In this episode Robert and Todd share insights about what it actually means to be productive and how you can assess your own productivity levels. Going forward we will also be changing the format into short coaching sessions with guests on each episode.

watch time: 23:58 mins

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0:00:05.4 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.

0:00:12.5 Robert Peake: Hey, Todd.

0:00:13.8 TB: Hey, Robert. Our goal in this series of podcasts is really to give you some information from our own experience, both personally and from the work that we do with clients in helping to implement stress-free productivity through the Getting Things Done methodology. Between Robert and myself, we have many, many decades of experience of learning, of, again, developing our own systems, our own thinking, working with clients around this, making all the mistakes that are possible probably as we’ve made our way through this. And so our goal here is to share that with you and hopefully provide you with some information that’ll help to make your lives not just more productive, but more fulfilled, richer and less stressed. And Robert, as you and I were talking just before you hit record, the topic that we both agreed would be an interesting one to riff on for a while would be this topic of the GTD isn’t about productivity, which I think just as I’m saying those words, I’m sure quite a lot of people are scratching their heads, especially those that maybe know a little bit about getting things done and know a little bit about us. What’s your take on that? If somebody responded to that phrase, GTD’s not about productivity with a bit of a furrowed brow, what would you say?

0:01:39.2 RP: Well, first of all, I’d say we’re in the territory of blasphemy here very clearly because the strap line of the book by David himself says, stress-free productivity. So we’re being a little maybe controversial, but maybe not. Because I think to some extent, productivity as a focus, as an approach very much was the way to think about it when the book came out a couple decades ago. And also we have to acknowledge that the idea of stress-free is very much aspirational and directional as well. I don’t know if anyone’s truly experienced 100% stress-free life. So since the book’s come out, just in our own defense here, David himself has also often said, the real secret is that getting things done isn’t about getting things done. What is it about? What is it about David?

0:02:45.6 RP: Everyone was hanging on tenterhooks. It’s about appropriate focus and engagement with your life. Okay. So once you broaden it out to that and realize that productivity is one way to look at it, one element maybe sort of directionally useful when you’re trying to frame this acronym in terms of what is it, then I think we can start to maybe work more with that idea of appropriate engagement. And I think that’s a really, really interesting idea because what issues forth out of appropriate engagement with your life, what even is appropriate engagement, first of all? What’s appropriate? Is it… And it’s certainly not a permanent state, it’s contextual, it’s changing as your life is changing. This is why GTD’s been with you and with me for decades, not just weeks and months as a fad.

0:03:43.0 RP: So I think just to frame it at a high level and kind of put a little bit of a disclaimer, to some extent, this is heresy territory, and to some extent it’s not, it’s very much what I think David himself has said about getting things done. So when you think about that, Todd, I’m curious what your definitions or thoughts around the idea of appropriate engagement, around engagement, around creating focus, what your own experiences of that, experience with clients and what you see kind of shaking out of all of that.

0:04:18.4 TB: Yeah. I think the phrase appropriate engagement is one that we use a lot, it’s one that David uses a lot. And it’s a fair question. I think you can… If you wanted to boil it down and ask the question, how would I know that I was appropriately engaged? I think the answer to that would be you’re appropriately engaged when you have the confidence that at any given moment, whatever you’ve chosen to engage with is the right thing for you in that moment. And that’s kind of what we mean by appropriate engagement. Now, that could be, just to sort of lay the possibilities out there. Appropriate engagement could be, hey, I’m asleep. That could be appropriate engagement. And for a lot of people, that might come as a bit of a surprise.

0:05:10.7 TB: It’s like, well, hold on. I thought this was all about getting things done. You’re telling me that appropriate engagement means I’m asleep? And the answer is, yeah. Every time you choose to go to sleep, and I think this is an example that David’s quoted, that you’re in that moment. What you’re saying is, this is the thing that I should be doing now. Nobody would argue that you should work 24/7. It’s just not possible. It’s not, we as human beings can’t make that happen. So again, appropriate engagement is, I have the confidence that at any given time, and again, sometimes David, and we use the word I trust that whatever I’m engaged in at this moment is the right thing for me. So again, could be your sleep, could be you’re brainstorming with your team how you’re gonna best deal with recent developments in AI.

