Episode 13 – David Allen

Author: Madalina Roman

David Allen is the author of international best-seller Getting Things Done. Published in over 28 languages, TIME magazine heralded it as “the defining self-help business book of its time.” He’s been recognized by Forbes as one of the top five executive coaches in the United States, and as one of the “Top 100 thought leaders” by Leadership magazine. He is the engineer of the GTD® methodology, which has shown millions how to transform their lives to produce successful outcomes. Let’s hear more from him on this episode of the podcast.



  • The game is always on. The big key is building out an inventory and a menu of all the options. Think about all the things you should do. Review and reflect on them the right time to make a good choice about what to do. Because if they are always on your mind, you won’t get anything done.
  • The five steps of the GTD-methodology: capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage.
    • Capture: notice what’s got your attention (e.g. oh I need cat food)
    • Clarify: clarify it and define exactly what those tasks need to look like
    • Organize: organize and you categorize things so that they are in the right order
    • Reflect: reflect on them and visualize what those tasks are going to look like
    • Engage: engage in doing the tasks

Show notes

Juan: [01:22] David, thank you so much for coming on the show. David, so you’re a speaker, you’re a best-selling author, you’re a coach, you are running a big company that is doing things internationally. You certainly know things about time that most of us don’t. Can you walk us a little bit through how you think about time and your main core pillars of success?

David Allen: [01:41]

I don’t think about time so much. I think much more about my attention than time.

Time is a component like spaces too. I need to know when I need to be on this phone call. I need to know when I need to have a doctor’s appointment. So being aware of time and how you manage it is an important component, but it’s certainly not. That’s not the essence of productivity. The essence is where do you put your focus and is it on the right thing.

Juan: [02:10] Do you have a framework for how you determine if something is worth the focus or not?

David Allen: [02:16] Well, you know, the whole Getting Things Done methodology I uncovered over the last 35 years is,  how do you get the clear space inside your head, so you can make a really good priority decision about what to do. Should I take a nap? Should I have a beer? Should I work on this project? Should I call this person, should I go do this errand? And all of those are, you know, minute to minute, moment to moment decisions.

We’re all making all the time. So you’re constantly making priority decisions.

The trick is do you feel comfortable about the decision you’ve made? So the whole idea, if anybody thinks they’re procrastinating, it’s just they feel uncomfortable that they should’ve done something they didn’t do as opposed to look what I chose to do was exactly the right thing to do, but you can only feel good about what you’re not doing when you know what you’re not doing and most people don’t have a clue of how many things they’ve committed to, how many things have gotten in their inventory of stuff that are banging around in there in their head, which is actually a crappy office and most people are trying to keep a whole lot of their life and their commitments and remember stuff in their head and your brain did not evolve to do that. So a lot of what my methodology is, get it out of your head besides sooner than later what that stuff really means to you. What you’re going to do about it. If anything, and then have some trusted external brain system that you parked the stuff in that you review and reflect on it the right time to make a good choice about what to do. That’s what I do. I constantly have to keep doing that myself. It doesn’t end when you’re always needing. The world was changing. I’m growing. I’m getting different perspectives, so I’m constantly need to be on, so this is not something, some silver bullet that you swallow, you swallow the pill and suddenly you will know this for the rest of your life. It’s like, hey guys, here’s the game. Here’s how you play it.

The game is always on.

Juan: [03:56] David, if you had to break down that GTD methodology into maybe like a few different faces, can you walk us through what that looks like?

David Allen: [04:04] Yeah. I just mentioned the five steps. It’s capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage. That’s how you get your kitchen under control. How you get your consciousness over control. I didn’t make it up. I just recognize what you do. First of all, you notice what’s got your attention, what’s not on cruise control, what’s not on autopilot right now, and you don’t have to go very far. Just notice what’s got your attention. What’s what’s pulling on your mind, oh, I need cat food, or I need a life, or oh my, should I get divorced? So should I buy a house? Should I ask for a raise? You know, all of those things need to be captured outside your head and then parked in some truck trusted place. That’s the capture function and then you need to sooner than later, disciple what’s the next step about asking for a raise? What do you need to do next? What’s the very next thing you need to do and is that something you’re actually going to move on or you want to park that to review it in two months, what you know, so you need to then get some clarity about those things that you do have attention on. So that’s step two, so it’s capture the new clarify. Then if you say, oh, okay, that’s a phone call I need to make here, that’s a website I need to search. And you can’t do it that very second then you can park some reminder to do it at the right time. So that’s where you need to trust a list. Benefits, we’re like, keep listening. The errands I need to run, stuff I need to do on the web stuff, I need to talk to my partner about the, you know, whatever, and so you keep track of the work to do where you’ve defined what the specific work is and that’s step three, which is the organized. Let me, once I’ve determined what these things mean, let me put reference where that goes. You put trash with that goes, let me put a reminder, I need to see two months from now where that goes and what’s the next step on any of these things I have attention on. I need to move on. Where do I park that? What’s the project, if there’s anything that one step we’ll finish that I need to keep track of. So those are.

