049: David Allen, conversation 1: Creating work of enduring value (transcript)

May 29, 2018 by Joshua
in Podcast

David Allen

This conversation with David Allen is a wonderful sharing of a creative process that produced Getting Things Done for him, one of the great works, at least for me in my life, it’s been a tremendous value. You’ll hear the behind the scenes of what it took to make it happen. Not so simple. People who want to write books these days, you’ll get a lot of advice a lot of like “get rich quick” all the stuff and his was a very different process. You’ll hear he’s comparing that process to Mozart and Van Gogh and people like that. You’ll also hear at the beginning how he’s important to me, the story of how he and I met about 10 years ago and I share the advice that he gave me then and he keeps giving me advice over the course of this conversation, that’s really valuable. I hope it’s as valuable to you as it is to me. Still now after 10 years I’m still getting it. You’ll also hear much of the value of Getting Things Done from him sharing it. I recommend getting the book and putting it into practice. And I think you’ll hear some of why it’s important. So let’s listen to David.


Joshua: Welcome to the Leadership and the Environment podcast. This is Josh. I’m here with David Allen. David, how are you doing?

David: Fine, Josh. Thanks. And as I mentioned I’ve got a little bit of hay fever, here in Amsterdam the trees are starting to pop out. And so that’s kind of goes with the territory. But otherwise I’m fine, thank you.

Joshua: Cool. So it’s yeah, it’s late April and I was joking before that the tulips are coming in, I guess. As you said that I looked at my calendar and it says it’s 4:20 and 4:20 in Amsterdam feels like legalization sort of thing like what’s in the air there.

So, if it’s OK I want to start by sharing how we met. Oh, so everyone who doesn’t know, David wrote Getting Things Done. It’s a book that has changed my life, it’s changed many, many people’s lives. And it came out it… What, 15 years ago?

David: In 2001. So 17 years ago first edition.

Joshua: So 17 years ago and to my knowledge there’s no book that’s even tried to replace it. It’s like a category killer feels like to me. Does that book to me and also Getting to Yes which also begins with “getting”. I try to make my book start with “getting” because I thought it would be like “getting leadership” or something like that to try to be in this trend of… I mean is there a book that’s gotten close? I feel like you really got it.

David: No. A lot of people have sort of created some spin out of it but nothing to replace it for sure, least that I know of, no.

Joshua: And so I wanted to start by sharing how you and I met. It was at a book release for Marshall Goldsmith and we were talking and I didn’t recognize you from your face and when we were saying you know what each of us did you said you were Getting Things Done and I said, “Oh, all of my friends told me about this book” so I read it. And I told you I thought it wasn’t that big of a book for me because I felt like I knew my priorities and I thought I did a decent job of doing things in order of my priorities. And so it didn’t really make me that much more productive. And you said to me as I recall and correct me if I’m getting it off but you said, “They market it is a productivity book but really it’s a book about mental freedom” and you said, “I’m a freedom junkie” and I reread the book in the context of mental freedom and it totally changed things. And that’s when I started implementing things. And so, it’s really to me much more about mental freedom. How many people get mental freedom versus productivity or am I differentiating something that it’s not really two different things?

David: Oh, no, you’re quite accurate. The quick answer is I have no idea how many people get it that way. It was the driver of me both discovering the methodology as well as promoting it. And you know the way I frame it now and I think in the new addition I made that more explicit but it’s not so much about getting things done, it’s about being appropriately engaged with your life so that you can be present with whatever you’re doing. So it’s not so much… Yeah, you’re right. So it’s the mental freedom to do that but it’s the freedom to be present with whatever you’re doing which happens to be the optimal productive state anyway when you’re not distracted you know. And when you’re fully able to focus 100 percent of your attention and you’re focused on whatever it is you’re doing. And that’s really it whether that’s taking a nap or you are writing a business plan or [unintelligible]. You just want to be there. So all I did was figure out the algorithm about how you get all the other stuff to quiet down.

