Many people believe that GTD® is just more work that they are already too busy for. But this thinking may be limiting your effectiveness.
watch time: 26:30 mins
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0:00:00.6 Todd Brown: Hello everyone, and welcome to another Change Your Game with GTD podcast. My name is Todd Brown and I’m here as always with Robert Peake.
0:00:14.2 Robert Peake: Hey Todd.
0:00:16.5 TB: Hey, Robert. Our goal in this podcast series is to help you to realize the promise of Getting Things Done methodology. And that promise is that you will get more of the right things done in less time with less stress. And Robert and I both work with clients in GTD and we also live and breathe it in our daily lives. And so our goal really is to sort of bring our experience as GTD practitioners and as GTD professionals and hopefully help you to realize some of those benefits. And Robert, as you and I were kicking some things around before you hit record. One of the topics that you mentioned was top of mind for you and something that apparently some clients have been discussing with you or bringing up with you is this idea that… An objection that people sometimes bring to the table as they start to get to know GTD and start to implement GTD is, Hey, I just don’t have time for this, I just don’t have time for this. Do you wanna pick up the thread there? I mean, could you tell us a little bit more about how that happened? And what was the experience of that client?
0:01:23.9 RP: Yeah, so it was a client who returned for some additional coaching. One-to-one coaching, and it was kind of one of the first things out of his mouth. So it was interesting to me ’cause I kind of went, Wow, okay, let’s explore that. Let’s unpack what that means. And what was interesting to me is that we talked about GTD as much more than just time management. It’s really… Time is one dimension energy context. These are all other dimensions that help you manage your attention, which is what GTD is fundamentally all about. And he’d just been in a situation where he’d been promoted, life was getting busier and busier. It was really an amazing workload that involved a huge amount of travel on top of the existing day-to-day demands of keeping up on email and information streams, and a real mix of managing people as well as some kind of high value individual contributions he still had to make.
0:02:31.7 RP: So he just had a lot going on and he’d kind of fallen away from his GTD practice back into working out of the inbox, was doing a bit of slicing and dicing of the inbox in some creative ways to try and create some visibility and perspective about things. But really was looking to re-approach his practice and was going, Wow, I don’t have time to, and I think the fundamental thing… The two things maybe where I don’t have time to clarify and organize the inbox into my calendar lists. And I don’t have time to do a weekly review. So it was interesting to me that he used the dimension of time in particular, I don’t have time for this. And my first thought, my immediate thought, and the first thing I kind of offered to him was this is thinking you have to do at some point as part of your job in terms of the clarify organized process, and also in terms of the benefits of the weekly review in terms of understanding your relative priorities and being enough on top of things to focus your energy in more or less the right direction.
0:03:39.3 RP: That’s something you have to do, to do your job as well. So we started with just unpacking more and more what was it? And I think there’s a lot of elements to it. I think one is new habits feel like, they’re time consuming or feel like they take energy to establish. Another is that when you do all the thinking upfront, you gain all the benefit of that in terms of then being able to manage to clear outcomes thereafter. But also having it in a concerted effort upfront as it were, it makes you more aware of it and makes it feel more like this is taking up a block of time versus when you’re picking out of the inbox and fighting fires and handling things at the 11th hour that you wouldn’t have had to handle if you stated the desired outcome at the outset.
0:04:32.1 RP: It feels, because maybe it’s more interspersed, less like it’s taking time. So those were some of the things, but I think it’s just a topic I think worth exploring because I think people do suddenly get this perception, Oh my gosh, GTD is overhead. It’s some kind of overhead to my life. It’s some kind of additional thing that I have to do in order to feel like I’m making the right choices. And actually I need to jettison that overhead in times of extreme busyness because I can’t afford any overhead. I think that was their kind of fundamental statement or premise. I’m curious if you’ve encountered this. I’m curious what your thoughts are on just exploring the idea of how GTD takes time, how GTD saves time and what the overlap kind of is between GTD practice and time you’ve already gotta invest if you’re a knowledge worker anyway, and just all of that. I’m curious. I think it’s just worth unpacking together. Yeah.
0:05:34.5 TB: Yeah, sure. No, I run into this all the time. It’s a pretty common thing. And I think just to build on on what you’ve already said, I think a number of things come to mind for me if a client is reacting in that way. They’re saying, as you say… I mean, what they’re saying if they’re saying, Hey, this is taking time, is that there’s not an efficiency or an effectiveness upgrade that I perceive. That’s what they’re saying. They’re saying this just feels like more work. And I haven’t heard people say that basically this just feels like more work. And I love what you said that, Hey, look, this is thinking you’re gonna have to do at some point anyway.
