In this episode, Robert and Todd welcome Alix Lewer for a chat about GTD and the constraints she faces with her system implementation while running a non-profit and being a mom.

About Alix:

Alix Lewer is a speech and language therapist and adult safeguarding lead by background. She left the NHS in 2016 and combined her professional experience, passion and creativity to found the unique charity – a charity which raises awareness and provides training about the rights and needs of people with communication difficulties, while providing support and opportunities for empowerment. When not racing around, juggling the needs of a small charity and her two small boys, Alix enjoys riding her motorbike, or making cakes.

watch time: 32:20 mins

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0:00:05.5 Robert: So, hello everyone, and welcome to another Change Your Game podcast where we talk about how to be more effective in your life and work, and you get to define what effective really means to you. To us, it’s a lot about doing the things that matter to you in ways that don’t have to be stressful or uncomfortable. It’s about working smarter ultimately but also in a way playing smarter as well. And those of you that have tuned into past podcasts know that it’s very often a two-hander. I am once again here with Todd Brown of Next Action Associates. Hi Todd.

0:00:43.6 Todd Brown: Hi, Robert.

0:00:44.0 Robert: Hi. But we also have a special guest today, and so we’re playing with the format a little bit. And in this podcast, our idea, crazy idea, perhaps we’ll find out is to do a little bit of coaching with someone who is using the Getting Things Done GTD methodology to help them be a little more effective in their life and work and support them with thoughts and ideas about how to take their kind of next steps and get to their next level of GTD practice. So today I am really excited to have Alix Lewer. She’s the CEO of, and she’s here with us and just thrilled to have her. Hi, Alex.

0:01:28.3 Alix Lewer: Hi. Nice to meet you both.

0:01:30.6 Robert: Yes, great to meet you too. So I thought it might be useful just to kick off to hear a little bit about who you are, maybe briefly how you kind of came to GTD if that is relevant and more than anything, kind of what you juggle in your life, because I think a lot of our listeners can probably relate to some of the things you’ve got going on in your life and work, so.

0:01:56.2 AL: Lovely. Well, thank you very much for the introduction, for the opportunity to speak to you both. It’s very exciting. I’m fairly new to the GTD journey, but the way I came to it is my background is as a clinician, as a speech and language therapist, but I left the NHS in 2016, both to have my children and also to set up a charity. Very unwise as it turns out, to do both simultaneously. But that is what I have done. So I now run a small charity with five and 8-year-old boys alongside and I met one of your coaches actually during the pandemic, during lockdown when I was teaching Makaton signing. Include is an inclusive communication charity. We believe that no one should be excluded due to understanding or speaking difficulties. So we run community activities and provide training, and I’m in quite a lot of the different spaces there. Although I’m the CEO founder, a lot of founders out there I’m sure can relate to being both in the delivery and the strategic space a lot of the time. And on that occasion, I was in the delivery space delivering Makaton training to somebody who turned out to be a GTD coach and who has introduced me to GTD when he found out how much I was juggling and how much I was struggling to keep it all under control. And so here I am.

0:03:16.0 TB: That’s great. That’s great. And could you tell us a little bit about kind of, you know, you mentioned you’re fairly new to GTD. Could you tell us a little bit about your journey so far and sort of what are the challenges that you’re facing and how can we help you today?

0:03:34.7 AL: Absolutely. So I’ve done my first sort of formal training segment after quite a lot of informal discussions and reading the book and realizing, or no, reading a quarter of the book actually, and I still haven’t read the rest of it. And I was interested in the ideas. They look like a lot of common sense, but I was really struggling to put them into practice. And eventually I thought, well, I’ll put my money where my mouth is and go on the course because at that time, and still I really do find keeping all of the balls in the air of parenthood, family-hood and the different parts of the business quite challenging. So went on that first course, was completely like, oh, this is amazing. Wonderful. Have my hallelujah moment, went away on holiday, bored my family silly going, this is amazing new strategy.

