I think people need to get, sit down and clarify what experiences are you really looking for in your life?
So a lot of people now, “Well, I want to have a clear head.” Go “Om.” or drink or something to clear your head.
As opposed to, wait a minute. Why is this on my mind and what do I need to do to get it off my mind?
You need to make action decisions when you’re smart, so that when you’re dumb you do smart things.
David Allen’s Top 10 Rules For Success
Evan: He’s a productivity consultant best known for creating the time management system known as Getting Things Done. His company focuses on productivity action management and executive coaching. Time magazine called his best-selling book, Getting Things Done, the defining self-help business book of its time. He’s David Allen and here’s my take on his top 10 rules for success. Rule number four is my personal favorite and make sure to stick around all the way to the end for some special bonus clips. And as always, if David says something that really inspires you, please leave it in the comments below and put quotes around it so other people can be inspired as well. Enjoy!
- Clarify what you want from life
- Be specific
- Seize all opportunities
- Clear your head
- Be responsive
- Be consistent
- Act when you’re smart
- Get perspective & control
- Do optimal things
- Be authentic.
Rule #1: Clarify What You Want From Life
I think people need to get, sit down and clarify what experiences are you really looking for in your life? And that doesn’t necessarily, it can include lots of money but it can also include what do you want to experience with that money?
A sense of freedom?
A sense of service?
A sense of providing value to the world?
A sense of self-confidence and self-efficacy?
What is it that you’re after?
So there’s, in my own explorations in the whole personal growth and self-awareness game, for years I’ve been involved in that pretty seriously. There’s an exercise, let’s say, well what do you want? I want a red Porsche. Great.
What experience do you think that’s going to give you? Freedom and a sense of fun, whatever. And then the people get the red Porsche and they’re worried about somebody going to dent it and they can’t afford the payments on it.
“I think people need to get, sit down and clarify what experiences are you really looking for in your life? And that doesn’t necessarily, it can include lots of money but it can also include what do you want to experience with that money?” – David Allen
They didn’t really get the experience they were looking for. What happened? They got the symbol but they didn’t get the inner experience. But if you want the experience of freedom and fun, you can have that this afternoon.
Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the red Porsche but it just means that if you start to focus on the inner experience what would climbing the corporate ladder give you as an inner experience?
Why do you want that?
What’s important to you about that?
What is it that you’re after?
And it could be I want to provide for my family for after I’m gone. So there’s a sense of building wealth or building net worth or building assets for the people around you that matter to you.
There’s no right or wrong about any of your answers to this but I think getting clearer about whether you want to do that or whether you want to get there because you want to be able to impact a much larger segment of the world for doing good or taking it over, I don’t know, for whatever you want.
But I think that’s the key is being able to externalize and start to become objective about well what is it that you’re after? And so just crafting your own ideal scene not only of the things you want which is fine don’t stop that.
Don’t feel embarrassed that you want a red Porsche. So there’s nothing wrong with any of that material stuff that you might want but it’s also true, that’s a real good idea to just say, let me just lay that all out and then use that as a map just to then guide you in terms of your intuitive decision-making.
I don’t think you have to work at it that hard but I think you do need to be conscious about it and validate it in some part of yourself.
Rule #2: Be Specific
Most to-do lists are incomplete lists of still unclear things by the way. What you see on to-do lists are things like budget, mom, dog, babysitter. Well I understand this sort of probably indicates something, that’s something you’ve got to do something about but what exactly is the work you need to do?
And that’s going to be the second thing you need to do, is to take those things that you’ve identified that are yanking your chain and you need to make some really specific decisions about what does the work involve and there’s two key questions you need to ask about everything on your list.
What outcome am I committed to finish so that you can define that target out there.
What’s the project about the budget, about the dog, about the babysitter, and identify those.
And then you need to ask yourself what’s the very next action step that I need to take to move forward on that if I were going to move on it.
Engaged with your world
Outcome and actions, zeros and ones of productive behavior. What are we trying to accomplish? How do we allocate resources to make it happen? But you need to apply that very specifically if you want to be appropriately engaged with anything yanking your chain out there.