0:06:17.2 TB: And the other downside of not doing or deferring that thinking. Just leaving everything in your inbox and figuring out… Just saying, Hey, I’ll come back to that or those things later is of course that in the meantime it creates that kind of low level psychic noise that says, Hey it’s the noise that’s created by that email that’s about six screens deep in your inbox. That you got many weeks ago. You haven’t focused on since, and you probably haven’t consciously been thinking much about, but it’s gnawing at you to a certain extent. And you know at some point that thing’s gonna blow up on you. But I do think people again, they don’t really perceive immediately sometimes the benefit. I mean, as in with my sort of GTD coach hat on in those situations, one of the questions that I’m asking is, have we made the process of clarifying and organizing?
0:07:22.2 TB: Which is mostly what people are talking about when they’re talking about sort of the day-to-day. Is this day-to-day an upgrade? Is the clarifying and organizing as efficient as it can be. Is that something that we’ve greased the skids for that so that people, I think it’s a quote I got from you which I love, which is that your system and the way that you use GTD should really operate at the speed of thought. And if that’s not happening, then I’m asking questions like well, okay, how can we make this more efficient? And that quite often gets into very technical conversations around, how do I take in an email or how do I take a post from Microsoft teams or whatever, or Slack and turn that into some sort of a reminder, are we making that as as friction free as efficient as possible? So yeah, those are some things that come to mind as I think about it. Does that trigger anything in you?
0:08:20.4 RP: Well, that makes a lot of sense, and I think it’s definitely one of the places to look is, are you overburdening the clarify and organized process due to some misunderstanding about it. I think also the same goes for the weekly review. People very often confuse the weekly review with clearing backlog and try and do both at once. And so they’ll spend an hour or more trying to clear backlog and then expect themselves to go into reviewing mode with reviewing all their projects and actions and calendar items. And of course, you go from being pretty psychologically fatigued having done a lot of backlog, clearing into maybe feeling a bit overwhelmed because you’re A, fatigued, and then B, trying to use that… Being in that state trying to go and do a proper review of your system.
0:09:11.4 RP: So separating those out and just not encouraging people not to do marathons of any kind of clarifying and organizing of the weekly review by doing a ton of the first phase to getting clear phase to clear backlog. Breaking it up I think has helped for a lot of people. So I think that’s another one where, again, the perception of this is taking a lot of time is due to, I’m trying to do a lot in one big chunk. I’m doing the kind of spring cleaning mode rather than this is an ongoing habit, or I’m doing the New Year’s resolution mode approach to something rather than, again, this is something I need to interweave throughout my day. The other thought I had was my immediate thought when this person said this to me, which I didn’t immediately voice, was given that GTD, the thought process really is something you have to do anyway to do your job.
0:10:08.4 RP: If you really don’t have time to do GTD, you maybe really don’t have time to do your job effectively. Meaning, some clients I work with are consistently working past midnight during the work week, working on weekends just really trying to do two or three people’s jobs. And one of the other things GTD will do is it won’t renegotiate any of your commitments for you, but it will hold up an increasingly shiny mirror to your reality. And I think for some people, that’s quite painful to look at the reality of, I’m really trying to live multiple people’s lives in a… I don’t know, what a weird bid for immortality or a desire to have lots and lots of experiences or to justify that I earn two, three times the salary of other people.
0:10:56.2 RP: Whatever reason, people sometimes seem to just take on way more than is reasonable, and then blame the very thing that’s trying to help them to understand that this isn’t reasonable and that you have other options. And that is actually a tool that can be really powerful to help you renegotiate and get your life more aligned with something that has quality to it, rather than just tremendous quantity to it. So, I don’t know, that was a little bit of iconoclast. I don’t know if I said that to him, but I’m curious your thoughts too on that side of the game.
0:11:33.9 TB: Yeah, sure. As you’re talking about it, something else occurs to me, and I’m not directly answering your question, but this seems also important to me, and it’s something that hasn’t really occurred to me in the same way until we’ve been talking about it just now. And that’s… I think for some people, both clarifying and organizing. As well as doing the weekly review, those activities involve reflection. The weekly review, more reflection than clarifying and organizing in most cases. But they both involve reflection and the energy that that requires or the sort of state of mind that that requires is something that I think for a lot of people comes across as a bit foreign. We are so used to go, go, go, emails coming in handled, flip over to teams.