Joshua: Yeah, I remember that even after reading the book and even after implementing it for years I was listening to a few interviews the view not too long ago and maybe it’s something you said a long time before but you pointed out how innovation or coming up with new ideas or creativity it’s not something if you schedule more time on your calendar you’ll be more innovative. If your mind isn’t free whereas if your mind is free even if you don’t schedule time you’re going to come up with new ideas, you’re going to solve problems.

David: Sure. Well, those things don’t take time. You know being creative, you know having good ideas, being innovative, being strategic, being loving, being present, most people consider those kinds of golden goodies in life and yet they don’t take time to do that. They do require space. They require room and if you’re distracted by two meetings ago this morning or your head is spinning around things you’re worrying about or complaining about, you can’t be creative or present or innovative or any of that good stuff. How do I quiet the noise? And you know I discovered the algorithm of how do you quiet the noise without having to finish all those other things. But you do have to appropriately engage with them.

Joshua: It’s interesting that you use the terms you have to space, you have to have room and I mentally put on the words mental space, mental room. But actually, what you do is very physical. And what’s the play of between mental space, physical space?

David: Well, the one way to think of it is I think you’re most creative when you have the ability to make a mess, you have the freedom to make a mess, that’s your most creative state. But if you’re in a mess, you can’t make one. So you know I’m starting to paint so if I don’t clean up my brushes, if I don’t clean up whatever I’m doing, then the barrier of entry for me is too high to get going again. I need to clean up, I need to get ready, I need to sort of as the French chefs would say, “[unintelligible]”. I mean everything in its place before you ring the bell and go crazy, that gives you the freedom to do that.

Joshua: And has your awareness, has you work with your own material changed over the years, it must have been 17 years or longer since you started developing it? I mean are you finding it? Are you getting or are you discovering new things in it or is it the same thing that it is now as it was before?

David: Yes.

Joshua: Like all of the above?

David: All of the above. But well, you know there’s always a more subtle or another way to say it or another way to understand it or spin it but the basics are the same. You know I literally when I did the second edition in 2015 I literally rewrote the whole book. I just picked up the book and started typing it and said, “Is this the way I would still say that?” A lot of it is the same. They said, no that’s really good. I can’t think of a better way to say it than the way I said it. And the methodology is absolutely the same. Some of the languaging changed because…A good example whereas in the first edition I talked about collecting as the first step you know when you are gathering all the stuff that is incomplete that has your attention, in the new edition I call it capture because collecting is kind of a passive just whatever’s already out there you know kind of just you know gathering it up whereas capture has a lot more sort of creative expansiveness to it. Like capturing ideas about the book you want to write, capturing stuff like that as opposed to just collecting stuff you’ve already thought. So it was a more active and more dynamic way to describe it at least in English that way. So capture.

And then instead of just processing I use the word clarify because it’s really about it’s not just again a passive thing of just you know okay, let me put something through a grinder here. It’s really getting clear about, “Oh, wait a minute, why did I write that note? What does that really mean to me?” There’s a more dynamic process. And I used you know then organize is the same, just structuring things in appropriate categories.

And then reflection as opposed to review because reflection again is the broader way to really understand the dynamic of stepping back and seeing things from a higher gestalt or altitude. And then the final thing which was really important was to change doing to engage because doing has such a okay, work harder, work harder, run faster you know sort of a sense to it whereas engage is a more open way to say okay I’m engaged in taking a nap, I’m engaged in listening to you right now, I’m engaged in this as opposed to you know running faster harder et cetera. So those were you know those were understanding a better way to explain you know perhaps some of the subtleties of what this dynamic is that I uncovered. I think that’s the change that happened.

Joshua: So it’s interesting. Those are very important changes, there are very subtle changes and I guess that’s… It makes me think of one of the things of when I feel when someone masters an art or an expressive medium or something like that, then they get into the subtleties and you do sound like you’re getting these real nuances and subtleties that someone… I’m reading as much passion in what you do now. You sound like somebody who loves what he’s talking about and I don’t feel like you are acting like you do. I feel like you really this is… You’re as passionate about it now as you ever have been.

