S11E02: David Allen, author of Getting Things Done

An episode of The Impact Multiplier CEO Podcast

S11E02: David Allen, author of Getting Things Done

In this episode, Richard speaks with author and speaker David Allen, who is the world’s leading expert on personal and organisational productivity. Time Magazine called his flagship book, Getting Things Done, “the definitive business self-help book of the decade.” Fast Company Magazine called David “one of the world’s most influential thinkers” in the arena of personal productivity.

In this conversation, you’ll learn:

  • David's definition of a successful executive (criteria that many people fail to meet)
  • Four practical organisational tips that should be in every exec's toolbox
  • The biggest productivity challenges that super-successful people actually have
  • How to start working on the productivity of your leadership team

"As a leader, when it comes to focus, what are you modelling?"

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Transcript

Richard Medcalf
Today I'm getting to speak to Pythagoras, where at least it feels like that this is the Pythagoras of productivity. David Allen is the world's probably top expert in personal and organizational productivity. Time Magazine called his flagship book, Getting Things Done the definitive business self help book of the decade and Fast Company Magazine called David, one of the world's most influential thinkers in the arena of personal productivity. I've used David's material myself for many years, I found it incredibly helpful and valuable. So I'm thrilled today, David, to have you on the show and welcome and thanks for coming.

David Allen
Thanks, Richard. Thanks for the invitation. This will be fun. You're fun guy. Yeah.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. Oh, this is going to be fun. So I guess let me dive straight in and my first question really is, aren't you bored of this stuff yet? Right. You know, you brought out your book over 20 years ago. It's been incredible success and obviously, you've toured the world speaking about the subject. So I'm kind of thinking sitting here today, what are we going to talk about that you've not talked about a million times before? So, are you still bought? I only bought yet?

David Allen
Well, let's even extend that it took me 20 years of my, you know, of my work, sort of developing refining and implementing the methodology I came up with, before I even wrote the book. So I've been doing this for 40 years. So I, yeah, I scratched my head and I actually, I shouldn't be bored. It's like, I shouldn't be bored but frankly, I can't stop. I mean, as we can get into it, it's like, you know, to me, this is just such a core stuff about improving people's lives and, you know, I have a, as you do, I have a kind of a ministerial background myself and so a lot of my work is about just helping people, you know, and I had the good graces to do uncover a methodology that doesn't hurt anybody does anything, but but it just improves people's condition, you know, so that they can live better lives and do better work and so I've been doing that for a long, long time and I couldn't stop if I try. anybody asks, okay, well, here's what I would suggest if they're open for any kind of assistance and anything that I've learned over my years, how can I ever stop doing this? You're probably the same. I imagine you. You're in the same boat, right?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I'm definitely on a mission to multiply the impact of high performing leaders get them out of their comfort zone and into their next level, that's what really excites me. So people make a bigger difference on their planet, on the planet, on purpose on productivity on all the things. I guess my question is, why is that your mission? Right? Why, you know, what? What gets you out of bed in the morning, when it comes? And why do you feel productivity is so important to you? You know, why is it something you want to dedicate your life to, or you have decades dedicated your, your working?

David Allen
Well, my mission, at least career wise, anyway, is to, you know, create a world where people perceive problems as projects, and get off the complaining victim, you know, side of the game and get in the driver's seat of their life and, you know, my work does that. So I don't know that I'll create that world, by the time I check out, and I'll be 77 this year, so, but until then, as long as I'm conscious of as long as I can do it, as long as I find people that are open or interested in the methodology. I couldn't stop if I tried.

Richard Medcalf
I say, what's the change? If people see problems as projects? Well, how does that change things for them?

David Allen
Gives them in the driver's seat, suddenly going up, okay? Because in the driver's seat, well, you know, the zeros and ones of productivity are outcome and action. What are we trying to produce? What's my desired outcome and how do I allocate and reallocate my resources to make that happen? Instead of something else? So you know that that's the essence of this and so when people sort of hop into that game, outcome and action thinking you're not born doing, I don't think we we don't hop out of our mothers and go, Wow, what exactly are we trying to accomplish, mom and is this what's the next step? Is that yours or mine? It's actually learned behavior and it's a cognitive muscle as we've discovered over all these 40 years of our coaching, it's a cognitive muscle you actually have to train and habitual eyes. You know, that you don't start meetings without going well, what exactly are we we'd like to accomplish by what time today, and you don't end discussions without knowing Excuse me. So what did we just decide and what's the next step? And who's got it? Come on, you know, and dealing with you must deal with the people you deal with that. That's an absolutely critical fact. You're for how they operationalize whatever they're doing.