0:12:28.8 TB: Somebody texts me and says, Hey, did you get my slack post? Whatever? Did you see my latest message. We are so used to a life which is just react, react, react, react, adrenaline action. Rarely… And for some people, incredibly rarely taking a step back asking the question, okay, let’s think big picture here for a moment. I’m reminded of a story. It was an article that I read, and this was many, many years ago about it was some… I can’t remember which culture it came out of, but it was basically, there was some culture and they were talking about the expectations that parents had for their children, and especially around education. And apparently in whichever culture this was, it was very common that if a child was let’s say seated at their desk with their books in front of them… Their school books in front of them, but we’re sort of leaning back and maybe looking out the window, the parents were likely in this culture reportedly to say, get back to work, get back to work, what are you doing, get back to work?
0:13:45.1 TB: And that accrues to me that maybe part of that is going on here for us as well. That productivity and sort of more broadly what’s required of us in the big picture sense of us as members of whatever society we’re in, that that involves action. And in some cases frantic action. Oh, that’s productivity. Beads of sweat forming on my forehead and trying to type 130 words a minute, even though I can’t really type 130 words a minute, whatever that’s what productivity is. That occurs to me that there might be something about that. And look, in my own practice, I feel that tension as well. I find my weekly reviews as gratifying as it is to do them, and as great as it feels after I’ve done them, it is very much a… It is a different energy that’s required. I hate to be maybe a little bit foo-foo about this, but it’s a… Woo woo about this, but it’s sort of… It does require a different energy than what I think a lot of people perceive is expected and required of us as workers.
0:14:51.8 RP: I think that’s such a valuable reflection and a great way to put it. You do have to get out of hustle mode to get into reflect mode. And when we’re just seem almost increasingly to be a hustle focused culture. And as I hear you talking to me also, one of my personal reflection is that you can get away with it more when you’re younger. Just the sheer volume of activity. And maybe that energy, that hard work, that enthusiasm for just trying lots of stuff or running one mile in the wrong direction and 180 and then running two miles in the right direction. And that’s how you get a mile further. Maybe that’s appropriate when you don’t have a huge amount of experience behind you. Increasingly in my life, I’m thinking about that my early days were a lot about hard work and intelligence, and as I get into my later days, I want it a lot more to be about wisdom and experience.
0:16:00.9 RP: Wisdom and experience. And that only comes from over time gaining the experience, but also from reflecting. There’s an old joke in the computer engineering world that a junior programmer brags and says, I wrote a 1000 lines of code. And an intermediate programmer brags and says, I refactored or edited and changed and improved a 1000 lines of code. And a senior engineer looks at both of ’em and brags and says, I prevented a 1000 lines of code from ever being written. [laughter] It sounds obstructive, but what they actually mean is sometimes you’re solving the wrong problem with great energy and enthusiasm. And so I think it’s interesting to consider that your GTD practice, one of the ways it could save you an awful lot is that it may be that the best decision for you, for your team and for your organization is to not take on that project, to not do it in the first place.
0:17:08.1 RP: That actually, that that might look good. It might keep everyone really busy and so on and so forth. But if you really are reflecting on all of your priorities, everything that’s going on, clarifying and organizing on top of what’s going on individually and as a team, you may recognize actually the best move we can make is to not make this move at all. And that’s something that’s… It’s hard to see unlike people late in the office or getting an email at 2:00 in the morning, that’s easy to see and looks like productivity. But more and more I realized what we don’t do is just as important sometimes as what we do do. And the only way to really be able to make those decisions well is to be able to reflect, is to be able to come out of that hustle mode that just says Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. So thank you. I think that’s a really valuable thing to explore is just what it takes to shift out of the hustle and into the reflect and why it’s such a putting on a wet bathing suit for some people. It just feels, [laughter] ah, it goes wrong. I can’t get out of hustle mode, can’t give up my adrenaline fix right now. I’m on a roll and I can [0:18:23.0] ____ for that too. So anyway, yeah.
0:18:26.9 TB: No, I love that. I think it’s a… Just as I say these words, I can feel myself sort of breathing a bit more deeply. I can feel myself sort of coming into a different kind of energy of… And this is, I think increasingly rare. It comes back to what you said before. I think the technical tools that we have and the number of channels that we have, and I mean channels in the sense of the social media channels and the work related channels. And sometimes they’re the same thing. You’ve got social media related channels at work, but that is fostering in us a culture of inattention and a culture of distraction.