David: Yeah, I can’t help it. Of course, I tell people I’m not a motivational speaker. I’m not a [unintelligible] kind of guy, I’m not. What I just did was uncover something that happens to be universally dynamic and applies universally to the human condition and the human state. And I couldn’t do anything else. Actually, there was a lot of that driver of how I even began to formulate you know when the head of HR [unintelligible] asked me back in 1983 to design a training or a seminar material around what I was working with people one on one with this methodology because it produced more control, more focus, more accountability, more meaningful space and all that good stuff. [unintelligible] our culture needs that.

So that’s when I sat down I said okay if I only had a day or two and nobody I’d never seen again the rest of my life what would I want to share with them that I’d learn? And you know very powerful stuff be accountable for where you have put your energy. Call it karma, call it whatever you want, but hey you’re going to eat it if you’ve got an incompletion, if you’ve made some level of commitment that’s not complete yet or handled appropriately, you have to pay for that. And then not only being accountable for what you have put your creative energy and what you’ve invested in but what are you now keep investing in because you can’t stop focusing so you’re creating now all the time.

So you know how are you organizing that focus so that you’re creating stuff with no karma or as little as possible or with as less residue as possible and with as much focus and value as possible. So those two things I say well I don’t think I could share anything else with anybody else that would make any more difference in terms of what I think would improve their life, their work, their condition. Those two things if you understand, you understand those principles. So again, I’m not a motivational speaker. I’m an informational speaker letting people know that’s what’s going on folks and if you want this kind of result you know I discovered they actually work you know to give you that space.

Joshua: You sound to me like an artist. You know one of the big driving forces for me in developing my material was working with actors and how actors learn and the way they talk about preparing for a role, the way the an artist talks about preparing for a new work it sounds like you know “What emotions am I going to evoke in the observer?” And that’s what I’m hearing lots of things but I hear that in you. Is that something that you think about? Have people commented on it before me?

David: Not exactly like that. And again, I didn’t really go at this trying to figure out how people would relate to it. That said the exception to that is when I wrote the book writing it in such a way as simple as I could make it so that I could you know stop being wordy about something and be more confident what I was talking about. That’s why good line editor [unintelligible] when I had a really good line edit you know where the line editor takes your basic galley and picture your work and then go see what it says. As I said they kind of gave it a bath. You know what I said in 22 words or tried to say they said better than I could have said it in 15 words or in ten words, only they didn’t lose my voice. They actually enhanced my voice. And so, in that way it mattered to me that people would get this in the most elegant, simple, obvious, clear way that they could whether they bought into it or not or did it, that’s up to them. Like I just said you know my job was to make that as clear as possible and yeah, as clear as possible to whoever was reading this in such a way and being authentic. You know authenticity is you can’t beat that. And so, you know of course you know I wrote the book after 25 years of thousands of hours of doing that stuff so this wasn’t something I sort of made up. What the book was about was really trying to describe the, I guess, elegance and subtlety and power of what it is I uncovered.

Joshua: Did I hear your right? Twenty-five years? I guess that’s a lot of things in life before writing this down. Was that 25 years of specifically working on what came out on Getting Things Done?

David: Yeah. You know I started it in 1981 really learning some of the basics of this stuff and starting to work with it both for myself as well as I started my own little consulting practice in 1981. So you know I’ve been working with material since then. So I guess it was ’81 till I started writing the book in 1998, I guess ’97-’98.

Joshua: For some reason I remember you saying 4 years. Maybe that’s just the writing part.

David: That was from the time I took to write a book off someday maybe and till the time it actually showed up on a shelf you know. So that was a four-year process once I pulled the trigger on.

Joshua: Well, thank you for sharing that because I think there’s a lot of people out there including myself who are scared to share ideas because you look at the ideas that are out there in the world and the ones that you pay attention to most tend to be the ones that are really eloquently written and said and you think, “Oh, the person just wrote it out.” But to know that it took that time and so forth… At the beginning, how much of what came out in the book was there early on?