0:04:25.5 AL: I’m going to use this. It’s gonna be the secret. It’s gonna be wonderful. And lots of it has been. But I have to say as I got back into the realities of work and the amount of stuff that was coming at me, I found it harder and harder to apply the principles I knew were the right ones. They made sense to me. They were very, very logical, but I found that I didn’t have the time to apply them properly, which sounds a little bit daft, and I’m aware in my own head that sounds quite daft when you’ve got strategies to try and make you more productive, to not make the time to make you more productive is a bit silly. But that’s the tension that I’m struggling with at the moment, is that I can see what I should be doing or some of it anyway, but in the realities of the day to day and the get this done, get this done, get this done. I’m not really quite putting, it’s not quite working for me there.

0:05:16.0 Robert: Got it. And that’s a real classic story in some ways of what people experience. So great to have you here and great… I think people can definitely relate to having lots to juggle in a lot of different ways. People very often do identify time as, oh, this is… I feel like I don’t have the time to do this. And so one of the things I like to encourage people to look at is how are you going to win back some time by applying some of the principles, meaning by clarifying things upfront, by getting things sharpened in your lists, and/or by doing some form of review, people often find that they’re starting to get out ahead of emergencies and crises and last minute things that create stress and also ultimately kind of take up time, take up more time because you’re having to deal in crisis mode.

0:06:27.4 Robert: So the idea is that if you can win back time, energy, focus through some of the practices, then the idea is in a sense to reinvest that time and energy that you won back into sort of, okay, what’s the next element of practice that’s really gonna help me? What’s the next aspect of this so that I can… So you can go on a journey of behavior change without feeling like you have to use the word should, well, I know what I should be doing, so that you’re not sort of putting all the shoulds on yourself all at once. So that’s just a little bit of context of some of what I’ve seen help when people go, oh my gosh, I don’t have the time. It’s like, well, what are the bits of time that you can start to inch your way further and further along with this? So one thing to look at today is what are some of the inches in that direction that we can help you with. But I’m curious first to hear what’s working for you. You said there was a hallelujah moment and also a lot of this is working, but also some of it I’m not finding challenging. So let’s start with what is working about the GTD practice. What is different post-seminar versus pre-seminar that you’re doing that you find helpful for yourself?

0:07:42.6 AL: Sure. So zero inbox wasn’t a concept I’d encountered before. I know it’s not the be all and end all within GTD, but that idea of just trying to clear the decks and move straight onto the next action rather than leaving a kind of piecemeal jigsaw of what was still outstanding, was really helpful. So that’s conscious. It can also be a hazard because it can also be the thing that you focus on and then you move into your inbox and live in your inbox as opposed to living in the sort of broader space that you need to be in. But having said that, that has been really, really helpful for me. It’s just that sort of sense of okay, because I love a list and I love a complete… I used to be a completer-finisher. I don’t think anyone would describe me as that these days, but that was definitely how I perceived myself at the start of my working journey when I had fewer responsibilities. And so yeah, just anything which gives me that sense of completion and that sense of tidiness and mind space, I find very, very helpful. Moving things directly, for me I don’t know if I’m allowed to mention particular tools, but we’re a Google work…

0:08:51.8 Robert: Absolutely. Totally fine to mention the tools you’re using.

0:08:57.9 TB: Not a problem.

0:08:58.0 Robert: We are always curious, like what tools are real people using out there? So, totally fine.

0:09:01.7 AL: Thank you. So we are a Google workspace courtesy of the trustee who helped us set up the charity. Which initially I have to say I struggled with as an ex NHS employee. The public sector is not fond of Google. It is fond of Microsoft Office. And so it’s taken me a long time to get my head around the way that Google works. But since then I’ve discovered Google Tasks. I’ve discovered the fact that I can put things straight from an email and I can make sure that I’m not losing it, that I’ve put it in my list of next actions. And so that sort of technology side of it I found very, very helpful. The idea of an inbox, having the read folder, having my clear, my reads, my desk space which it’s not 100% this morning, but it’s not too bad.

0:09:48.3 AL: And it’s all of those things very much appealed to me because I find that I need… I talk about headspace a lot. I’ve realized in work as a leader, I haven’t got the headspace. I can’t think about these bigger picture things. So anything that helps with that, I found GTD very, very helpful in even creating a… Even if it’s temporary, just giving me a bit of breathing space and a bit of, okay, right, this is what I’m doing now. So yeah, those things have worked really well and the concept of a next action as well, I realized that I was guilty of writing… I still am guilty of writing some very, very muddy lists. And I know on the coaching, what was it? I think the wording was you need to write lists that you are attracted by and not repelled by or repulsed by, I think.