0:06:06.9 TB: That’s another thing that could be appropriate engagement. Or it could be that you are responding to an email. And the thing I think that… It’s funny, just this morning, I sat down at my desk and I was thinking about what I was going to do next. And one of the things that I… I took a beat. ‘Cause there’s the temptation. Just dive into your inbox, I’m sure there’s something in there that needs my attention and go and just keep going. And it occurred to me that part of what we talk about in getting things done, this idea of reflection, which those of you who know the model will know that’s, in the workflow model, that’s the fourth phase. Part of that is hold out a moment, take a beat, ask yourself the question, what really is the right thing for me at this moment?

0:06:56.3 TB: And which brings me to one more point, which is, I think for an awful lot of people, they love moments. Love is probably too strong a word, but they find an interesting kind of solace in moments where the world is coming at them really fast, where there are demands on them that mean that they don’t need to choose. Or they feel as though the world has chosen for me this incredibly urgent email has arrived. I don’t have to carefully consider what are the things I should do in this moment, my sense is that’s the thing. I should absolutely just dive into that. And I think… So again, I think for some of us, we hunger for appropriate engagement to be handed to us in a way for the world to just keep giving us the right information about, hey, what’s next? What’s next? What’s next? And what I think getting things done does is it gives us the, we can do that. I’m not saying that email that just arrived is not the most important thing, could be. But it also encourages us to take a step back and to say when that’s appropriate and to say, okay, of all the things I could do right now, what is the right thing for me to do? And if I then choose the thing that feels right, given all of the things I could be doing, then I’m appropriately engaged. So that’s an extended rant on that topic. Any of that make any sense?

0:08:30.7 RP: Makes perfect sense. Yeah. No, and I really like that. And ultimately, that’s kind of the barometer for me as well, is what you said, that sense of confidence. And we’re not omniscient. [chuckle] We don’t know in a grand cosmological way what is, quote, unquote, “appropriate,” but we know that feeling of being on our game on top of things. And when we talk about productivity, I guess there is an element that that very much is productivity if you look at it the right way. And I think recently we brought someone into support us with just looking at how we’re messaging or what we’re saying to the world at large about what we do to support us with that from a totally outside perspective. And someone very, very, very capable with marketing and messaging, but not really familiar with GTD.

0:09:29.8 RP: And she said, productivity leaves a bit of a bad taste in people’s mouths these days. And with everything we’re dealing with and facing and the way the world’s going and her kind of view of that, which I think is a lot of people’s view is sort of the poster child for it is the little monopoly guy. This sort of 19th century capitalist with a stopwatch going around the factory floor and timing everyone because productivity is output per time. That’s what productivity is. If you can crank seven widgets in an hour instead of six, you’re more productive. That’s not what we mean, obviously. So to me, when I think about the corollary to appropriate engagement, which is what happens with appropriate engagement, to me, what you’re producing is meaningful outcomes, meaningful outcomes.

0:10:23.8 RP: So when you talked about choosing to go to sleep, obviously in that classical model, one, the fastest way to be more productive is sleepless. Work more hours, literally. You have more output, more widgets at the end of that if you’re working more actual hours. But meaningful outcomes can be experiences. Meaningful outcomes can be states of mind. Meaningful outcomes can be the installation of useful habits. Meaningful outcomes can be all kinds of things besides things basically, I think. So for me, makes perfect sense that that appropriate engagement gives you that sense of being on top of things, focused appropriately, confident, relaxed, giving your full attention to what’s in front of you, which is a lovely state. And also the almost byproduct of that state is that you have more meaningful outcomes in your life and in your work.

0:11:33.6 RP: So I just thought that was a really interesting kinda sense check on the word productivity and what it can mean or not mean. And for me, more and more I think about effectiveness, I think about meaningful outcomes, I think about appropriate engagement. And I think those maybe get us away from this idea that someone’s holding a stopwatch over our head, which frankly could be us. I’ve been guilty of that certainly. I’ve gotta just squeeze out as much code in the next hour or as much writing or as much whatever. I fall into that real old school industrial, almost industrialist trap of regarding productivity that way at times as well. But the way out really is through engaging with the practices of GTD to get back to the why, why are you doing this?