Richard Medcalf
So, outcomes and actions, I'm thinking, a lot of high performing leaders are going to be saying, David, come on, I live in a world of outcomes and actions. That's my whole life, right. That's why my high performing leader, I know how to get things done. I'm always talking about outcomes and outcomes, and actions. I've got to have meetings and plans and goals. I get more stuff done than 99% of people. So I'm kind of wondering for those kind of leaders who are already, you know, drive making things happen in their business in senior roles. What problems might the GTD methodology be solving for them? So, you know, what does this stuff give them that they might not have already figured out? Or is it more for junior people?

David Allen
No, no, fascinating. Big paradox. Big surprise to me, as I started in this work, 40 years ago, I thought the more senior people we be, the less they'd be interested in what I had to say, because, obviously, to your point, they're already the reason they're seniors, they already productive, they know the value of systems, they know. You know, they do all that good stuff and it was funny, because the more senior people were, the more attracted they were, to what I was doing. So the people most attracted to my work are the people who need it the least. They're already probably YouTube and they, they're, they're already what got him there, you know, our versions of this methodology, outcome and action, thinking to your point, the value of system, the value of closed loops, the value of action, thinking, the value of outcome thinking, and I got it and most of those folks are, are good at that they're not excellent at that. They don't need any time they need room. So the what they need is, I need more room, I could be a lot more, I could create a whole lot more if I had more space to do it in. Yeah, if I had more a better team to hand off my million dollar ideas I come up with in the morning to, or if I had a way to track that as a way to leave and create more rooms. So I'm making more intuitive strategic decisions about the infinite number of options I've got to do. Yeah, so you know, if you're, if you're familiar with this methodology, that's a lot of what it does is it gives people more space, to lift up in their horizon and be more creative, more strategic, more of service more, you know, more present, tucking their kids into bed.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, absolutely and I think it's a good point, somebody, you know, I use the system myself, in many ways and that question of building systems and having a mental structure, and being able to understand what kind of thing is the thing which I'm being presented with right now? And therefore, where does it fit in? That stuff is actually really helpful thing here. So perhaps you're right there, that actually, executives who are already working at a high level, almost see that there is a need to continue to, there is a real benefit in fine tuning that system thinking right, that or that machine, those set of habits? Because yeah, what they're generating so much with them, right? It's a high performance engine, they want to tune it up.

David Allen
Absolutely and you know, what a Formula One top Formula One race drivers doing, constantly improving? What our high performing tennis players doing, constantly improving, refining, getting their coach, to tell him, you know, seeing videos of themselves and go, I wouldn't have missed that hub, you know, what can we do? You know, at the on the racetrack? How fast can we get the tires change? How, you know, yadda, yadda, yadda, on and on and on. So the real high performers are always interested in, in, in getting better at that, I think, at least all that I've met, you know, yeah, wouldn't turn that wouldn't turn down a tip that could help him do it and just to get it down to the most mundane for all the CEOs I've coached and the senior executives that I've coached, after two days of my spending time with them, and they actually have a list called waiting for all this stuff they're waiting on for other people to have a list called agendas so that they, you know, if they need to follow up with someone, they have that menu in front of them when that person sits down in front of them for a one to one, and just building in a weekly review reflection time, so that they stopped the world for two hours and step back and have more reflection time. Those just those three things and the two minute rule. Once they get any action figured out, do you actually take it two minutes do it right then? And I've had many executives tell me that was worth more than the price. They paid me for my coaching just for that one tip in terms of how that improved and refined their ability to execute.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, because very often people when they start to get serious about improving their own productivity system, they'll end up over engineering things, right and in a fit of motivation, they'll kind of start to add a billion tiny tasks to their list and you say, it's pretty quickly just to get those done as they come up.

David Allen
Or they buy a new piece of software, or they get a piece of team where they think that's gonna solve all that stuff and all it does is add more complexity and more confusion.

