Q & A with David Allen Best-Selling Author of Getting Things Done: On GTD & Relationships, Getting in The Zone & More!

David Allen GTD

When it comes to personal productivity, a handful of names come to mind -- Stephen Covey, Peter Drucker, Dr. Charles Hobbs, and, David Allen. Having personally coached thousands of individuals over the past two decades, Mr. Allen is more than just the best-selling author of Getting Things Done (commonly referred to as "GTD") -- his thoughts on productivity and organization have changed the way companies and individuals, to put it plainly, get things done...

MindBodyGreen: How do you explain Getting Things Done to someone who's unfamiliar with it?

David Allen:  GTD is application of the most effective things we all need to do to gain control and  focus, whenever we lose them.  When you appropriately capture, clarify, organize,  and reflect on all the things you're committed to do, you will invariably experience a greater freedom and clear space to engage in the things that are meaningful to you.

MBG: Were you always well-organized?   

DA: I've always been motivated to find the easiest way to get anything done. I've always only been as organized as I've needed to be to maintain that inherent laziness.

MBG: What was the inspiration for GTD?  Was there an "a-ha" moment when you realized that the existing methods just didn't work for you?

DA: No overnight epiphanies. Lots of trial and error, but with a overriding interest in how to create and maintain "clear space."  I hate unproductive stress, and as my awareness and sensitivities improved about that, so did my discoveries of what processes helped alleviate it.

MBG: What's the biggest time-strain that we're probably most unaware of?

DA: Avoiding decisions and thinking about potentially meaningful stuff, and therefore constantly being distracted and tied down with incomplete and unclear inventories of what we know we still need to be dealing with.

MBG: How do you measure GTD success?  Is it necessary to follow all the principles of GTD in order for it to help us?  

DA: Success with GTD simply means an improvement in the sense of control and  perspective. A tiny bit can help a ton.

MBG: GTD in a marriage/relationship….How does GTD apply?  Is it necessary for others in our lives (loved ones, colleagues, bosses) to understand GTD and our use of it in order for us to be successful?

DA: The more the people you live and work with closely apply GTD, the easier all your interactions and mutual activities will be, and the quality of your experiences and results will improve. The less people around you do GTD, the more critical it will be for you to, so that you have clean boundaries between what’s yours and what’s theirs.

MBG: The "mind like water" simile is very powerful and appropriate for a lot of our readers. Can you explain how you apply it in your life and help others apply it?

DA: It’s pretty simple. Having your psyche totally free to give 100% attention toward what you want, the way you want to, is the optimal way to be "in your zone." But if you don’t give appropriate attention to the things that grab your attention, they will then take more of your attention than they deserve; and  it then clutters up your psychic sand box. So I just notice what has my attention and do what’s necessary to get it quickly onto "cruise control."  How to do that is what we share with everyone we coach and teach.

MBG: How do we keep from pushing aside the less enjoyable actions in lieu of the ones we like?

DA: Ensure that you have everything to do decided down to the physical action level, so you’ve optimized your feeling of potential success in getting engaged with them. And make the really fun actions on your list a reward for getting the more unpleasant ones handled.

MBG: Can we focus too much on the next action when technology and accessibility can cause work life to bleed into personal life?   

DA: You only need to focus on next actions enough to get everything off your mind besides what you want to be doing and focusing on.

MBG: How do you "shut-off" and relax?

DA: I have various forms of play I can pick from; and, for the most part,  by applying the GTD principles, I stay relaxed.

MBG: You have a lot of great quotes in GTD – do you have any favorites?

DA: "My definition of peace is having no noise in my head." – Eric Clapton

MBG: You’ve worked with some amazing people and companies – what have you learned from them?  Anything in particular that we’d find surprising?

DA: That  everyone is in this game together, with universally the same issues and opportunities. I haven’t found anyone (at least of those who have to keep track of more than one agreement at a time) who can’t use GTD to great advantage. Nor have I ever found anyone who applied the techniques that didn’t experience a greater sense of clarity and control.

MBG: What’s your favorite guilty indulgence?

DA: Doing ikebana arrangements in my yard at sunset with a glass of fabulous wine.

For more on David Allen and Getting Things Done:


Follow David Allen on Twitter

Getting Things Done on Amazon.com

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