That’s a thinking process and there’s no tool that does that except your forebrain.

That’s a required thinking process. You have to apply to all the stuff that you get out of your head and then once you got a good organization system where you park all that stuff on the right place, if you’ve got an afternoon, you might run errands, go look at your list, go reflect and review on the content of what you’ve got.

You’re sitting down to have dinner with or spend a few minutes talking to your partner about the business of life stuff you’ve kind of worked together. What’s the list of things you need to come up with it? You need to talk to him or her about, you know, and motor, all the projects that you need to keep track of on some at least weekly basis. Would you see that inventory on a regular basis. So you need to build in some sort of reflection, that review process. Once you put the content in your external brain, you need to then use your brain. It’s kind of funny. You’ve got to actually think. You actually have to use your brain to shut right up. Another gem to use your mind to look at all your stuff like you, you, you look at your calendar and say, okay, this is what I need to do right now.

I don’t need to worry about any of this stuff. I’ve already looked at it and so you’re already doing this and everybody listening to this is already doing this to some degree because most people aren’t really going up the way that you really need to do it. If you were able to keep a clear head and then step five is an engaged, then you make choices about them – how you put your attention into actions based upon what you’ve captured, clarified, organized, and reflected on. So it’s that in a sentence that simple, but that’s a pretty profound thing to do actually. If you build that practice in.

Juan: [07:16] Okay, so the fifth step after reflect, what is the name of that fifth step?

David Allen: [07:20] Engage.

Juan: [07:22] Engage.

David Allen: [07:22] Yeah. That could be taken a beer. Have a thinking about a proposal of Dr Bause, whatever’s next that you figure is the best thing to be doing at that point. Give up all the options you have.

The big key is building out an inventory and a menu of all the options. Otherwise, you’re going to be driven by latest and loudest and then you just hope that what you’re doing is right, but you know, subliminally there’s other stuff in there you’re not thinking about and maybe this isn’t the right thing to do.

Oh my God, and that’s this, this, this sort of angst that most people walk around, but because they frankly are keeping a whole lot of stuff in their head.

Juan: [08:02] Totally. And you know, something I really like about your approach, David, is it seems like you really give your full attention to whatever it is that you’re doing, so you’re actually able to unplug yourself from the clutter by kind of batching all of these steps. And then once you actually move on to the engagement phase, you’re fully engaged in that task. Right? Which is very different than most of us. We can’t unplug from the stress

David Allen: [08:22] That’s the most productive place to operate from. It’s the best place to get  a golf ball from, getting it from, or fire somebody from or whatever, when there’s nothing on your mind, but that.

So the big key about getting things done, it’s not so much about getting things done. It’s about managing that you’re, that you’re appropriately engaging with all of your different commitments in an appropriate way so that you can be fully present with whatever you’re doing.

That is the most productive state to operate from – the healthiest place to operate from. The most stress-free place to operate from. If you’re in your zone and time is disappeared. There’s no distinction between work and life. This is what’s next.

Juan: [08:59] Sure. So David, I imagine if we go and pick up one of your books or we sign up to take a certification program through that, through Gtd are, are there specific tools or like worksheets that you encourage people to actually help them guide through this process? Or is it mostly have a strategy that we need to own intellectually and put ourselves through? Is it a part of the tools or it’s more about that actual concept of this?

David Allen: [09:22] Well, the methodology is quite rigorous in quite detail. So if you were wanting a training or to be a coach for this. There’s a lot of training you need to go through and make sure you understand because you’re going to need, you may need to sit down with a CEO of a company, you may sit down with a 12 year old kid and you may need to sit down with the dad that you may get all kinds of people who’ve got all kinds of tools and all kinds of things they might want to use and know how to engage with them appropriately as opposed to having some some hard nose kind of template that you’re trying to over structure into somebody’s life that, that they’re not ready for. So there’s quite a bit of sophistication about understanding what this methodology is and how you would apply it in almost any circumstance. So it’s not a lightweight process to get certified to do this.