The late great Peter Drucker, you folks here know that, would tell every one of us as knowledge workers the toughest admonition, your toughest work is defining what your work is. He’d put it in broad terms, this is very specifically what he’s talking about.
What is the work embedded in that and getting very clear about that and I guarantee you if you sat down and take at least a few of the things off your list and make these decisions, what’s the project? Write it down. What’s the action step? Write it down. You will feel exponentially more appropriately engaged with your world. Never seen an exception to that.
Rule #3: Seize All Opportunities
Interviewer: Tell us when you were just starting out, now you’re all big and successful, back way long time ago in the day when you were just first starting out, what were your most successful marketing strategies?
Well I think if we’re, what we’re talking about really is building a business off of the brand of building a business off the Getting Things Done model and methodology. That actually developed many many years after I was doing the work in consulting and coaching but I didn’t market myself then.
Marketing was called pick up the phone. It was all referrals whatever but even back then I have to say, job one called network engage like don’t turn down any opportunity to talk to anybody about what you’re doing.
As long as they’re positively inclined, so if they’re trying to talk to you, beat you up or run you down or prove that they’re better than you that’s probably not worth while but most people are often gracious about that and so you got to ask, you’ve got to put yourself out. So that’s what I’ve done.
I think I’ve only turned down one that just seemed to be a bit sleazy.
I’ve continued to do that. As the book came out then I had opportunities, people would, I got press on that, that the book publisher produced, but I took advantage of every single podcast, every single interview, every single like this.
Like you, Stephanie, meeting you, saying “Hey David, “do you want to talk to people?” I go, “Sure, I’ll talk to people.” So I’m not actually a naturally extroverted person, it actually is something I do need to focus on. And it’s not like I get all my juice out of that.
“Saying yes to every opportunity and also just in terms of my stuff, many times, much like what Mr. Ford used to say, he never, he never, he learned what he knew by talking to people ’cause he said he had a BS meter that would go off inside of him if he was talking to people.” – David Allen
So it is a consciously done thing and I think out of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of interview requests and would you write an article about or whatever. I think I’ve only turned down one that just seemed to be a bit sleazy. My wife is my chief executive assistant. She provides a little bit of a filter for me about those kind of things but I take advantage of all that. So that’s job one.
Interviewer: Wow. Okay, so just saying yes to every opportunity.
Saying yes to every opportunity and also just in terms of my stuff, many times, much like what Mr. Ford used to say, he never, he never, he learned what he knew by talking to people ’cause he said he had a BS meter that would go off inside of him if he was talking to people.
That’s where he learned. And I’m pretty much the same way. So it’s not only a one way street. meaning you’re helping other people out there but I also matured a lot of my thinking about what I was doing and how to express it by doing that.
Rule #4: Clear Your Head
Interviewer: You’re a guru of time management and getting things done. So give us the lay of the land and then we’ll do a little deep dive.
Interviewer: Yes, I’m ready for this.
Your head is for having idea is not for holding it. That’s it.
Interviewer: That’s it?
If you get that, you now have the key to keeping creative space in your brain to be able to have a lot more room to be a lot more creative, have a lot more fun, fulfill your life a lot, a lot better. Most people are walking around, most 99.9999% of people are still walking around with the constipated psyche, with all the stuff they’re trying to manage, keep track of, remember, remind themselves about or whatever. And that is so suboptimal.
Interviewer: My mouth is open because I just, I just got it, in that one sentence how profound that is. And I think about what you want to say, basically say it again so that the world-
Your head’s for having ideas, not for holding ’em.
Interviewer: Your head is for having ideas, not for holding them. I’m guessing that’s getting retweeted around the world right now.
That I need cat food should pop into your head once. If it pops in twice, you’re not handling your appropriate engagement with your cat or its food. Right? I mean, why have an idea twice? It’s just the reason you do and the reason things pop into your head for the most part is simply because you’re not yet appropriately engaged with whatever that thing is and it’s got you as opposed to you got it. So interestingly, you have to learn the skill and what I discovered and developed and really recognized, I didn’t make it up, this is nothing new.