0:10:34.4 AL: And I discovered that most of my lists were repulsive. I found them absolutely repulsive, did not wanna look at them. They just terrified me and were overwhelming, I didn’t know where they started and where they finished. And I’m still juggling how many lists do you have? What’s too many lists, what’s too few lists, what’s too long, what’s too short? But the next action concept that actually articulating what the very next thing that you need to do as opposed to writing either a vague funding application, write funding application on the one hand or bullet pointing a project plan really within your list as to, oh, I need to do this and then this, and then this. Yeah, I found that really, really helpful. Although I’m not always applying it as well as I’d like to.

0:11:18.1 TB: And as you’re talking about that, Alex, one of the things that does come to mind for me, and by the way, I’m really… It’s great to hear that about the specific elements of GTD and what you’ve implemented so far and the benefits that those have brought you. And one of the things that as you’re talking about it come to mind for me, and I think this might be relevant given that you’ve been through our seminar, is I wonder whether you feel like we’d be open to considering whether what you’re sort of comparing your own performance to is sort of a completely black belt GTD implementation, right? And you’re saying, okay, well, I’m not there, therefore I’m not really doing GTD. Does that ring a bell? Do you feel, again, I’m going on what you just said about the fact that you maybe at some point in your life were a completer-finisher, and I’m wondering if there’s a little bit of a perfectionist tendency that’s coming through as part of this, do you reckon?

0:12:16.9 AL: Yeah. Terrible tendencies in that direction. And yes, I do. That is exactly right. I find myself frustrated by the fact and disappointed I suppose in myself that I’m not doing it better. But equally, I suppose, because I still feel that there is a certain amount of overwhelm going on and a lack of clarity and that sort of work life juggle that goes on. So yes, I think perfectionism is one thing, but also I feel that if I were doing it better then life would be better and work would be better. So there’s definitely perfectionism and frustration there. But some of the frustration is not just about an internal kind of, I need to do this perfectly, but I think life would be easier and better if I were better at doing this.

0:13:05.5 TB: Yeah, no, I get it. And I don’t wanna get, I don’t wanna say, well, you need to be less aspirational about your GTD practice. That’s really not what I’m saying. But I guess I’m reminded of a podcast that Robert and I did with David Allen many years ago now, where one of the things that David was stressing in this podcast was in essence, look, you should be implementing the elements of GTD that you find bring you benefits. Okay? So he was… And again, well, I don’t know, Robert, you and I haven’t really talked about it since, I don’t think, but I was a little bit surprised by that. I was like, well, hold on. I thought it was… You know, we’re supposed to be encouraging people to implement the whole thing.

0:13:50.8 TB: And the point that he made was, look, everything in GTD is there for a reason, right? There is a purpose, there is a why behind everything that we recommend. And if the why for anything in particular doesn’t make sense to you, or if you sort of feel like, well, that benefit not so important to me at the moment, then you should take that element of GTD, whatever it is, and just ignore it. Okay? And again, something else that’s on my mind about this that might, again, be applicable in your situation is we’ve been through our level one seminar, and in the level one seminar, we paint the whole picture, right? All of the elements, the whole, the five phase model and everything that goes along with it, we don’t get into some of the more… Into the horizon to focus so much on the natural planning model.

0:14:43.1 TB: But in terms of the core model, what we call the workflow model, we paint you that whole picture in the level one seminar. And I think that one of the unintended consequences for some people who have gone to that seminar is that they think, okay, well, that’s given me a roadmap for absolutely everything that I have to implement. Whereas again, I guess what I’m sort of counseling here is you might want to think about, hey, deal in the margins, deal in the increments, right? Recognize as you did in answer to Robert’s question, recognize the benefits that you’re getting already and then ask yourself the question, okay, these other things that I’m aware of that I could be doing, but I’m not at the moment or maybe not doing as much as I’d like, what benefits would they bring? What’s the why behind them? And then deal with them one at a time rather than sort of going, okay, well, I’m not a complete black belt GTD or therefore I’m somehow fundamentally, you know, insufficient, you know, or lacking, rather than that, as I say, go with a little bit more of an incrementalist mindset, that might help you. It certainly helped me over the years and I think with some other people that I’ve worked with too.