David: What came out in the book was there early on? Well, I was doing all that stuff in the book. The reason it took so long to really write the book was the first draft I wrote which was you know it took a year to just frame the concept and get the deal and get an agent and get a publisher so that was year one. Year two is writing the first draft but first draft didn’t work. I wrote the first draft like I did a seminar and it didn’t work. A book is a very different medium than you know stand-up live training and presentation. And you know if I had people captive for a day or two you know I could walk into whatever all this was about because they were sort of captive. But a book doesn’t hold somebody captive. You have to sort of attract them to be into it in little bursts of time or in their own timing or in their easy chair at night or whatever. It’s a very different medium. And it just didn’t work.

So I went through the dark night of the souls agonizing about “Why? Why?” Because there were three things I wanted to do with the book. One is I wanted to give people the methodology itself. Two, if they really wanted to implement this, I wanted to give them that detail how to and know if they want to be implemented. And then you know most importantly I wanted people to catch the oh, by the way’s, you know the subtleties and the power of what this thought process is when it’s applied you know to your life and your work. And so somehow in that seminar I could blend that all in you know in presentation mode that I could do at the book. But you know people would start reading the book and say, “OK, well you know you’ve got me in the first paragraph but then you know how to do it was 3 chapters later and that was frustrating for them.” That led us to work. So my big aha!, the big epiphany was, “OK, write it in three parts.” So I wrote part one. If you just want the methodology, read part one. It just goes to the whole thing you know to kind of blow by blow, gives you the blueprint of what the methodology is. Part two is… And oh, by the way, if you actually want to go implement this, let me walk you through the real how-to’s and the nitty gritty of that. And then part three is that, oh by the way.

And so, I just wrote it in three parts and that worked but that took another year. I literally threw away the first draft. It didn’t work. So I started again. It took another year to write the draft that came out as a book. And then it took the final year to get a better look and feel right to get the title right. And I got 400 [unintelligible] so you mean to try to find out how to frame this and who this was going to be targeted toward. You know at that time it was the fast-track professional. So that took the final year to be kept coming up all that in place and in play. Anyway, the longer answer to what you asked about that’s the story.

Joshua: I hope people are listening if they’re thinking about sharing ideas and developing materials and so forth. You know I talked about how you and I met and over the past couple of years things like what you were just saying helped me tremendously because I was writing my book. I didn’t take four years to do it and I’m thinking about maybe I tried to get out too quickly but when I started writing, man, the online marketing world is insane. Everyone’s like builds mailing list and do all the stuff like overnight and just buy this thing and everything blah blah blah. And I got sucked into it and I would speak to you maybe a couple of times a year I guess and you would tell me about your story and I thought that would really keep me grounded and that process for me and your sharing of it was an antidote to a lot of that crazy market speak with all the people who are… I don’t know. I mean I guess there’s a lot of [unintelligible] a lot of books but not necessarily change people’s lives.

David: Yeah. And I ran across one of those people who wrote a lot of those books and he saw me at the airport and he said, “David, how do you keep your book so high up on Amazon?” I said, “It’s a good book.” You know we kind of laughed because I really never did any marketing. I mean it’s a very little marketing that Penguin the publisher did you know for it. It just you know kind of spread by word of mouth. And you know even by then, this is 2001, there were over 400 book titles, no, over 1000 business titles published every year and just in the U.S. That’s three a day. So you know there’s an awful lot of stuff out there. So I guess to stay alive amidst all the noise of all that stuff [unintelligible], it needs to be good and it needs to be real stuff. And if it is, I think it probably has a life of its own. And you mentioning Getting to Yes by the way same folks publish them as publish me. And you know when I first had conversations with them, they said, “David, don’t hold your hopes up but immediately this may be a bestseller. If it’s as good as we think it might be. You know sometimes it takes two to three years for this to cook you know in the marketplace, but if it works, it will hang in there.”