Sure. This is humanity that-
Yeah, what I did was make explicit what we implicitly do to get things done. But the truth is that you actually have to use your mind to get stuff off your mind. So a lot of people now, “Well, I want to have a clear head.” Go “Om.” or drink or something to clear your head.
As opposed to, wait a minute. Why is this on my mind and what do I need to do to get it off my mind? And that actually requires thinking.
Those are two very important questions.
That’s bad news for everybody listening to this. Thinking is required so the brain can actually think.
So let me try and apply that. The worldwide audience sitting in right now, is largely creators, people who are learning a new skill, want to acquire a new skill in photo, video design, art, music, entrepreneurship, for example. And I feel like if I’m going to be the test monkey here and apply what you just said to me that when I, my best moments are when my mind really is the most clear. It’s the most sort of empty. And I am able to take on a thing and do it.
Either your paints need to be organized before you start painting.
Right, ’cause then you know where mustard is.
You need a clear canvas.
Where cobalt color is.
Absolutely, I mean if you’re going to cook, how do you want your kitchen to start? You’ve got friends coming over in an hour.
Is that why we clean our room before we study for the test?
It’s why your car drives better when you get it clean.
Rule #5: Be Responsive
I coached one very senior executive in a very large company whose average backlog of email was 4,000. His biggest issue was the fact that his calendar was booked for the next two months. Hardly anybody could get in because of his schedule. Why was his calendar booked?
Because people couldn’t get his input to be able to okay or get his authority to move on the things he had tasked them to do. They had to get in his face so they needed a meeting. After I coached him, I’ve never seen anybody change that significantly that fast but then his backlog went from 4,000 to zero.
What happened was, he started cleaning up his backlog and keeping it clean. Then what happened was the pressure came off his calendar. Why? ‘Cause people could get a response within 24 to 48 hours by simply sending the guy an email. Huge change in his culture simply because of his responsiveness.
By the way, the sensitivity of a nervous system pretty much indicates where you are on the food chain. So organizations that do not have that kind of instant responsiveness or people who don’t have that responsiveness basically puts you further down on the food chain.
Rule #6: Be Consistent
Over the years I just found consistency because the seeds, boy, especially in my business, seed planting is just amazing. And it’s probably true. I mean come on, Stephanie, that must be with your business and anybody’s out there.
With the restaurant, anything else. It takes a while to build there but you just got to stay there and you got to keep doing what you’re doing and keep putting one foot in front of the other. And that consistency, I think, is something that also people, that resonates with people.
Interviewer: I’m so glad you said that because I’m always beating my drum of consistency. Do your marketing consistently and you will get results. And the whole seed planting, it’s just, I love that message.
Yeah, I’ve had people come back, boy, years later sometimes eight, ten years later. “David, I met you at XYZ da-da-da. I’m now in this position right now. You’re exactly what we need and holy mackerel. How long did some of these seeds, some of them pop right away obviously.
But you just got to keep, Johnny Appleseed. You just have to keep spreading the seeds out there wherever you can and whatever way you can. A good friend of mine, Jack Canfield, wrote Chicken Soup. Jack’s got the great story.
No publisher would take it. He’d fill his trunk with the books, and they did go around the country, just talking about it and taking every single radio spot and interview that they could. At some point it reached a critical mass, it sort of tipped over. And I think there’s wisdom in that. If you believe in what you’re doing and you love what you’re doing, just stick with it and keep course directing. Pay attention to feedback and stick to your guns.
Rule #7: Act When You’re Smart
In your first TED Talk you said that the brain is not necessarily good at multitasking but it actually is a good planner but it doesn’t always know what to be telling you at the right time. For example three in the morning, you’re thinking about the guy at work who you can’t do anything about but you said that in the long run, your mind does plan things. It plans reproductive decisions, eating decisions, and things like that.
Can you tell me a bit more about that?
Well the mind naturally, we naturally do a lot of that stuff and all I did was recognized what the process is that we go through when we do that. It is kind of interesting, I don’t know that I have the solid answer to this yet. Why everything I talk about in the book is easy to do.
It’s stuff we, in a sense naturally do. You will naturally plan the natural planning model is called that because that’s how, that’s how you got dressed, that’s how you walk, that’s how you talk, you have an outcome. You have a reason to be doing what you’re doing.