Richard Medcalf
Yes, yeah. Yeah, it's Yeah. So I tend to see this, as you know, in the process of finalizing my, my own book, making time for strategy, and I'm focusing on that, because one of the biggest issues I see leaders have is they just don't have enough time to slow down to think, to carve out space in the diary and to get out of the, the operational stuff, and onto the stuff that really moves the needle. Task Management, you know, is a huge part of that I decided not to overly rotate on that in the book, because there's all the definitive work like yours out on that and I think it's, it's really important, because you can't really have one without the other right? You know, if you can't actually manage all this stuff on your plate, it's incredibly hard to, to get clarity of thought I, I'd say started somebody that's, you know, that buying a pair of shoes is, is on their priority list. They mean, what do you mean? No, it's not, I've only got three things I got to do. These are my top priorities. It's like, well, yes but somewhere in your life, you do need to have some smart shoes to go to your customer meetings on right. So actually, you can't just focus on your three big business goals. There's also there's all this other stuff that actually has to find its place.

David Allen
Well, have I going to sleep when you sleep is not on their list. Going to sleep is not one of their three strategic objectives. Yeah, they better they better go to sleep, or they don't have a brain. Yeah. Right. So to get to that point, it's the magic in the mundane, because you have to do the mundane. You know, I don't care, you look at anybody look at any of these senior leaders lies, and they're doing mundane things, they're typing emails, they're, they're having a conversation with a person, there, they are surfing the web for the best shoes to buy, you know, so. So indeed, those have different weight, in terms of those being completed, the value of those will create, you know, and buying new shoes, it's not going to give you a 10x to your business, unless it does, you know, to your, to your strategies, and to your to your focus in terms of what you're doing with these folks but, again, that stuff, that stuff has to be handled in some appropriate way. You know, I recall somebody I don't know who said this, I certainly stole it from the definition of a successful executive, or those who solve bigger problems than they make but the collateral damage of what a lot of senior people do, ultimately, can come around and bite him in the butt. You know, if they don't handle all those aspects of this, and you must know this, given all the people you deal with, but come on, just look at the history of, you know, quote, successful CEOs, and where are they now? What happened to their companies? You know, so yeah, they had a spotlight for a while, and then I won't name names, but, you know, now they're now they're at the bottom of the bottom of the food chain?

Richard Medcalf
Well, when I was when I was at Cisco, I think we really I spotted two sorts of leaders, actually, there were the kind of the ones who were putting in place to foundations, they made a lot of loyalty in their team, and then actually fairly grim results and there's another sort of who we got a lot of, you know, who created a lot of impact, a lot of a bow wave of hyperbole, a lot of noise, quite bold strategies, often, you know, potentially good but as you said, there was this subsequent wave of of all the impact of that the collateral damage, and generally these people might manage their career by me meaning managing to move on within the three year period of their original plan, so they never had to actually show the results for their plan and actually, you can work with certain degree, but at some point, I think that kind of stuff catches up with you and people start to spot that, as you said, there is potentially the more problems have been created along the way than perhaps he solved, as well.

David Allen
Yeah, I mean, that equation is, you know, can very much be in question especially these days. So, these days now with flattened organizations, with the speed of change is always there, what's changed is the speed of change.

Richard Medcalf
So let me ask you about getting back to this idea of you've got your people who are already making a lot of, of impact. What are the typical mistakes that leaders were making this whole area? Like, what are areas where they, you know, if you were to say, with a coaching executive yourself, what do you think are going to typically be the areas where they're dropping the ball and causing themselves unnecessary stress or loss of focus?

David Allen
You know, I have to say, even with as many people as I've coached over the last 40 years, like, it's so unique to the person, and so unique to their situation, even to the, to the degree of how sophisticated is their EA? Right?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah.

David Allen
You know, if they got a brand new and, you know, that's not very mature, they've got a different kind of work to do, than if they have, you know, sorry, Mrs. Matilda, who's 58, and she's been around the block, and she knows you better than you know, yourself and she can she can write the speech for you, you know, Ben, and the range in between, you know, all of that. Or if you have a chief of staff who's, you know, I worked with one of the chief of staff's who's, you know, one of the biggest financial organizations in the world and, you know, he came from the military, you know, as a very senior person in the military and, you know, he literally, literally was writing speeches to the CEO and, you know, and managing that. So, again, the huge range of what was the, what? I would say, if, okay, let me scratch my head and say, Okay, if I had to find the common denominators, I would say, first of all, they they're creating more than they're handling. Their creativity is running outside of their systems and their people. Yes, I coached and so making sure they've got the right people, the right team, and the right process, to engage with that team, appropriately and what are they modeling? You know, in the book, we're writing right now about teams and getting things done. You know, one of the biggest issues is, what is the senior person modeling? Are they do they have their computer open and their phone open during a meeting? Are they coming late to the meeting? Are they? Are they even coming to the meeting that they should be in? Yeah, you know, because they're so engaged in their big strategic thing, and they've got this thing to do or whatever, and then they their collateral damage is a lot more subtle than they may realize, in terms of...

