In this episode, Robert and Todd are joined by a special guest, Blanka Petyusne Szecsenyi, to discuss how a GTD practice translates to home life and balancing everything between work and personal.
watch time: 26 mins
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0:00:00.0 Todd Brown: Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of the Change Your Game with GTD Podcast. My name is Todd Brown, and I’m very pleased to say today that in addition to my colleague and usual companion here, Robert Peake, we have a special guest with us today. Blanka Petyusne Szecsenyi is a colleague of ours. She’s a certified GTD trainer, and someone has been in our community for a few years now. And I’m gonna ask Blanka to introduce herself in just a second, but as we were talking about things that we could do that would be of interest to folks out there in the audience, one of the things that has come up and we’ve had quite a lot of feedback about over the years is, hey, how does this really get applied day-to-day? What does it really look like to do GTD in the real world? And Blanka, given her experience in the story that she’ll tell you, has lived a lot of GTD and has had a lot of GTD support in a lot of different change that has happened in her life. So without any further ado, Blanka, could I just ask you to introduce yourself please? And tell us a little bit about your backstory and also a little bit about your GTD journey up until now.
0:01:19.8 Blanka Petyusne Szecsenyi: Thank you very much, Todd. I’m really glad to be here. My name is Blanka Petyusne Szecsenyi for the [chuckle] authentic pronunciation of my name. I have been using GTD for close to 10 years now. I started off with just reading the book and trying to figure it out for myself all the way to now having been certified as a level one fundamentals trainer. But my story about getting things done started maybe a little bit earlier, and this is a fun fact that I had a boss called David Allen back in the time when I was working in hospitality, and I used to work at a hotel in Glasgow where the general manager was called David Allen. And at that point in my life I didn’t really feel the need of such system. My day job in a hotel was really transactional based.
0:02:13.0 BS: I mean, people checking in, checking out, and there was not much to plan for. I was doing a full-time uni next to it. So, that gave me a lot of things to do, but it was all sort of given, deadlines, timetables, shifts, everything was all handed to me. And it wasn’t that difficult to do it. And for this reason, I didn’t really think about a system to manage all these. I had a paper calendar, had my timetables in it, and that was pretty much my life. When I got hold of the GTD book, and I have no memory of how it ended up on my desk. [laughter] But I was living in London, I was working as an executive director in an international company, and that’s when it first occurred to me that something is wrong, that I end up focusing on the transactional things, replying to emails, going to calls, traveling for meetings and that sort of thing.
0:03:09.3 BS: And everything that we had on the big annual meetings of what we are going to do next year, what is our big goal. It has a beautiful outline. And then we never really made any movement on it. Never got to the real work, but it was all about putting out fires or even if it wasn’t a fire, from the hospitality background, I have the need to reply to any message, promptly [laughter] and not just wait for the real thing to be done. But I was living in my inbox really. And then I noticed that, okay, so GTD can help with actually having those lists that really keep your eye on the prize of what you want to achieve. And with a few tricks you are able to really stay the course and manage your time, in this three dimensions of preparing for work and preparing the work, doing the planned work, and then all the unplanned work.
0:04:09.7 BS: And then, life changed, and I moved back from London to Budapest. I renovated with my husband two apartments, which is a really big project, [laughter], if you know the Handyman in Hungary. And then I was trying to start my own consultancy business, then I had my two boys, raising the little kids. And then I decided that I want to do GTD full-time once the kids are old enough to be taken care of in a kindergarten full-time. And that takes me to today where, in the last one and a half years I was doing a project management day job, engaging with GTD training and the daily life of everything that I have to manage. And I have to say that without GTD I would really be nowhere.
0:05:00.4 TB: Blanka, as you’re talking about that, one of the things that occurs to me is that moment that you referenced just a minute ago about realizing that something’s wrong and something needs to change, and I think that’s, for a lot of us in this work, we can remember when that became clear and then, in that I think there’s not just the, “Hey, I feel overwhelmed, I feel something needs to change. This is not sustainable.” But there’s also an awareness, or at the very least, a hope that things can get better. That things can in fact be different and that life can be… Well, as it says, on our business cards, that we can get more of the right things done, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re gonna be more stressed. In fact, we can do that in ways that relieve stress. So I really love the reference that you made to that, and look, given the number of changes you’re talking about, both professional and personal, it sounds like having sort of GTD underpinning was quite important. Robert, over to you. What’s on your mind about Blanka’s story?