0:19:13.3 TB: And a culture that fosters, I think just immediate response. I think about I use many of the common social media tools and it’s interesting on WhatsApp, which I have certain people in my life that I interact with them on WhatsApp, and it’s interesting. I quite often in a WhatsApp conversation will feel the need to… When somebody has messaged me, I’ll just have a moment where I just think I’m gonna think about that. I’m gonna think about that for a while and I’m gonna let it percolate a little bit, and then I’ll maybe respond to them in a day or so. And I quite often will get chased about it. Well, hold on, come back to me.
0:20:00.9 TB: What are your thoughts? And I think, again, it’s just one… Maybe one example of how we are kind of in this world where the tools are supporting us in being reactive and being always on and being go, go, go. And just as you said, taking a step back and keeping I think the benefit in mind that if you spend more time doing clarifying and organizing as we suggest, do your weekly reviews, what comes from that is that when you make your decisions moment to moment about what to focus on, you no longer have the experience of, okay, well, I’m doing this, whatever this is, because it’s the last email that just arrived in my inbox.
0:20:50.6 TB: You trade that thought, for a thought, which is, Hey, I’m doing this because I have real confidence. I trust that this is the thing that I should now be focused on. And that kind of peace of mind and again, this is maybe another problem is that people have just never, or rarely anyway experienced that peace of mind and maybe don’t believe that that peace of mind is something that they can recreate, that it’s just sort of happenstance when it happens. So yeah, those are my thoughts. Listen, this has gone so fast than, as usual, I just think this has been a great conversation. Let’s just talk about sort of primary takeaways or the big chunk of advice that you might give somebody who has this perspective, they just think, yeah GTD my sense is it’s just too much work. It’s taking too long. It’s inefficient, it’s just more work piled on top of the work I’ve already got. What would be your sort of top tips?
0:22:03.3 RP: Well, yeah, I mean, so just immediately keying off what you were kind of describing with the being chased around factor. If you’re not doing GTD, it’s much harder to set your own rhythms in terms of what’s an appropriate response and how you want to operate in terms of, hey, this, for example, just a simple example. This meeting, actually, we can push it out a week. I can create a little more space in my diary or this message. I don’t have to jump on right away. I can get into a system and I can give appropriate attention to. So GTD is fundamentally about appropriate attention. And when you get into levels of appropriate attention, you start to realize that things… Well, things take as long as they take. And hustling and constantly responding, and now or never communications really can feel like they’re… Because they’re fast, can feel like an effective use of time because there’s a high volume of those.
0:23:08.4 RP: But ultimately, GTD helps you focus your attention appropriately, and that’s a lot more about wisdom than it is about pure speed. So the perception that it’s overhead sometimes comes from the fact that it’s a bit of habit change, which takes some energy and some focus, but the habits that you build in doing that, serve you so so well in being effective rather than simply having a sheer volume of output and communications. At the end of the day, if you wanna feel like, boy, that was a busy full day and I got a lot done, versus, boy, that was a busy full day and I’m fried. You want to invest in GTD, and it really is such a nominal investment in my point of view. You really don’t have time not to do GTD in pretty much all cases, except those rare cases where work is completely sort of predefined for you. So my key thing is make sure you’re spreading out the practice over time. Make sure you’re integrating it into your life. If it does feel like just a big occasional [0:24:14.8] ____, then yes, of course it’s gonna stand out and feel like overhead. As it becomes more integrated into your daily life, you will notice that you’re working truly smarter rather than just harder. That’s my little pitch. What about you, Todd?
0:24:27.5 TB: Yeah, I would struggle to improve on that much, Robert. I think at the end of the day, I think one thing we haven’t really mentioned yet, and this is maybe something to drop in, is that if that’s your perception, if you’re feeling like GTD is inefficient, or is just more work, then a couple of other things may be to keep in mind are number one the number of people out there who have gotten just 3 million copies of their book sold, and our businesses and other global businesses around the world who are spending all of their time focused on this, they can’t all be wrong. So there is some evidence out there in the world that this does work, which is not to discount or to deny people’s perceptions, but it’s just to say there’s maybe some evidence there that… That again, with our help this can be made to work for you.
0:25:32.2 TB: So yeah we are out of time. Thank you all very much for being with us for this Change Your Game with GTD podcast. Please do like and subscribe and so that you’ll hear about more of these as we produce content for you in support of your journey to stress re-productivity. Also please do let us know via the website. You can find us @www.next-action.co.uk. Please do let us know if there are any other topics that you’d like to hear about. We do take… As we always say, we do take requests. So from Robert and from me, thanks again for being with us this time, and we look forward to seeing you next time. Bye for now.