Richard Medcalf
What out for it either. Really well, I mean...

David Allen
Of course.

Richard Medcalf
But actually, I find that whole meeting characters end up being created like this. I remember one time I was coaching a pharmaceuticals team, it's very senior team and we'd arranged to have a break as part of that during the day, and people came back and there were eight, eight, highly paid senior leaders in the room. And two of them were still not back and you know, 10 minutes later, they kind of walked in, I'm sorry, we're late, you know, where they come for smoke outside or something. I can't remember what it was now and everybody kind of looked up from whatever they were occupying themselves with, you know, chatting away on their phones or whatever, just waiting for these people to come and it was like, yeah, no problem, no problem and then they turned to me and so I had a choice in that moment. Did I kind of just take it easy there, my clients or whatever? Or no, and I decided to pay that hardboard and say, look, it's fine. It's your time. I just want to make you realize these people here these 10 people, including the CEO have been waiting for, for the last time.

David Allen
What would what was the loaded payroll cost?

Richard Medcalf
Well, yeah, wow. Phenomenal. Plus, I mean, everything else, right? The the opportunity cost, right? What could those What could this team have created in the 10 minutes that they spent? Yeah and then of course, it was also put pressure on me because suddenly, I didn't have the hour left. Before we finished, we only had 45 minutes, which is materially different and it's slightly off topic but I think this point of what you model what you tolerate, and the agreements that you create, within a team are really really important because I wasn't I was amazed this team were basically giving each other a free pass to, to show up 10 minutes late to their leadership team meetings. I like to say how we do anything is how we do everything. So what would that be? CVS show about their quarterly business reviews and how their team perceive things. So I kind of digress. Word, I think...

David Allen
It's one of the most key elements of productivity enhancement and magnifying your your reach is like, what standards are going on around you for the engine that you're in that you want to magnify? And your standards are what you allow to happen to your point. Right? And usually you don't recognize your standards until somebody steps on it. So if you're used to meeting starting on time, and they're not you get really pissed, you should.

Richard Medcalf
I think the other thing I see is this ability. First of all, to manage your own workload, did you say that your creativity bigger than your capacity to handle things but then also, if you're unaware of your own personal constraints, and the things that you're dropping or not, not getting to is, it's really hard to understand that for your people as well and so very often, we pass things down, delegate things down, not really aware of how long they're going to take not really having to find what the thing is, we're even giving somebody and not even able to coach our own team around. Well, are they really overloaded? Are they just not very effective and using their time? What is actually on their plate? And I say, if most people don't have a definitive lists of what, what the open loops are in their world, I think it's really, really hard. So people just end up feeling overloaded, because their boss keeps giving them stuff but they can....

David Allen
You know, in my methodology, what I know is, if you haven't kept track of every single commitment you've got, you will over commit, always, simply because you don't know, you don't know what the inventory is. Oh, sure. So the word note doesn't show up in your vocabulary, simply because you don't feel comfortable. Saying no to something if you have not, if you have no idea if you might have the room to do it. Yeah. Well, maybe I have room to do it. Yeah. Okay, give it up and especially if that's your boss.

Richard Medcalf
There's often commitments which are not articulated, right? So as in, if you stop and think about it, you realize you should be spending time developing your team or spending time with your family. Right? And yet, they're not on the project list.

David Allen
Yeah, and, you know, as you know, I talked about the different horizons and strategy and vision, you know, those are up in the, in the higher horizons of your commitments and those, if you don't have those really clear, you generally will always over committed and very difficult to then then prune and curate your, your commitments, which is absolutely critical, especially the board, you know, come on anybody listening and watching this, I'm sure they have discovered that there's more senior you'd get, it doesn't get easier. You know, it doesn't get less in terms of opportunities and things to do. Yeah, maybe when you finally retired, and you're just on three boards, and yeah, maybe at that point, but even then, I've coached people that were right at the sort of retirement side of things, but they were so involved in some not for profits and charitable things, and service things that they wanted to be doing, they still had that same issue just about more things, and then the company. So,

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, and one of the things I find myself doing with anybody here level or below, wherever is, actually, I'm gonna say it's even more was just as prevalent at the CEO level as anywhere else, no organization, which is that it can be super easy to focus just on the next quarter and that's why so many people kind of say, it'll get quieter next quarter, or let's follow up on that next quarter, or whatever because all they're really all it's really in their frame of reference is what are we going to do this quarter? And I'd say, you know, if you as a senior leader is not thinking about what's around the corner, who else is nobody else is? And so being able to manage those commitments are different horizons, like what are we actually trying to create in the next three years? And actually, how does that matter now, what are we doing this month for this week? That's going to move the ball forward on that and I think sometimes people forget that because they're so swamped by the operational day to day.