0:06:08.7 Robert Peake: Well, I just wanna know, first of all, if the Glaswegian hotel manager named David Allen was incredibly efficient or inefficient, right? I mean, [laughter] no, I’m kidding. I’m imagining a sort of Scottish Basil Fawlty and thinking David Allen really needs David Allan. But no, this is great. It’s great to hear the real life stories, not that Todd and I don’t have real lives as well, but it’s great to hear about all the different aspects of your life, and I’d love to hear more about, specifically maybe some of the aspects that we personally haven’t covered as much with a kind of corporate focus, about life balance or what life balance means to you, what it means to be available to your family. Anything you wanna share about that I think would enrich and broaden the spectrum of the conversations we’ve been having.
0:06:56.5 BS: I think that one of the big differences that I feel that I have compared to the most of the GTD conversations out there is that we talk about a lot of corporate trainings and corporations doing GTD, and that people tend to forget about that GTD is really not just for work. And as I said in that moment, when I realized that I need something more than I had, and when I picked up the book, that was a time when I was in a senior enough position to be my own boss, but I had a boss and I had a company to report to. But what really changed since then is that just the way my life turned out. I don’t have this classic job description or the expectations that are set by the bosses and so on, so there is a lot of expectation of any woman, any mother, any wife in this world.
0:08:00.2 BS: But, so many of the things you only find out when it’s too late, when you’ve done it really wrong and not while you’re trying to improve yourself and the life around you. So I think one of the biggest things is that the input, the capturing of the things, capturing the stuff that comes in our life. For me, it has been really done by myself that I had to pick up the things, it was not given to me, it was not described to me, I didn’t have any goals set by someone else that I have to meet the expectations, but it was something that I had to figure out. So if we’re looking at the horizons of focus, it’s something that I had to really force myself to always look at the bigger picture, to put out these goals for myself and not expect someone else to give it to me.
0:08:56.0 BS: And I think that’s one of the biggest differences in GTD at work and at home, that you have to set your own goals. And without goals, what are you working towards anyway? Where is your life going if there are no goals in it? And I’m not talking about goals like, by the end of the year, you have to… I don’t know, the kids have to learn to read. But it’s something that it could be a holiday that we’re preparing for, it could be buying a new car or upgrading the kitchen or anything like that. But nobody tells you what the deadline will be, nobody tells you how it should be. But you have to make your own dreams and goals and then work from them. So I think that’s one of the biggest advantages of GTD at home that you have the flexibility of the input. And of course, all these input they have the ones and the needs separated. So there are the things that I should do, and there are the things that I really want to do, so that’s also defining the incoming traffic.
0:09:58.1 RP: Makes a lot of sense. Yeah. So capturing sounds like absolutely essential. I’m curious what other aspects of the GTD system, or let’s say, if I were to take away various parts of your GTD system, what one part maybe would you say, “No, you can’t have that. This keeps me the most sane in a rich life with a lot of different balls to juggle and things going on.” What are your essentials, I guess, or go-to parts?
0:10:26.0 BS: I would say that it is the review part, that if you take away my review with my checklist of bigger goals about things that I want to achieve for myself or my family, for my home and all that, if you take that away, then I don’t know what I should pull up all those project lists and next sections because I need to go back to that and find out that I’m still on track for them.
0:10:55.9 TB: It’s funny as you’re talking about that, Blanka, I’m just reflecting on how your own experience is such a great example of the importance of perspective. And you’ve talked about the fact that… You’ve referenced the horizons of focus model, so that six layer model that helps us to keep track of not just the tactical got to do this week, got to do next week, but also the longer term things, the vision, the outcome, the long-term vision of what we want to achieve in our lives and the things that we need to maintain.
0:11:25.4 TB: And as I think back on the experience of a lot of the people that I’ve worked with over the years, they get in the fundamentals seminar, in the early stages of a lot of coachings, we’re focused primarily on the fact that someone will feel like they’re out of control, that the control is the thing that is lacking. And so we spent a lot of time working on what we call the five phase model or the workflow model, right? Capture, clarify, organize, reflect and engage. And that’s kind of the basics. That’s where we start for a lot of people. And a lot of people, they get so much out of that. And they have such a positive experience of that, that they, at least mentally, they draw a line and they say, “Well, okay, that’s it. That’s all I need.” And what I loved about the example you gave was that your own then awareness over time evolved from, yeah, okay, control is the story to actually, control is important, but it really is only effective if it’s complemented by perspective. Because the risk you run is that you get… If it’s all just about control, and there’s no focus on perspective, then the risk that you run is you get a huge amount of things done really efficiently that are the wrong things. And that’s obviously not a path to long term success or happiness.