You have a vision of it being complete and that then generates all the potentially meaningful things you need to consider and then you sort those and organize them and then you take an action. So we’re doing that all the time and yet when people, they don’t really apply that same process in much larger or more complex kinds of things in those kind of ways. So it’s really sort of like learning from the smart part of us.
Right You deconstruct the smart part of us and apply that to those longer or those other pieces that we don’t seem to do the smart things.
And then that too, I just did a tweet ’cause I was reminded of that while I was doing another interview that if you, you need to make action decisions when you’re smart so that when you’re dumb you do smart things.
Right, ’cause see it’s the smart people who really realize you’re only smart and inspired in very random moments. So when you’re smart and inspired you want to use that to capture the results of that and then park the results somewhere, where then when you’re kind of thick and stupid which is majority of the time, you actually do smart stuff that you figured out back when you were smart.
Rule #8: Relax
What happens if you got a whole list of all the stuff to do and you’re not doing any of it. Relax, enjoy, have fun. Procrastination simply is not doing a bunch of stuff and sometimes the thing that you need to do is stop doing anything. As a matter of fact, how good you are at this getting things done methodology is often indicated by how well you could do nothing.
People have a hard time doing nothing. But we know now in terms of brain science that you need as much time to let your brain relax and be spontaneous and daydream in order to refresh its decision-making cognitive power ’cause you only have a limit of that and so if you’re not napping, if you’re not getting enough sleep, if you’re not backing off and letting your mind just relax and wander then you’re suboptimizing your cognitive abilities.
Yeah, most people procrastinate though because they’re afraid of stepping into something you don’t feel like you can be successful at. So just a simple idea of deciding what’s the very next action I need to take. Oftentimes people’s lists do not have next actions.
You’ll see things like on somebody’s lists, how many of you have something that looks like a to-do list somewhere? Anybody? Yeah 99% of every to-do list I’ve ever seen is an incomplete list of still unclear stuff. You’ll see things on a to-do list like mom. Oh good, well it’s good historical data, you probably had one. Why did you write it down? Oh well her birthday’s coming. Well great, what are you going to do about her birthday?
I don’t know anything about anything. Right. In most people’s to-do list, when you look at them still are reminding you there’s decision-making and thinking that you still need to do about these commitments and you don’t have the energy to think and decide. So you say stop reminding me I’m overwhelmed. So your list become very unattractive to you. So there’s lots of reasons people may have a high barrier to entry to start engaging with the things that you’re committed to.
Rule #9: Get Perspective & Control
Actually, mess is cool. Actually the most productive times I am is when I have the freedom to make a creative mess. You too. You need, I need room to be crazy, to make some mistakes, to brainstorm, to be chaotic. Go a little off the edge.
That is going to be your most productive time. It’s when you have that kind of freedom to do that. However folks, if you’re already in a mess, you ain’t got room to make one. If your kitchen’s a mess, you don’t have time or the energy to have a creative dinner for your friends. If your desk and your office are a mess, you don’t have room and space to be crazy about some new project and spread out and have brainstorm with ideas.
If your email is backed up on you with a thousand unprocessed emails and you’ve got 3,000 other things going on in your head, you have no space to take advantage of discretion or a time that may show up in terms of it being creative, in terms of your energy. The results of that, if you’re trying to use your psyche to manage that mess and you never get out of it, is you get the results of two things that are the critical elements of self and organizational productivity.
You’ll lose perspective that is you’ll lose the ability to put your focus where you need it on exactly the thing you need it at the horizon you need it. And or you may be experiencing the results of what happens when you lose control, That is, I now don’t have stability and I don’t have the freedom in my head to be able to put the appropriate attention and execute on it when I do. So those are the two key elements. Folks, you can’t manage time.
You don’t mismanage five minutes and come up with six. The only time that you think you need time management is when one or both of these two dynamics is suboptimal. Either things need to be more under control or more appropriately focused. If you map those two things together, what do you get? If you’re, on the bottom left here, we got no control and no focus. Ever been there? That’s your basic victim experience, driven by latest and loudest.