David Allen
Yeah, well, let me ask you something, Richard. We've got a partner in delivering a lot of my methodology out there very successful company and they've been they become part of a private equity firm and most private equity is looking for the five year return, give me 10x On our money, then, you know, whatever, this private equity firms into the long game, because they invest in educational companies, and they said, we have a different value than the five year or return on investment. We want to know that you're creating value out there, and, you know, delightful to run across, you know, deep pockets out there who actually have that value and are actually putting and making that work. In other words, they they're actually doing that, and making those kinds of decisions giving people the freedom to not have that sort of quarterly, whatever. So I'm curious, given all the people you're dealing with, are you seeing a trend toward sort of higher long term value thinking, you know, in terms of where the resources are? Or is it all still sort of driven by the market? And my quarterly return?

Richard Medcalf
It does vary? I think there are a lot of private equity driven companies where there is that, that still that pretty large, short term pressure. I I often say one of the challenges of leadership is balancing stakeholder demands, right? And actually, as CEO, your job is fundamentally for the long term health of the of the business and I love what Jeff Bezos of Amazon says. Right? He says that it's in the long term where shareholder interests and customer interests align. So if you actually have that as a North Star, and focus on creating value, that it benefits everybody, right? But that does require, I think, a look at the commitments that have been the agreements that have been made upfront, clearly, if you sign up to private equity company and say, this is basically the deal. Right, then I guess you have to just by their, by their rules, right, but but I think actually stepping back to say, you know, what, these are the fundamental principles of how we're trying to create value, and then actually look for private equity partners, for example, investors, who are, who understand the bigger game that's playing. So I think that definitely our players like that, who are able to understand the bigger game, surely they want that they want to return? And probably you do as well, right? Yeah, and, you know, if we're not going to, in this world of uncertainty, you're probably not going to bet everything on a hockey stick, that's gonna start to come over over the zero line in five years time or six years time. Right? Clearly not because there's so much volatility but I think, for me, it's the job of leadership to actually make the case for the right strategy, right and then to make sure that you hedge your bets in a way that you know, you are generating returns over the different timeframes but I think the biggest danger is when you over rotate to quarter by quarter, because you locally optimize each time actually, you don't end up making the return you wanted in five years anyway, because you didn't do the things in year one that you actually needed to do and I think that's where the question of influence comes in. I've actually aligning people, rather than it's easy to take the easy route and just say, yeah, yeah, we'll do this quarter. It takes real leadership to say, I'm playing a bigger game.

David Allen
Yeah. A lot of it's going to be what are your constraints? Or what are your resources? And what are they demanding? To your point in that way, I just had dinner last night with a long term, great friend of ours, who runs an investment company and he's comes out of the food industry, he was, he ran Unilever in Russia for years, and has done a number of other things and AJ, you know, is now involved in an investment firm that is attempting to change agriculture's sustainability. So the chemicals, they're using the machinery, they're using the, you know, what's the what's the environmental impact, you know, that agribusiness making in the Netherlands is one of the biggest food exporters in the world and SEC fascinating and fascinating to know what they're doing. So obviously, if you're coming to an investment firm that has that kind of value system to it, or the constraints called look, if you guys don't step up to the plate, you're gonna, you're gonna pay a price downstream here, given regulations given, you know, whatever's coming up from a government, and from all the other angles, about that. So that's fascinating, fascinating world.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, and I say there is definitely a shift I'm definitely seeing. Before the deal is made, people are actually saying, you know, what kind of investor are we looking for, you know, and you make your choice, right but it's in that moment, I think, where you have the ability to create agreements, I think that's the key thing, and to get alignment because it's like a marriage right? You know, you don't want to like find out afterwards, that your partner has very different views on you know, where you're where they want to live, how many kids you're going to have?

David Allen
But you always will. Always will, you know, you won't discover their standards on how many dirty dishes they let pile up before they clean them? You know, that's usually not in the, in that love is blind, you know kind of context you don't get to those. So yeah.

Richard Medcalf
Exactly.