0:12:30.5 TB: It’s funny you just saying that. I think I would wanna make a little bit of time here for a shout out to the folks who… And there are a lot of you out there who are a little uncomfortable with the idea that, hey, we’re not about being as efficient, let’s use the word efficient as possible. ‘Cause I know some people are really drawn to GTD for that reason. Not everybody, but I’m thinking of a few clients of mine who are very senior people, very successful organizations. In one case, the CEO of a very successful organization who would say, well, hold on a minute. The reason I’m engaged in this is precisely because I’m interested in efficiency and productivity. And so what’s interesting… What’s great to me is that’s in there too.

0:13:22.4 TB: You can have that if that’s what you want. If your goal is crank widgets faster and more effectively than you have in the past, then that is on offer as part of the methodology. But I think what we’re saying is, and it’s funny as I’m thinking about this, that’s kind of what drew me originally to the methodology was this idea of efficiency, effectiveness. And I think what’s happened over time is that I’ve recognized that as valuable as that was at the time, I think what we’re saying today is that another thing that the methodology offers is not just… The image that’s coming to mind for me is somebody just absolutely hammering their work and just totally focused on a lot of different things and getting lots and lots of things done, and then they get to the end of the day and they walk out the door of their office, or maybe if they’re working from home, they walk out the door of their dining room, whatever, and they say to themselves, wow, I was busy all day.

0:14:31.5 TB: I was really, really busy all day, and I’m not quite sure what I really did or what kind of meaning it has. And again, this comes back to… I think this comes back to this idea that we run the risk if we don’t from time to time… I’ll come back to the word reflect. If we don’t from time to time just get our vision up from the weeds and ask the question, where are we going with this? Where am I going with this? What’s the purpose behind what I’m doing now? How does this fit overall into what it is that’s important to me? And again, for those of you who are maybe either new to the methodology or some people who’ve maybe experienced some of the early, the sort of like the fundamental seminar, core seminar that we do for folks who are just new to GTD. What you might find is that you’re not all that familiar with the elements of GTD that give you the opportunity to ask these bigger questions.

0:15:34.8 TB: So there’s… And again, I’ll just mention it as the piece of GTD that’s more about perspective, and that’s what we call the horizons of focus model, which gives you the opportunity to be clear, not just about the next actions you’ve gotta execute on. I’ve gotta ask ChatGPT to come up with a draft of a document. I’ve got to one of my colleagues about a particular topic. I’ve got to email somebody, whatever. But it actually gives you the opportunity, well, gives you a structure and a framework for thinking about the bigger questions. And the more you think about the bigger questions, the more you can as you make choices day-to-day about what to focus on, I think the more that you have the confidence that, hey, I’m making, I’ll use the word again, I’m making trusted choices here. I’m making choices about things to focus on, and I trust that I’m making good choices.

0:16:33.6 RP: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I think we’re so very contextual and as you say, having that framework and in a really fire-tested, time-tested framework that helps us as human beings think about the necessary considerations that go into the bigger pictures is so essential. Because I know you didn’t mean this, but you said it at one point. The people that are way into efficiency wanna crank more widgets. Actually, the people that are drawn to this work, that are drawn to the efficiency factor, the widgets, they’re cranking are organizational change initiatives and bringing in multiples of their revenue streams and exiting big businesses. They’re dealing with incredibly complex things. So just the question, what is the desired outcome? What are the moving pieces? How do we get there? Is I think getting also at this part about meaningful outcomes, truly meaningful outcomes. Because people sometimes initially go, oh my gosh, I can get my inbox clear, I can crank through two, 300 emails. [laughter] And yes, that’s a wonderful thing to not be drowning in email, don’t get me wrong.

0:17:45.4 TB: Absolutely.

0:17:46.1 RP: But in a way, just batting back emails is a little bit more of the widget cranking in itself. And so there’s just so much more in terms of opportunity with GTD. And yes, maybe it’s a function of the number of gray hairs in my beard, or just how I’m wired, that I tend to focus on the quality of life factors that GTD brings. And I find those exciting and rewarding, just as valuable to make sure, again, that your exit strategy, that your five-year plan, that your, whatever you’re tackling that’s highly ambiguous involves lots of different people and moving parts, and is gonna be changing dynamically in real time over the course of your fulfilling on this vision, this desired outcome.