Joshua: Well, that’s give me hope for mine. I mean I’ve decent sales but I hope it well, that’s my stuff. Although it’s also you know that perspective has helped me a lot with the Leadership and the Environment podcast because this is something I feel deeply passionate about. I think I’m bringing something that’s missing and valuable and I’m trying to optimize things as best I can but I’m spending a lot more time on developing my material and the delivery and how I work with people in these conversations than on the marketing and trying to like get the most number of subscribers and stuff like that. And to me it feels like a much more wholesome, authentic, genuine way of working. And if it doesn’t work I love what I’m doing. I can’t imagine looking back and regret at working this way of developing a passion of mine. Like when you talked about rewriting the book I’m thinking, “He retyped every single word” and then I thought if you’re an artist and you’re making a work of art, you don’t get the graduate student to do it for you. You don’t like just edit an old one, you love what you do.

David: Yeah and you know now again living in Amsterdam all kinds of interesting stuff that they’ve you know new scientific ways to be able to see how many versions of a painting the masters did and how they kept changing it and doing it differently and whatever you know it didn’t just flow out you know in any immediate form. You got to work it.

Joshua: You know I’ve read stuff about Mozart because people say he would just write a symphony. And that doesn’t seem to be the case and I’m curious if you know more about what you just said about…I’m really curious. Is that just something you just casually know about or?

David: Well, if you go to the Van Gogh museum… I mean you know Van Gogh was not just a crazy artist. He was actually one of the most rigorous students of art. And he did so many self-portraits because that was a way… You couldn’t afford a model. So he had to practice that and he would do them on top of another one and he just did so many you know things like that. And there are other artists that I can’t remember you know recall it right now but you know discovered…. Oh, Rembrandt painted over some of his stuff. Like he originally had an arm there but they changed it. And you know I was just at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg in Russia. They have numerous Rembrandts there and one of them was one that they discovered he changed the whole position of somebody out there you know in the painting. Anyway. You know I don’t think that’s uncommon.

Joshua: So there are extraneous things and like using some sort of new technology to find what’s underneath?

David: Yeah, yeah. X-ray and that stuff in new ways now. It is fascinating.

Joshua: I find it very fascinating and to me liberating because it tells me I don’t have to be perfect at the beginning. I know this in theory but the more I hear about it the more it’s easy to put in practice because what it translates to in me is anxiety and fear of judgment I guess and to know that you know Rembrandt wasn’t perfect at the beginning, not to say…. Perfect isn’t the right word, but you know it took him a while to find his voice and to make things work. It’s very satisfying to hear, very liberating I guess.

David: Yeah. I don’t think there’s any you know maybe Mozart was an exceptional you know but that was probably previous lifetimes that he developed all that and sort of came about to finish the stuff, who knows. But almost any artist that’s worth their salt, pays a price.

Joshua: I’m guessing you learned from writing, you learned from revising, you learned from delivering your material, you learned from people coming back to you, it’s all these different things. I would guess. Is that right?

David: Oh, yeah. For sure. I mean I don’t know that everybody is wired that way but I learned by writing and learned a lot about what I know by expressing it.

Joshua: Well, I would also think that the delivery and the listening to your… I mean you worked one-on-one with a lot of people. Is that right?

David: Yeah, yeah. Oftentimes I don’t know what I know until somebody brings it out on me and then you know in the situation I am, “Well, that’s really good. I’ll keep that in my act.” Yeah, that’s certainly what happened to a lot of my seminars. You know I just be up there and I just be waxing poetic or whatever about something and I go, “Wow, that’s an interesting way to say that. Let me remember that.” So it would come out but I had to engage. In other words, I had to engage, I had to start expressing, I couldn’t just sit there and ruminate about it internally in my head. Every once in a while, it happened that way but for the most part you know a lot of what I learned was simply by engaging with people and sharing information as best I knew it then and having it refined by that kind of feedback in the world.

Joshua: So even if your material isn’t ready maybe oftentimes some of the best ways to make it ready is to put out what you can and use that to refine or iterate?

David: Yeah, into the old software agile stuff. Ship. Ship.

Joshua: Yeah, I mean I can certainly say easier said than done. I know when I first started thinking about doing this podcast I thought, “Ok, I am going to do a podcast and then I would record and record but I wouldn’t put it out and I knew what I was doing and I knew I shouldn’t do it that way. I knew that I would benefit more if things would happen faster if I just put it out there and I would just keep recording without sharing and there’s months and months and months of recordings before I put it out. And now I look back and I was like, “Oh, man, I could improve faster.” I get caught in my own trap. How do I put it? I catch myself not following advice I know to follow.