For the most part, most of us are thrown there by our own over-commitments and creativity. We’re just trying to come up for air. Now if that part of you shows up that has high focus and perspective but no control now you’re the mad scientist, now you’re the desperate artiste, now you’re the crazy maker with all kinds of crazy ideas and no constraints of what you’re doing, nothing very well organized. Middle of the morning you decide to go buy the new iPhone but your IT department won’t support it.
On the other hand, you can get down on the weeds, and say oh wait I need to get 10,000 things organized. I need to get all this cleaned up. And now you get into micromanagement if you don’t have appropriate focus you can get down on those weeds and hung up on them like crazy.
And you spend a lot of time, doing a lot of trying to get organized about things that may not be that important. In the morning, your crazy makers have got a new iPhone, in the afternoon you spend two hours of what could be a strategic afternoon trying to set up the right ringtones.
Here’s what’s true about all three of those, folks. You ain’t ready for what’s coming towards you. You will be suboptimal in terms of your ability to handle the surprises and they’re coming. Good, better, and different. They’re coming, trust me. And you want to be optimally available for those things when they come to you.
Rule #10: Do Optimal Things
It’s great to complete things. So that’s a lot of, we know when we finish anything, there’s a part of us that sort of reaps energy out of that. That feels good. Those are your best days when you got, you handle that, you turn that in, you bought that thing, you got, you fixed that, you got the light bulb and screwed it in and then it worked, then wow. So those are your good days when you actually finish a lot of stuff.
There’s a lot of value to completing an open-loop, how and at the same time you don’t want to feel bad if that loop is not closed. And that’s a lot of what the GTD methodology does is like, look you don’t have to finish all this stuff in order to get it off your mind.
But you do have to identify what it is and trust that you’ll see it at the right time wherever you are with it, at whatever its status is. So yeah, you don’t want to, there’s a whole new idea that goal setting is really not the best thing to do, especially if you set a goal and feel bad until you get the goal.
Because then you, then you’re not appreciating the process of moving toward it. And so you don’t want to be able to create frustration or guilt or undermine your energy by having some only future ideal win.
Is goal setting just as a pure exercise bad?
No, you’re setting goals all the time. That’s how you got dressed, it’s how you talk, it’s how you walk. You’re always, you’re seeing yourself out the door and then you will fulfill the picture. So we’re setting, you can’t stop actually because you’re a teleological being. You’re always moving towards something.
There’s a part of us that’s always attempting to expand, express, fulfill, complete something, just look, just look around just anecdotally anyway that everybody’s doing something even when you’re not doing something you’re doing that.
So there’s an intentionality still there.
But like a goal of I’m going to be a billionaire in three years da-da-da might not always be the most productive thing.
It depends on what you’re doing with it. It depends on whether it’s running you or you’re managing that call. Hey here’s a picture, here’s an image. Let me just stick that in there. Why not? It’s better to have nice positive pictures and images in your head than a bunch of negative ones and as long as it creates expansion instead of contraction I think that’s the big key.
That’s something that I learned years ago as a marker for me about whether things are in alignment at whatever level you want to interpret that, is engaging in this creating expansion or contraction? Love or fear? So you can look at it that way.
Same thing. Right? In loving, everything works. In fear, nothing works. So it’s in a way, it’s just that that aspect of making sure. So don’t beat the medium. And don’t there’s no reason, there’s no bad or good about any of these kinds of things, whether it’s goal setting or not other than is that the most optimal thing, way to be engaging with it.
Okay, and love or fear, expansion contraction. That’s kind of a way and you’ve got a gut feeling whether you’re opening yourself up doing that or whether you’re protecting and limiting.
Yeah and it’s also a good way for decisions, like I don’t know which way I should go. Should I change jobs? Should I move to Amsterdam, whatever. Start doing, practicing, rehearsing scenarios in your mind about whatever that future scenario is and see if that’s feeling expansive or constructive.
Thank you guys so much for watching. I made this video because Eoghan Champkin asked me to. I hope I pronounced that okay. So if there’s a famous entrepreneur that you want me to profile next. Leave it down the comments below and I’ll see what I can do.