David Allen
Anyway, so back to back to topic, I guess, because you and I probably work with anybody, no matter what they're, you know, I've coached people in the know, a lot of my initial training in corporate training and coaching was in aerospace in the US and these people were making bombs and killing people. People said, Gee, David, how do you feel about that? I said, Well, look, you know, they're doing the best they can with what they have and, you know, if, if they can learn how better to manage themselves, and are coming not so much from a fear and protective standpoint, they make better choices and so, and people will do more damage to each other in a relationship than wars. Emotionally anyway and so. So, you know, I had to make a choice about whether I was willing to help anybody who was interested in in the help that I could give them and I made that choice. So that's, that's still what I do. Again, it's back to, if I can teach somebody to get more in the driver's seat of their life, they'll make more of their decisions out of a conscious choice and an intuitive choice, you know, that's maybe spirits or lung or, you know, heart driven or whatever, then just being reactive, you know, and, and fear based. So, I had to make that choice a long time ago, I didn't have to make that choice. I just, you know, I was looking for a good job, anybody pay me to do what I was doing so, but after the fact, you know, looking back on and I say, Yeah, didn't make any difference.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, that's fascinating. I guess, let me just get back to this topic of teams, because I know, this is a subject you're focusing on, and we were talking about this the leader, first of all, but how does this working out in the team setting? You know, what were the number executive teams, you know, they're often teams of high performers. They're not necessarily high performing teams, right? Because they're functional leaders. They're quite, they're pretty good. They're great at what they do. They know their technical thing. But nothing but this, perhaps as a team, they're not always coming together with the cohesion or with the alignment that they need, or they're not always focusing their decision making on the big issues or whatever. So with this lens that you have of looking at the world, yeah, what do you see team dynamics? How do you how do you interpret those? You know, what are the issues that you see?

David Allen
Well, I guess I have to admit to a bias here because, you know, we were one of the first organizations to implement holacracy, 10 years ago. So the whole idea of a self organizing team so that there's no, there's no job titles, there's only roles and accountabilities for those roles. So, you know, one of the first questions I have, and it's true for GTD as well, if we were working with a team, who owns the team, who owns the, by the way, what's the purpose of the team? That's the first question to ask? Because you only have a team because there's some reason to have a team. Right? You don't have a team? Well, you may have a team party, I don't know. Let's see to see I take team and and we're taking team in a much larger context called anybody you intersect with that you're trying to accomplish something.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, so you were most of the reality for people, right? Most of most of the work goes in informal collaborations. Right?

David Allen
You and your kids, you got two kids, your team? Yeah. What are you trying to accomplish together? Or what do you need to accomplish together? And so dealing with what are the principles that have to do with that was like, Well, okay, well, why are we working together?

Richard Medcalf
So let's take an example. If we, let's say that you get together in a new, you know, your project team is assembled, let's say, right, and you you're charged with leading this particular project team, or you convening this team? What would be the first thing that you'd want to talk to that team about? Or what are the kinds of agreements or discussions that you would want to have? I mean, what about purpose and what else would you do?

David Allen
Well, getting clear about the purpose, maybe it's obvious the purpose is to launch X product and by March the first. Okay, that's fine. You know, of course, what's the purpose of the product? You know, then you can back up into the sort of, you know, my natural planning model, which is, okay, what's the purpose of all of this and then what's the vision of wild success? What would what would wild success look like for this team? By when? And maybe that's a number. Maybe it's an experience. I don't know. Like, what, what is that? And then...

Richard Medcalf
Do you think that teams don't know their purpose? Because it sounds like I'm just thinking in business. Doesn't every team know why there have been assembled?

David Allen
They think they do, but they don't. From my experience Like when you really drill down and go, Oh, wait a minute, why are you You know, the five why's that are on McKinsey came up with that, whatever it's like, well, why are you why are you doing this? Yeah, but then why are you doing that? Yeah, but then why are you doing that? By the time you get to the fifth? Why you you've uncovered the reality of what's driving the decisions of the owner of the team? If they even know,

Richard Medcalf
Oh, what's the one thing I like to say to exec teams is? Is this is the company thriving because of you despite you? Right? So what's the actual contribution that you believe you need to be making into this business? Perhaps he can run completely? Well, without you ever having to meet up? Right. Yeah, just reading as it is and the other way is like, what's the success criteria? Like? How would you know, what's the finish line? In a meeting? Quarter or whatever? Or even when do we know we can disband this team? Right? Like, what's the trigger?

David Allen
That absolutely, that's what I say, just do the hypothetical. Okay, team, let's just not meet anymore. What's going to happen? Yeah, what's the downside? And that's where you start to uncover what the purpose of the team would be. Once you get that clear. Don't let anybody come 10 minutes late, excuse me, I think this is pretty important. Because what what the why this team exists is X, Y, and Z. Or you want to endanger that?