0:16:00.4 AL: Thank you. No, that is useful. And I think, see what could be useful as well is as you were saying that, I was thinking, oh, what are the different elements and can I remember that? And I was thinking that, I remember initially, and I’m just sort of looking up there ’cause I’ve got the workflow clarifying model up over behind my computer and I was thinking, I haven’t looked at that. I haven’t looked at that again. So I think there is probably some mileage in actually clarifying in my own mind which are the things that I think, yeah, that’s working for me, that’s useful and that maybe I don’t need to worry about that at the moment. So actually going back to those sort of basic points and then taking what you said and making sure that I’m clear which bits I’m using and which bits I’m not consciously at the moment, and okay, won’t worry about those, but I’ll focus on those. ‘Cause I think that’s the other thing I’ve just realized, just as you were talking, I was just thinking, hmm. So actually it’s a little while since I’ve looked at those, what the different bits are. So refresh my mind on those as well, I think would be a useful part of the weekly review process for me.

0:17:04.9 Robert: Excellent. One of the things I’m curious about when you mentioned the transition from working with the NHS to suddenly, as you said, perhaps unwisely both mom and chief executive of a nonprofit, is working with others. And you mentioned being a completer-finisher, and I can certainly relate to that myself. I think a lot of people that are attracted to GTD frankly understand the value of keeping their commitments, right? So a little bit of perfectionism can also be the dark side of that world. I’m wondering about delegation, about working with others, keeping track of what they’re doing in a way that feels comfortable to you, but also means that you don’t have to be the completer-finisher on that thing. I’m guessing you have a mix of volunteers and perhaps some staff and also with a family of course, that’s a whole different setup as well. How’s it going with delegation?

0:18:04.4 AL: So delegation is one of those words which has bugged me over the last six years since I… Or eight years, whatever, since I left the NHS. And it’s a very good point because I was a clinician within… I was a clinician and then I was a safeguarding lead. So I didn’t have… Within that, I had responsibilities, obviously clear responsibilities to my clients and patients. And within the safeguarding role, it was a lead role within the hospital. But you didn’t in that role manage a team in the same way that you do in setting up a nonprofit. And I discovered… I found myself very unused to delegation because as a clinician you are responsible for your own caseload. You may supervise others. Supervision is very, very key area. Supervising coaching is a familiar space, but delegation wasn’t. And I found that very, very hard. And I think my team, if they watch us back, they will recognize that challenge that I have, that I struggle with. I think GTD actually helped me with the delegation quite significantly. And I think my team would agree now that I do delegate far more, which I think has come from a greater level of clarity over next steps. I hate…

0:19:30.0 AL: This is one of these like, oh, washing your dirty laundry in public is possibly not a good idea. But I’ll be honest that, and I hope other founders can relate to this, that while I had a big vision, I left the NHS because I felt I wasn’t making a big enough difference in the world of communication need. And I have personal experience. My father and my grandfather had communication difficulties, and I saw the huge impact that that had on their lives. And I continued to see that through my working career. And I didn’t feel, while the NHS is amazing, and I wouldn’t criticize it for a second, it didn’t feel that that particular area that I was making that change. And so I had this sort of big vision of the things that I wanted to change.

0:20:12.4 AL: But in terms of a roadmap, being fairly organic over the years really, because everything has been a learning curve, going from a public sector role where it’s lovely. You have your HR department and you have a manager, and you have somebody else telling you what to do and where to go and keeping you accountable. And suddenly, you have this wonderful freedom and it’s like, oh, I can do anything I want. Which my father always said, you can do anything you want if you want it enough. You didn’t add time as a kind of factor within that. But also he didn’t add that actually, that’s so dangerous. That’s such… For somebody who is a high achiever, a perfectionist, somebody who’s very passionate, that there’s a massive danger of where you can lose your sense of self within that, because you want to do all these things and you want to achieve, but, you know, where does the rest of your life sort of fit in around that?