0:18:32.8 RP: All of that is where GTD shines as well. And I think people find it hard to reconcile those. One of the things that this advisor also said to us is I don’t get the wellbeing thing. It feels almost tacked on or like you’re trying to jump on the bandwagon about it, or even a bit disingenuous, which kinda hit me in the heart. Because to me genuinely, a lot of what attracts me to this work is seeing people lighten up as they also become more effective and engaged with what they’re doing. Seeing both of those things happen is so powerful as an experience. That’s why I love, in particular, the one-to-one coaching, to see a person go through that transformative journey. But it’s pretty hard.

0:19:20.9 RP: It’s pretty hard to wrap your head around from the outside. And I get that. I get that too. We’re not a wellbeing company, we’re not solely focused on that. We’re not rolling out wellbeing initiatives. That’s absolutely true. That is not us. But we’re not just a productivity company either. It’s not just about about the grind, just about the cranking it all out. And that’s one of the things that gets me really excited is that whatever a meaningful outcome is to you, you can produce that more elegantly, you can work smarter toward that and you can have that, and then all this other stuff as a side effect. That’s what gets me excited and aspired. That’s why I kinda wake up in the morning and go, right, let’s get this out there as a technology that can help people.

0:20:14.8 TB: Yeah. Yeah. Look, this has been a… As always, Robert, I’m always really enthusiastic about the fact that at the beginning of these talks, you and I literally spend two or three minutes coming up with, okay, we’re gonna talk about this. And then in the course of the conversation, my experience of is it just unfolds, and it’s wonderful. The kind of level of, well, hopefully, [laughter] the level of supportive ideas that we’ve been able to generate for all of you out there who are listening and watching. Well, I’d like to pivot at this point because there’s going to be a change in the podcast series, and we wanna make all of you aware of this. This is, this is quite a big deal.

0:21:00.4 TB: Well, we hope it’s going to be exciting and new. Certainly gonna be new, and we hope that it’s going to be something that you’ll enjoy in maybe in a different way and hopefully in a more effective way. What we’re going to do is, rather than these podcasts in the future being two handers, so Robert and me talking about the topic of the day, we’re going to be bringing other folks into the room as it were, into the room with us. And what we’re going to be doing is a little bit of in the moment coaching. So they’re going to bring their questions, their issues, their challenges with them, and we’re going to, in the span of 20 or 25 minutes, just as we do in the current format, do a bit of coaching for them.

0:21:47.3 TB: So talk about some changes that they wanna make. We’ll, of course, be bringing in the the theory and the best practices from getting things done. But our goal will be not only to help those folks, but also, of course, to potentially give you some really good food for thought about… Hopefully you’ll see hopefully regularly, maybe from time to time, you’ll see and hear examples that these people will talk about that will remind you of situations in your own life. And you’ll think, ah, okay, there’s something I can change, there’s something that I can do differently. So we’ve got our first recording of one of these set up in next month. We’re doing this in late January, so you should see this in sort of the late February-March timeframe.

0:22:33.7 TB: And as always, we very much look forward to your thoughts, look forward to your feedback on anything that we do, really. Any suggestions that you have, please do let us know. In addition to liking and subscribing, please do visit us on the website. You can find us at, and there’s a contact form there that you can use to drop us a note if you’d like to be in touch. So yeah, so we very much hope that you’re going to hopefully get more and new things out of this new format. We’re looking forward to road testing it. And on behalf of Robert and me, just thank you so much as always for being a part of this. We’ve been on this journey. How long has it been now, Robert, that we’ve been doing podcasts? Do you remember? Has it been…

0:23:25.3 RP: Forever and ever. [laughter] There’s never not been a Change Your Game Podcast. [laughter] And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. [laughter]

0:23:37.7 TB: And on that note, [laughter], thank you one and all for being a part of this community, and we’ll look forward to seeing you next time. Bye for now.


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