David: Yeah, well, perfectionism you know it’s the curse and the blessing.


Joshua: So I’m going to switch topics here for a bit because you know the title of the podcast is Leadership and the Environment and we’ve been talking… I feel like we’ve been talking a lot about leadership or one…I feel like one part of leadership. And how about the environment? Is environment something that you care about? Is it a big deal for you?

David: Yeah, I mean can we just say the news story of the whale that could die washed up on the beach you know with like 30 tons of plastic in its stomach? You know come on? And you know so that kind of stuff is just I don’t know just dramatic. I mean there are a lot of things that could create drama, I mean just look at any page of the newspaper then you could get wrapped around that you know axel pretty tight. And so, I think it’s pick your battles. But that’s one you know hey, Catherine my wife and I you know have always done the best we could to recycle, keep things clean, not add trash to the universe. You know when we pick up dog poop I tend to pick up whatever the litter is around as well to do that. You know so we’ve got a consciousness about that. I can’t say that we’re really you know totally invested in going spending a whole lot of money and spending a whole lot of time with environmental issues and organizations but we just do our part as best we can.

Joshua: I couldn’t help but think as you said picking up the dog poop. Actually, it’s funny that the dog poop is actually in the long run, if there is a pile of dog poop and there’s a plastic container, the dog poop I think we feel more gross about but the plastic is going to be around for hundreds of years longer.

David: It’s true.

Joshua: It’s actually more dirty in some sense.

David: Yeah, I know. And I just read some by accident it’s covered you know some sort of chemical formula or whatever that dissolves plastic back into plastic again but at least you could recycle it.

Joshua: Or sell it too. One of the things that gives me hope I’m usually not so big on technology because I think of, I don’t know if you’ve heard of Jevons Paradox, it happens a lot that when people make something that uses up a resource more efficient like they make a more efficient motor or they make more efficient light bulbs, a lot of times people will use the new thing so much more than the old thing that you actually use more. So the classic example I think Jevons himself talked about hundreds of years ago is that when they invented the steam engine more efficient, it used less coal but people used so many more steam engines that they used more coal than ever before and that’s continued through to today. And which is why for me that’s why I focus on leadership and not just technology because if we don’t change the beliefs and the goals driving the system, then making the system more efficient doesn’t necessarily…I mean you may end up with a bigger scale Jevons Paradox.

There’s another challenge that… You mentioned you’ve spent years changing like doing what you can, you and your wife, it often makes a challenge that the people who are the most thoughtful and the most active sometimes have the biggest challenge. The next thing I ask is given that you do care and that what I heard was stuff that was emotionally laden and meaningful to you, I mean you don’t like the situation with the whale but I heard that it affects you. I invite you at your option if you want to take on a challenge to act on one of the values… A few constraints that I put on it are that it’s…The big one is you don’t have to fix all the world’s problems all by yourself overnight. So it doesn’t have you know… It can be small. And something you’re not already doing and something that’s not telling other people what to do. A lot of people have something in mind that they’ve kind of been thinking about for a while that they haven’t done but they were thinking about trying out. Some people it takes a little back and forth.

David: Yeah, I think you’d mentioned that to me before when we talked about me doing this podcast with you and I have to say, Josh, I’m still kind of grappling around could I do. I mean we have a car [unintelligible] that need it and we feel really great about not adding to that and we could walk or take the tram everywhere and all the all the trams and trains in the Netherlands now are being driven by wind power that they pass that hurdle last year I think. So you know we sort of live in an environmentally conscious place you know to a large degree. I think probably…. What could I do?

Joshua: Now I put out that a lot of people they hear environment and they think global warming which is one aspect of environment. So there’s a lot of other ones too. So I don’t know if that opens things up?

David: Well, give me some examples. Help me a little bit.