0:21:11.4 AL: And because of that, you can… You have this massive big blank piece of paper and you go, yes, I’m gonna do this. And things happen because you can make things happen. And then you’re joined by an amazing team who also makes things happen. But in terms of actually, where are we going? I wouldn’t say that that happened in the first few years. I think we were doing what opportunities presented with a very clear set of charitable objectives, but not a very clear sense of exactly how we were gonna get there. And that was something that GTD actually really helped me with, was that next action. You have to be very, very clear on where you’re trying to get to at the end of the road in order to be able to set that next action. And what I discovered was that sometimes I wasn’t, I was struggling to fit that next action, identify the next action, and it was probably because my end location wasn’t entirely clear in my head.

0:22:04.6 AL: And then I found that as I was getting better at going, okay, next action, I can’t figure it out, tweak that, get that, oh, now I can ask that person to do that. And that sense of, right, the next action. So the idea of write the next action so that anybody could pick it up was quite revelationary to me because I realized I didn’t do that terribly well, as well as I wanted to do for the team. And that they were struggling to interpret sometimes I think what I was trying to say. So that discipline of writing it for yourself meant that delegation became naturally easier. And it wasn’t something I was particularly conscious of, but when you’ve asked that question, I think it’s really helped. Sorry, that was a very long answer. [chuckle]

0:22:42.4 Robert: No, that’s great.

0:22:44.6 TB: No, it’s great.

0:22:46.2 Robert: And I think super relatable to anyone in a similar circumstance. Generally, we have a certain amount of time, and I think we’ve got time, but maybe we’re sort of starting to come toward the direction of a close. Todd, I’m curious to hear from you, based on what you’ve heard and in all of this, what you might suggest or recommend as a potential next step or thing to try or explore, what are your thoughts about how we might help Alex?

0:23:20.7 TB: Yeah, well, in addition to what we’ve said already, Alex, and I hope this has been helpful, I think the thing that comes to mind for me is, I think for me and for a lot of people, there is a tension in this work. And the tension is between I want things to be better, I want things, in some cases, to be dramatically better because it feels like there’s some real pain, there’s some real frustration, and that’s gonna take, it’s gonna take a while, right? And we use the word journey a lot in this, and you used it yourself, right? Your GTD journey, we use it a lot in this work. So I guess what I would say is, it’s… Appreciate that it is a journey. Again, I think what both Robert and I have recommended today are some things which can sort of say, hey, there are incremental things that you can do to help you on that journey, right?

0:24:13.9 TB: So identify what are the most impactful things that I could do next on that road. But at the same… And, you know, what we’ve already said about go back to the purpose, go back, all of the what’s in GTD have whys behind them. You know, I think, again, this is something that sometimes people in the seminars don’t walk away with despite our best efforts is because they really fixate on the, okay, I’m gonna do this differently. This is the what, and they lose the why, or they forget the why, right? So don’t lose the whys, don’t forget the whys, ’cause those are gonna be equally as critical. And I think, no, I would encourage you to consider that the sources of frustrations that you mentioned, you know, we have seen these in ourselves and we’ve seen these in a lot of folks.

0:25:01.0 TB: And over time, you know, applying, I’ll say one more quote from David Allen, what the heck? David Allen said, how do you know when you’re a real GTDer? He said this to me over a coffee one time, and I absolutely love it. This was 20 years ago, he said, “Todd, you know you’re a real GTDer when life’s coming at you too fast, when the stuff is hitting the fan, when you feel like you’re overwhelmed, you realize that the way out is not around your GTD practice. The way out is through. It’s by the application of the GTD principles and practices that you get to the clarity, that you get to the stress relief, that you get to the higher levels of effectiveness.” So, there’s my two minutes of that. I don’t know, Robert, back over to you. What would you say? Any kind of final thoughts? And then Alex, I’d very much like to hear from you if you have any final questions for us.

0:25:52.3 Robert: I think that’s great and a really important reframe for a lot of people who come at this with a very conscientious mindset, but also that that can leak into feeling like you suddenly have to completely revolutionize yourself overnight, and the next day after the seminar. I really can relate to your, that conscientiousness factor and that I think you really are a CEO that recognizes the buck stops with you or the pound, I don’t know, whatever it is. [chuckle] And one of the things I heard you say is that, it’s really great to understand how to clear the inbox and also that sometimes you can get potentially over involved in the inbox as well. And that’s quite common and a really important revelation in the journey, in the GTD journey.