Richard Medcalf
Well, I had a great example with with one team I was working with, they believe that they were an operational execution oversight team, their senior leadership team, they said, Look, we're basically making sure we'll be here to make sure that the business is delivering his numbers. When we went through what the stakeholders required that team like what what their assets were, and how the market was changing, they realized, you know, what, we're in the public sector as well, at least we have public sector customers and so if we don't change policy in the public sector, if you don't change the way the government thinks and the budgets that are available, and actually how our own organization operates as well, it doesn't matter how much of a well oiled execution machine we build, the budgets aren't going to be there for all the innovations that we have coming down the pipeline and so actually, we're not really an operational oversight team, we're actually an influencing body and that's our core role and that shift in understanding that actually, the biggest thing was, was was that stakeholder interaction interactions that completely change how that team saw itself and where they put their attention.

David Allen
Yeah. Perfect example to the point, you need to know why you're working.

Richard Medcalf
So what was once that's established, where would you go next? What other questions would go next?

David Allen
I would go next and say, What's What would success look like? You know, and then we'd have that conversation called, if this were wildly successful. Tell me, and then you could brainstorm that. What would wild success be? How would we know and how would we know when we're done and how would we know when we've done it? Right? And it's excellent. What would it look sound or feel like? I mean, look, sound or Wii, like, if we were there and so getting clear about that game? Because, you know, the the natural planning model is just operationalizes. Yeah, you could know what the purpose is and everybody's still fun, floundered around, but then you need to get a little more operational. Yeah, given the purpose of that team, do you know which email to write first tonight? Maybe a little bit, but maybe not, maybe, hopefully, somebody else is gonna figure that out.

Richard Medcalf
For a couple of steps in the process, so let's imagine that they've kind of figured out that kind of stuff and then you fast forward a couple of months, and they're, you know, you're in a team meeting and it's just not a satisfying meeting, rather, people are issues not getting dealt with, or the discussions are long and rambling or well, how are they GTD?

David Allen
Yeah, to the GTD point, it's called well, once you have purpose and vision, you know, is it you know, what would come next is basically Have you have you, you know, then then it's brainstorming. You know, okay, now you have that, but that's different than current reality. So what is all the stuff in between current reality and what that ideal vision is, and that needs to be approached from a brainstorming standpoint, I'll give me anything that's the clinically relevant thing that we need to consider. So that's where brainstorming comes in, where you want to get all the potentially relevant data. Next step would be then once you have all that potentially relevant data, how do we organize this? What are the key things that have to be accomplished relative to getting there out of all that stuff we just thought about, and then, you know, in and then, you know, that's the organization piece, and then more from a team standpoint, as opposed to individual standpoint, the team may not need to come up with next actions on all those key objectives. They just need to know who owns them.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. I was wondering about whether, you know, you tried to apply these the GTD as opposed to just doing a weekly review, right into a team, right? Or those kind of things, exactly. One that teams actually step by whoever that was that not it's not practical in the life of...

David Allen
Whoever owns it has to decide that what recursion? Do you need to review and status checking on the various parts of this? Do you need to you need to stand up meeting every day? Money, ideal startup world? Sometimes? You got to do that? Or do we just need to be quarterly to see how we're doing against all these things and that could be could be either one and somewhere in between? Probably weekly, you know, holacracy? Generally, you know, the technical meeting says, Okay, what are all the things this team needs to keep its eye on in terms of status in order to, you know, in terms of what we're responsible for, as a team and how often do we need to review that? On what recursion? Well, the owner of the team has to do that but you can collaborate with the team and the team could decide that, but the owner has to decide whether they want to make a collaborative decision about that.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, because I think one of the things that I see in teams is it's really especially easy for teams to get lost in the weeds, right? I mean, there's two things like the either look at the very high level numbers, right. So they have that perspective, or they've just got like all these actions that have been carried over from previous meetings and initiatives and projects, and they tend to generate more projects than they close. So the project lists just increases, especially at the executive level, because there's always someone to delegate to right, or let's do something else and so they don't actually manage the organization's commitments that well, because it feels like for them, there's an infinite pool of resources below them, to to manage this. But I think that mid level of, you know, between the kind of things that we have to get done, because we've got the next quarterly cycle coming up. You know, and the very, very high level strategy, I think there's a lot of things which tend to get missed.