Juan: [10:08] Absolutely. Do you have any preferred tools that you, that you could recommend that you’ve found worked really well here? Like I don’t know, Trello, Asana, Google keep, anything like that? No?  Do you have any worksheets that we could get from your website? I think you have some white papers and templates that are pretty useful. Right?

David Allen: [10:24] It describes the methodology, but it’s. Any tool works.

Juan: [10:29] I love that.

David Allen: [10:30]

You can use Trello. You can use Asana, you can use a paper based planner or you can use Post-its. It doesn’t matter.

Right? Right. So you know, a lot of people want a new tool because they think the tool’s going to solve it for them and then they want a new new tool because they think that tool didn’t work that well, now they going to try to get the new new and new and you’re dead in the water. You know you’re in your into productivity port so you know you’re not. That doesn’t work.

Once you understand this methodology – you can make any tool work.

Then you can find one that’s cool and one you want to work with, what you like to use, that’s fine, but they’re all lives matter. They’re coming out weekly by the way. There are over 300.

Juan: [11:13] Yeah. What’s fascinating is you’re actually able to translate this, like you’re saying, into different pockets of people, whether it’s a 12 year old or an executive. You recently moved over this methodology over to a brand new niche. It seems like for you, which is a fourteens, right? You wrote the book gtd Teens, um, how do the concepts translate over to a younger generation and how are they different?

David Allen: [11:35] The subtitle is staying focused in a distracting world, so you know a lot of what the young folks are dealing with is this plethora of just bombarded inputs and potentially ways to get addicted to distraction to keep you from focusing on what you need to do. That could be homework or get ready for the prom or, or get ready for college or whatever you do. So we just translated, we, we, we took an frankly, my two coauthors did most of the heavy lifting. Those are the ones that have kids and are working with kids. But basically it’s the same methodology. We didn’t step it down at all. It’s just an executive when they come back from a board meeting they need to empty their briefcase with business cards, they collected and then meeting notes, they took a nine year old needs to enter their pack and get all the notes from the teacher that the parents need to sign.

[12:23] Same thing, same process. There’s different content, so all we did was trying to frame this for caring adults that are dealing with teens because come on as soon as you leave high school, if you’re in the US and you know mom is no longer a trusted system and so this whole graduated process as you grew up at some point you couldn’t feed yourself – they fed you, at some point you couldn’t dress yourself – they dressed you. Then you had to do it yourself. At some point you couldn’t do your homework by yourself. They needed to help. Now you’re on your own, so you’ve grown up through a graduated process of having to take home on your own accountability to or have your own structure to manage thing is self manage. Right? So that’s been a graduated process, but most kids are not trained to do any of that.

So that’s what we tried to do is to bring this down into, to take this methodology, is that okay, how would you translate this through those different skill levels as kids need that then take more accountability for how they manage their life as opposed to just waiting until they’ve thrown out after high school and then the fire hose of life and then very easily get off track because they didn’t know how to manage their freedom.

Juan: [13:34] Absolutely. So as we move on to the later part of this show, we will go through the show notes here. David Allen has created a framework that helps you focus on your attention and not time management and the system basically helps you determine whether or not something is worth your attention. It’s a five step system. You first start by getting things out of your head in the capture phase. You unclutter your mind and get it into the physical world. That’s number one. Number two, you clarify it and you define exactly what those tasks need to look like. Number three, you organize and you categorize things so that they are in the right order. Then you reflect on them and kind of visualize what those tasks are going to look like and finally you engage in doing the tasks. David’s concepts have been translated to more than 28 languages and are now transferred over to a younger generation in Gtd teens, so these are things that are tried and true and are not just a new tool for you to get started in. You can check out more of his work on gettingthingsdone.com, and we will copy all of this in the show notes. David, as you continue to take your career forward and move your business to the next level, where’s the best place for people to stay in touch with you and learn more about what you’re doing.

David Allen: [14:37] So gettingthingsdone.com as you mentioned is a good place. You’ll sort of see that and you can follow me on twitter – I’m gpdguy. On Instagram I am dallen45. I think there is a Facebook page. Our folks sort of made a thing for this. So you can kind of circle around. I’m around all the time. I’ve done three fedexes is so you can just do a web search for David Allen of GPD and they’re going to see tons of things to play around with.

Juan: [15:02] Amazing. David, thank you so much for coming on the show.

David Allen: [15:05] My pleasure Juan. Thank you.

You might be interested in: