna point out that it’s not a theoretical thing. It’s very much something that we’ve both embraced and you’re… We’re just sort of happening to dip in and unpack why that’s working for us in this moment.

0:21:52.2 RP: So you’ll find your own ways too, I think, is part of what I’m saying is that as you go along, you’ll find, from that fundamental motivation of I wanna have a clear head to be able to express, I wanna be most productively myself, not most productively who someone else thinks I ought to be or pushing in a direction that doesn’t feel right, really coming from that place, from the inside out as it were in approaching these best practices. I think you’re gonna find your rhythms, your way of embracing GTD as a creative being as well.

0:22:31.5 TB: Nicely put. I don’t think there’s any better summary. So listen, thank you all for being a part of this today, for joining us for this Change Your Game with GTD podcast. Please do hit like and subscribe. And in addition, if you’re interested in… If there’s something that you’d like to hear us talk about in one of these podcasts, please do let us know. As Robert was saying earlier, we do get questions and requests pretty regularly and very regularly, the topics that we talk about are inspired by topics that have come in through the various channels. So drop us an email, have a look in the website and get in touch. We’d be very happy to hear from you. So for now, from Robert and from me, thank you again very much for being with us, and we’ll see you next time.


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