Joshua: I mean close to what you were talking about before is what switch me from giving talks on the environment to the podcast was a student of mine who picked up a habit of mine. Every day I pick up one piece of trash, at least one piece of trash per day and put it in a garbage can. So that’s not lowering the amount of garbage, it’s just collecting it at one place. But you know one of the things I found is that it’s not the size or scope of what someone does if they act because once you do little things and the big things open up and, man, I knew there was garbage around New York City but it didn’t connect me with… It’s really changed a lot of my perspective. And actually, that student of mine he went on to… He decided to pick up 10 pieces of trash per day and for a month and at the end of the month he wrote back and I wrote an Inc. story about it publishing his email about it because he went from that to changing eating habits to looking at noticing how people say one thing and do another and really getting into values. Some people reduce their meat consumption for a temporary period of time. Some people let’s see… What are some of the things?

David: OK. I’ve got what I’ll do. I will be a lot more conscious when I order and eat fish that it’s a sustainable fish because I haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to that.

Joshua: So it’s kind of like an issue that you knew about but didn’t really act on? Is that what I am reading?

David: Right.

Joshua: I’m glad you put it that way because…. I’m glad that I got that right. Because that’s a really big thing. It’s a perspective that I think a lot of people haven’t… Like in the back of their minds like, “I want to do X but whatever I’ll think about something else.” And what I can’t say is how you’ll respond when after it happens and that’s what I’m really curious about. But I hope that people learn from your experience of “if I make something more conscious and act on it, then…” Well, the way you described the car that you said it feels great. And I think that’s why I’m hearing a positive look at things you could do it was hard to come up with something but you sound positive about it. I think a lot of people think doing something environmental is a distraction, you know I’ve got other things to do.

David: I just made a note – sustainable fish. So soon as I get off with you the I’m going to surf the web and find out where they are. Of course, I live right here on the North Sea and you know sea food is fabulous and pretty plentiful here in Amsterdam. But I’m not sure which is which and whether it makes a difference but I’ll find out.

Joshua: Awesome. And how long do you think would be…. OK, so now that we have the idea and I’d like to get into a little bit more management and leadership. How long do you think would be a good amount of time for you to have this stick or have something to report back of how it went?

David: Yeah. I don’t know. A month or so? Because we eat out a lot and I eat out a lot. So we love fish. So you know it will be hard to start to notice. At least noticing and being conscious. I think there’s a lot of your point it’s like a you know, “Hey, open the filter, open the radar, start to notice and pay attention to that.” So just adding that sensitivity and saying how much difference does it make, how many different changes might I have made in my choice about what to eat at a restaurant based upon that. So probably in a month from now.

Joshua: So I’m getting at my calendar. And would you be up for scheduling another conversation to talk about the experience?

David: Sure, why not.

Joshua: OK. So I’m looking. Today is April 20, so I’m looking at May 20 which happens to be Sunday.

David: I think I’ll be traveling in Australia then so little after that would be useful. Try six weeks.

Joshua: OK. So the week of May 21st is pretty open for me so if I look at May 27, May 26 and hopefully not too far out for you the schedule?

David: No, I would just have to look so hang on.

Joshua: I feel like I’m talking to someone who knows how to schedule.

David: Sunday May 27 is open. That’s cool.

Joshua: OK. So if you’ll be back in Europe then I presume my morning is better. So today we started at 10:00 a.m. my time. Would that work for you the same time on the 27th?

David: Yep.

Joshua: Ok, so after we hang up, then I’ll send you an invitation, the calendar invitation. I like to close with asking is there anything I didn’t ask that is worth bringing up or that came up and we didn’t get to talk about?

David: Gee, oh, well just FYI, if you didn’t know, we have a next GTD book coming out July 7 I believe it will hit the new bookstores which is Getting Things Done for teens staying focused in a distracting world. So I’ve coauthored that with two guys, they did a major heavy lifting of this because one of them apparently has raised his kids using the GTD process and other’s a public school teacher who’s been teaching these kids GTD in the public schools [unintelligible]. So that’s kind of cool. There’ve been a people have been knocking on our door for years to say, “Oh my God, I wish I had learned this when I was 12,” “Oh my god, do you have something for my kids?” You know they need to be able to get out from this.” I just met a woman, by the way, whose son is 11 who has 500 WhatsApps a day. So if you can imagine the kids are getting…They are exploding out there you know at much younger ages than we ever thought that would happen. So anyway, so that’s cool. That’s kind of a completion which that’s going to happen there. It was FYI.