I’d also love to know what did David say that really left its mark on you? What rule did you like the best? What clip really inspired you? Leave it in the comments and I’m going to join in the discussion. I also want to give a quick shadow to Alejandro Baltazar. Alejandro, thank you so much for picking up a copy of my book, Your One Word. It really really really means a lot to me.
So thank you guys again for watching. I believe in you, I hope you continue to believe in yourselves. And whatever your one word is, much love. I’ll see you soon.
I think over time people develop their own signature and I think it takes a while to find out what your signature really is. So I’ll fast forward a little bit where I am now. We never really marketed ourselves as I began to build a little company around the success of the book and brought in other trainers and coaches and presenters and started to build some product around that. Still not a huge company.
There are only 20 plus of us doing that work but we’re partnering with other people out there. But as I started to do that we really realized that the brand had kind of run out from under us. GTD which was the shorthand for Getting Things Done became this global thing, kind of like Kleenex and Xerox.
And we didn’t own that. I mean we owned it but we, it was kind of running faster than us and we really had to rethink how are we showing up out there in the world because people would meet me or meet us and go wow you’re nothing like what I expected you to be.
I said well what did you expect me to be? They said, well corporate, left brained, and hardworking and rigorous and disciplined and whatever. And a lot of people go you know I probably should but that’s not me but that’s not us either and so there was a disconnect between how we were actually showing up in the world and people’s perception of us and the reality. So we had a really smart guy help us think through this.
And it’s really about being authentic. So those really tie together, what’s my signature what’s the David Allen signature? If you go to my website now if anybody ever saw it a year or two ago it looks very different now than it did then because what we decided was, look, take the tie off. Because I’m really kind of a hanging out, spontaneous kind of guy which is really a lot of what my methodology is about, what the message is about.
But initially we had targeted the market those are the people, the high profile professionals and fast track professionals were the ones who were probably in the most pain in terms of overwhelm and that could use the methodology the most to begin with.
But the truth is it’s for anybody and it’s now spread around the world with our signature. In other words, our expression is much more aligned with who we really. So we didn’t really have to go anywhere. Many times the problem companies have is their marketing is a big “Tada!” and they can’t deliver on the big “Tada!”. Well our “Tada!” sucked.
We were delivering huge value and people were having transformational experiences but it didn’t look that way. So we said well there are a lot of people we’re not reaching because there’s kind of an inauthenticness about what we were doing.
Interviewer: So that’s been aligned now within the website and a brand.
Yeah yeah much more, much more so. Whether it works as a business, I don’t know but it’s certainly a lot more fun.
I don’t have to show them, try to be somebody else or have to deal with people’s perception of me not being who I really am and so maybe more approachable lowering the bar for people to be able to engage and to engage with me.
Early on you have to kind of, everybody probably gets a nice business card so that you look like you’re bigger than you probably really are. You start to create an image and a brand around who we think we really ought to be so we can attract people and not turn them off.
But at some point you really need to kind of catch up with that and allow yourself to just kind of be who you are and let the world come to you, that are interested in you.
Interviewer: Okay, makes sense.
But that has been as much of personal development development as a marketing development on my side.
Interviewer: Okay, that’s fascinating. Another, again there’s two things happening here. As you develop in a personal element, the marketing, those two things are aligned and they’re important for them both to create a successful business.
I think so but I’m not, I haven’t studied all the successful businesses to say that’s how they did it. I do know that in the world that we’re in now because it’s so transparent and social media can spread word like crazy and you know that essentially that transparency the more authentic you are probably the safer it’s going to be so you don’t have to worry about trying to be something that you’re not. Or gee, they followed me at that and now I have to be that for them and I have to be that for them.
Interviewer: It just makes life easier.
It does make life easier. Whether it makes it more profitable I would think so but yeah I think the world gets attracted to authenticity.
Interviewer: I agree.
And that’s I think where the world is because it’s so transparent. Inauthenticity I think shows up at least subliminally if not directly. So people out there who are trying to create marketing campaigns that really aren’t who you are or trying to show up as something that’s just somebody’s writing ad copy but then your engagement with the company doesn’t hold up to that or doesn’t match with that. That’s tricky business.
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