0:12:54.0 BS: And that’s exactly that, living with two little kids, I mean, there’s not even 18 months between my two boys. You can really get into the loops of the every day is that you just feed them, make them sleep, wash, clean the house, that whole circle just goes. And if you don’t stop for a moment and look up that, “Okay, which way are we rolling this ball every day?” Then there is no way of actually getting… I mean, you just look up and another month just passed and nothing happened. Happened as in nothing progressed. You didn’t move towards any of your goals. And this is another thing that I think it’s special that, as I said, the stuff that I have to deal with is usually given by me. The other thing and that is different to a classical job is that the deadlines. And there are certain hard deadlines that I have to work toward. And one of the things that I’ve experienced and learned the hard way that you can never leave things to the last minute. So I had this blog about this laundry basket being half empty or half full. You have to do it as soon as there is an opportunity, because if you leave it for the last minute, that will be the day when two boys vomit the whole night [chuckle] and there is just no way of getting any clean space to think and to do things. So one of the things that I have to do is always be prepared that maybe on the day before the big event or the big deadline, there won’t be an opportunity to work on what I really need to work on.
0:14:30.7 BS: And the other side of the same thing that because I got into this habit that as soon as something comes onto my next actions list and it is important because it will have a big deadline and a big dependency, then I start to work on that. Not only because I might have the risk of not being able to do it close to it, but also that there are so many times when, even without any problems, but we just get into this gray ball of every day that is just rolling and rolling and there is no way to look up what is going to happen. And when there is a drama, then I can be sure that my system is taken care of and I don’t need to worry that there is something big coming up that I haven’t seen because I very regularly look out and see what is happening. So I think that’s why I said these reviews, not just the weekly, but the monthly review of the higher horizons is important to me because if I don’t see where we’re going, if this five step model is just doing the everyday rounds, and I don’t look above that, don’t look at the higher horizons or just further out in the calendar, then it’s just too easy to be stuck in the gray ball of every days.
0:15:56.9 RP: Wonderful, wonderful. Yeah, it’s great to hear how getting control of the tactical stuff and getting out ahead of things has been important, but equally important connecting with the higher horizons. I have a lot of friends who in the early days of parenthood disappeared from the radar. It’s kind of like that became a consuming focus. And it sounds like for you, GTD is actually enabling you to be a lot of things, to be more fully yourself in a lot of different regards rather than being consumed by any one particular role or aspect of your life. Is that fair?
0:16:34.9 BS: Absolutely. And it reminds me of some of the conversation I have at the school gate with mothers that are exhausted, and whenever I say what I did, they say, “Oh, but how did you find the time for it? How did you find the energy for it?” And I’ve slightly hint that without GTD I wouldn’t be able to do that. Just yesterday I had to do a circle time in the kindergarten about Hungary. And the day before I ended up making 20 little pulley dogs, they’re Hungarian dogs out of yarn, so that it will be a gift. And so all the other parents were like, “How do you do this? And when can you find the energy to think about the idea, to execute it and to deliver it?” Because it’s just crazy to have that sort of thing. And again, because I looked ahead, I knew the date, I had the energy to be creative about it. And then of course I found the time.
0:17:31.4 RP: Okay, well, let’s stay with that point. So obviously when they say, “How can I be more like you?” You say, “Well, I can come do two full days of coaching with you, and then we can do follow-up work and so forth, and you can become a GTD Black Belt like me.” But let’s say you only have a few minutes and they just, they need a few practical elements that are gonna help them get out from being buried. What do you say to parents in terms of essentializing at least some nuggets of GTD that are gonna help them be able to live and feel like they have more rounded lives and time?
0:18:08.2 BS: Just the other day I was talking to one of the mothers who has a child in kindergarten with my kids and another one in school. And so she’s always running late, they always come an hour later than we do to kindergarten, and she was asking like, “How do you do with this? How do you get there in time?” And so I started asking her that, “Okay, so what do you do? How does your morning look like?” And then she said that she takes the school girl to school and then goes home and then picks up the boy and takes him to the kindergarten. And I’m like, “Why don’t you do that in one go?” Like, “Think about it. What’s your purpose? To get them out of the door with the minimum effort so that everyone is on time.” So of course the school girl has a more stricter timetable. She has to get there on time. But why not have the next action up with it and then just do them parallel? So that of course you can take the two kids in one round and that’s not a big deal.
0:19:01.9 BS: But she was so exhausted that she couldn’t even think about it. And I said that, “Okay, so once you have that extra half an hour in the morning, then you will start to have more time to think about it.” That okay, you come home, what’s the first of three things that you do which will consume half of your day? Any of them you can start before you leave because it’s just a five minutes input to get the ball rolling or something like that. So I start to ask them about, how does it look like what you do today? What is the purpose of each action or each happening? And can you do it more efficiently? So it’s touching a little bit on the higher horizons of what’s your purpose? What do you want to do? And then gets into the daily to-do lists of what exactly has to be done in the morning and then take it from there. But yeah, I’ve been promoting the book, but it’s hard to get them to fully engage when they cannot even think about the time when they have the chance to buy the book, not to read it or anything further than that.
0:20:04.8 TB: And I’ve got maybe a slightly cheeky question, but have you thought at all about your boys, and it might be a little early now to start to get them involved in GTD oriented thinking, but have you thought at all about over the next, I don’t know, several years or whatever, how you might encourage them into something that looks a little bit like GTD best practice, is that something you’ve considered?
0:20:34.2 BS: Well, one thing is about showing example, of course, but we have a few tweaks already, [laughter] So when the… Of course for a little kid it’s important what’s the rest toy they bring to the kindergarten, and occasionally they say that, Oh, I forgot this, or I wanted to do that instead of what they ended up with. And I said, “Okay, well, do you want me to write it down for you so that we get a reminder in the morning before we leave?” So it was the toucan instead of the rocket ship that she wanted to take. [laughter] So I’m telling them that if it’s something important, even if it’s just for a shopping list item that we ran out of something, I tell them that I’m writing that down into my trusted place. Of course, I’m not phrasing it that into my trusted place, but mommy’s gonna write it down and you can trust that it’s gonna come back. [laughter]
0:21:25.3 TB: Superb, superb. Blanka, I can’t thank you enough. I’ve taken a lot from our conversation today, I’m sure everyone out there in the wider world who’s listening to this and watching this, we’ll have as well I can’t thank you enough for being a part of this today. Maybe just a final top tip for anybody, let’s just go around the table here, as it were. So I don’t wanna put the spotlight, I don’t wanna put the pressure just on you Blanka, but Robert and me as well, based on what we’ve heard today, anything in particular in terms of top tips? Robert, let me put you on the spot first. What’s on your mind about takeaways from our conversation today?
0:22:07.9 RP: Well, it just occurs to me that the basics are so applicable to all aspects of human life, right? [laughter] What I hear about the high volume, the competing demands, all of this we hear in the corporate world as well. And one of the things that really stood out to me in your particular story, Blanka, was about engaging with the desired outcome or engaging with that sense of purpose behind what it is you’re doing that can give you motivation and can help you think more effectively about how to more efficiently go toward these things rather than just being swamped in the kind of administration of a busy, busy life. So, desired outcomes is one of the things I really heard. Blanka, over to you. What would be some of your top tips or takeaways about making it all kind of work?
0:23:00.6 BS: I believe that GTD is really covering the whole life [chuckle] and in many different stages as well. I am the living proof that GTD does help in every aspect of the life. And I love the flexibility of GTD that you can all of a sudden take away the work context and then still have a full list of higher horizons and next sections and project lists. But maybe the key takeaway is that in everyone’s life, it doesn’t matter if you have kids or not, it’s very easy to get swamped with the daily things. And it’s really important to look up above the water and see what you’re working towards. And if there is nothing external given to you, then you really need that time to think about something that you want to achieve and then to make it part of your life and part of the next actions. And it is especially true to, as you said, the parents who are disappearing with the little kids that it is very easy to get into the daily cycle, especially if you’re responsible for others existing needs about sleeping and eating and everything, and that’s when it is even more key to be able to look out and see what you’re working towards, what’s coming at you.
0:24:26.6 TB: Yeah, I think what’s on my mind now that we’re drawing to a close is this idea that, if we take as our starting point, if we take as a starting assumption that we as human beings are intentional, that we want to make things happen, that that’s an important thing for us, right? And that of course, applies both to our personal lives and our professional lives, what GTD offers is an approach that will allow you to make the things happen that you want to make happen in your life in the most effective and efficient ways. And I think Blanka, one of the things I’ll also take away from our conversation today is that I don’t always think about, but GTD also encourages us to really open up our thinking about what else that we haven’t really thought about before, should we be working towards, right?
0:25:16.1 TB: So what are the desired outcomes that we might not be aware of yet? And GTD as those things become… As we become conscious of them, GTD provides us with an optimal way to deal with them and get them done. So again, thank you both very much. Blanka, thank you in particular for being part of our podcast series. It’s been a real pleasure having you. And to all of those of you out there in the audience please do like and subscribe so you’ll hear about new content as we produce it. As we quite regularly say, please do let us know if there’s anything you’d like to hear in the topics that we discuss, we do take requests. For now from the three of us, thank you for being a part of our audience, and we’ll look forward to seeing you next time. Bye for now.