Joshua: That’s fantastic. I’m really glad to hear partly because my nieces [unintelligible] coming up in a couple weeks and I am going to tell her…Can I preorder it?

David: Yeah, they’ve got it on Amazon preorder [unintelligible].

Joshua: So now all my nieces and nephews I know what I’m getting them. I’m going to read it myself too because I’m curious what the difference is between teens and adults is.

David: I’ve had some adults read the galley of it and go oh my god, this gives actually a span they didn’t have before. Because the book talks about the amygdala and the and the forebrain, two different things that are pulling on kids and you know the amygdala is going to be in the fight-flight fear you know bright bubble whatever, distraction whatever, and the forebrain is the one that can take control of that other part if it wants to do that. So that was framing a little bit of sort of the brain tech you know for what putting it in kid’s terms. So that’s cool. And the book was written actually, putting it in kid’s terms… Actually, the book was written for kids and for caring adults. So it’s for the teachers and counselors and parents and ministers and the people who have teens under their under their wing or under their purview and care about that and you know want them to have this. So it’s as much for them as it is for the kids themselves.

Joshua: So it goes up to any age. How young does it go?

David: Well, it was targeted really you know 13 to 19 you know in terms of teens but as you know there are kids that are eight or nine that are thinking like adults already. So anybody could probably get value out of it at any age. But that’s kind of the language in there and the examples that are used like getting your driver’s license. Are you ready for the next test? Or are you ready for college? Or are you ready to graduate? Are you ready for the prom? Or are you ready… So you know it takes the idea of “Are you ready?” to “Get your act together”. You know are you ready to optimize this kind of experience and those experiences they were pretty much picked from that age group.

Joshua: Well, thank you for sharing that news. I’m looking forward to it now. Plus, now I don’t have to worry about what to get my niece. OK. Oh, and one last note. Something I say to a lot of people after they take on a challenge is I bring up the biggest challenges that I’ve heard from people after they’ve done theirs which is travel and other people that when people travel it becomes… That’s one place where they’ve less control over the environment. And so I think absent preparation some people feel like they want to give up when they hit a challenge. And so I try to tell them you know prepare for this, expect that… Some people respond by saying, “No matter what it takes I’ll stick with my challenge.” Some people say, “You know, I’ll relax, sometimes it’s not so easy and I’m not going to give up. I’ll just you know bounce back from whatever…” If you happen to be at some place and there’s no way you can possibly find out about the fish but there’s no option…Other people you know sometimes people with a food type thing, you’ll go to visit someone and they’ll say, Hey, I got you your favorite thing or my favorite thing” and you’re kind of stuck eating something that you weren’t going to and how do you handle a situation like that. So I try to prepare people for eventualities like that, not inevitable but often happen.

David: Yeah, guilt doesn’t serve anybody.

Joshua: So that’s something to think about and to prepare for and to handle one of the things that will probably come up.

David: Ok. I’ll deal with it if I find myself having to eat a fish and chips you know on the corner somewhere simply to just stay sane and keep myself moving so yeah. Thanks.

Joshua: OK. Thank you very much. And I look forward to talking to you in about a month and change.


In most cases I’d like a little more specificity in a smart part of a SMART goal. But David I know has done so many things and gets things done that I didn’t have to go into so much specificity. I’m confident that when we listen to him the next time that he will have done this and taken it to heart and so forth. If you’re working on a big project, a big leadership project, a big creative project like writing a book, giving a speech, things like that I recommend learning from his example of how he wrote his book. It’s been very successful. He didn’t follow the get-rich-quick advice that I hear so much these days. How do you make a book successful? Write a good book. So I hope that you get things done in the way that David got his things done when he wrote Getting Things Done.

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