0:26:42.0 Robert: So one thing I’d encourage you to look at is, it’s great to hear that GTD is helping with delegation, with clarity about where the organization is going. Continuing to use things like your waiting for list and your agendas, even keeping track of a list of projects you’ve delegated to other people can be useful at a mechanical level. And one other tip that I’ve found helpful for people as they’re coming along in their journey and realizing that it’s not just all about the next action and the inbox and that they need to have some perspective as well, is what I call the morning mind sweep. And this is just, you remember the mind sweep from the seminar, basically answering the question, what has your attention. Writing it down, writing it down, writing it down. You can with your morning cup of coffee, just write down the top three things on your mind and clarify and organize those into your system before you even open your email.

0:27:43.4 Robert: And I find what this does is it helps a lot of people very organically build their lists and create an understanding of the priority of the things that they’re driving that really matter to them. So rather than being pulled around and responsive to everyone else’s demands, which usually come through email or Slack or something like that, you can start to sort of, in a sense, set your priorities first by checking in with yourself each morning. It takes usually no more than 10 minutes. And if you can find 10 minutes in the morning for that ritual, I find a lot of people find that their lists become more alive to them because it’s really being driven by what has their attention rather than what has everyone else’s attention. You know, organizations can kind of become a bit of a beast that pull you in lots of directions. So that’s just a practical thing that you can play with. Try see if doing a little bit of a mind sweep each morning could help you in a sense put your priorities first a little bit. Those are my thoughts. Back to you for just any kind of closing thoughts before we wrap up here, Alex.

0:28:45.5 AL: Right. That is, both points I think are ones that I want to reflect on and use. So basically sort of not losing the whys, but also the morning mind sweep, I think sounds like a very good idea for me. Even though I try not to, I do have a tendency to go straight to the inbox, particularly when, as this week is half term week, so the children have been higher in the kind of weekly and daily activity than usual, which means that work has of course gone a little bit by the wayside and I don’t have a nice clean inbox. And then of course, I get a slight sense of panic, and so I’m going straight to the inbox ’cause I’m trying to sort that out. So I think very, very useful to then reflect back without looking at what everybody else wants me to do.

0:29:32.6 AL: And I think the other thing, so I’m just looking again at my workflow clarifying as well, and I’m thinking about the whys and things because I think one of the issues, if I’m honest, which we didn’t so much touch on, but thinking about the whys, I’m not very good at saying no to things, really bad at saying no to things as I think a lot of people in this situation are. But I think going back to that sort of clarity and that where are heading ideas, sort of clarifying the next action helps with clarifying the direction and then using that to then apply the, do I trash this? Do I just say no to this one? And being better at ignoring some of those additional demands on my attention, I think realistically is something I really need to apply.

0:30:15.3 AL: And I’ve kind of known that, but it’s only when I’ve just looked at the clarify model again and I’ve gone, oh yeah, okay, so I’m getting the delegating, I’m deferring, I’m doing, but I’m not really looking so much at that left hand side of the model. So that would be my other thing from just the discussion this morning, is actually look realistically at the options that I have and don’t think that all of the options lie on the right hand side of the actioning side of the page. I’d be better at using that left side.

0:30:42.8 Robert: That’s another great awareness. So thank you so much Alex and Todd for doing this. I think this was a lovely, a really lovely kickoff of an experiment with this format. So if you found any of this useful folks, this… We call this a coaching. I think this is a high level sort of coaching conversation, just so you know, when we work one-to-one with people, we get into sharing screens and into the nit and grit and really it becomes quite comprehensive. But lovely to hear that just in this short conversation you’re already taking away hopefully some nuggets from your own awareness and from our experience at best practices. If this intrigues you, please do get in touch with us. In addition to one-to-one coaching, as you heard, we hold seminars and events.

0:31:32.7 Robert: is the place for that. Be sure also to like and subscribe to this podcast if you wanna hear more. We’re gonna, again, be doing more of this type of format. We’re very curious to hear how you found this as well. If you wanna hear more or learn more about the wonderful work that Alex is doing, that’s at and you can check out what she and her team are doing. For now, from me, from Todd, huge thanks to Alex for being here as the pioneer of this, and hope this was useful to all of you. Love to hear your thoughts about this and we’ll see you next time. Bye for now.


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