David Allen
How is it being modeled in the culture? Because look around, look, look at how the senior team is doing it, because believe me, that's gonna get magnified for each one of their direct reports on how they manage their teams. Yeah, sometimes the senior team works pretty well in the problem is the next level.

Richard Medcalf
That's often the case, the next level, I think, is one of the key areas because it's the pivot point between the leadership and the rest of the organization, right, the next level probably expands out six or seven, seven times. So if you've got exec team of, let's say, 10, just for round numbers, you probably have a second level that might be 50 or 60. People, that level of leaders have a huge reach.

David Allen
Yeah, and bringing this down to my work. If you don't have people who are managing themselves, well, that creates crappy meetings, creates crappy emails, creates crappy having to follow up on something that somebody didn't follow up with, keep creates crappy unconsciousness about what our commitments are. All kinds of stuff falling through the cracks and that's why people are down in the weeds, they're trying to, you know, unreasonable, just trying to deal with a lot of stuff that's just not being held, not being done very well, you could have a great team meeting, but if people walking out of that meeting are not handling what they've committed to well, then you're gonna have to have another meeting and then you're gonna have to have another meeting about the meeting they should have had and then you know, yeah, yada, yada. So it really comes down to it to a large degree, once people individually catch, you know, what I teach them the Getting Things Done methodology. These are not issues, because if some person in there is unclear about something, they've got that as an agenda, I've got my attention on this right now. What's the next step I need to take? I need to talk to Bill about that and you need to go offline and not try to do that in a meeting that 60 People don't even care about that conversation, you should have handled that conversation when it first showed up and that is, you know, I didn't need him.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I think what you're really saying or what I'm hearing, and might be a nice way to kind of tie this up a little bit, you know, is is this thing around what you're modeling and the culture that you're creating? Because it's the same in so many areas, right, as a leader was leadership team, you're creating a culture around how you manage people, I've talked my clients about that around how you where you focus and the level of ambition you have, again, that's something I'll deal with around the amount of time you spend working on the day to day operational versus the bigger picture and then as you just said, that whole culture around AI actually managing yourself effectively. What are you showing and health therefore demonstrating your own priorities and values to the people in your own organization? And I think that's probably the key thing here because, yeah, everyone's got something which is getting perhaps some of the headlines done but what's the collateral damage that you call collateral impact of that, you know, what are the five happens you're creating along the way and of the scale of an organization that can be huge, right? So creating a culture where people learn to manage themselves, first and foremost, is essential.

David Allen
Yeah, I guess maybe a way to, since we're kind of starting to get to it a little bit of a wrap on this conversation, just to let anybody watching or listening to this know, the key element, you know, I wrote the book Getting Things Done and the stress free productivity, a lot of people think about productivity is productive, he's got a bit of baggage around it, you know, work harder, I got, I got enough to do, I don't need to be, I don't need to have more stuff to do to use, I got plenty. Or I don't need this wet anymore and flooding, plenty. Productivity means produce some desired result, you can go to a party to have fun and don't have fun. It's an unproductive party. So, you know, so when you think about it from that way, but a lot of the what I uncovered is not about working harder. It's about being appropriately engaged with your life and your work. What is appropriate engagement? Meaning? Are you appropriately engaged with your dog? Are you appropriately engaged with your health? Are you appropriately engaged with your team? Are you appropriately engaged with your company? Are you appropriately engaged with your board? You know, appropriate engagement doesn't mean you go finish all it, it just means you better be clear about what's got your attention about that relationship? And then make sure that you weren't go through the process of what has my attention? How do I get that off my mind, because there's an inverse relationship between on your mind and getting done. So you don't have to go very far to see how to start to implement the personal productivity stuff I came up with, it's just what has your attention on? It has your attention usually 99% of the time, because you're not yet appropriately engaged with your dog, your health, your board, your team? Or the project?

Richard Medcalf
Right? Yeah, you're not sure how to deal with it.

David Allen
What approach would get how would you how would you get appropriately engaged? Well, I need to identify what the outcome is that I'm after, I need to decide the action step that needs to be taken to move the needle on it towards that outcome and then get organized both of those things, the outcomes and actions that I've committed to about all those things in some trusted external brain. So I stopped using my head is my office, your headset crappy office wasn't designed to remember, remind, prioritize and manage relationships between more than four things. Don't shoot the messenger. This is cognitive science. In the last 10 years, it's proven that. So your brain is great for making intuitive choices off the menu, but not trying to remember the menu. So that's a lot of what my stuff is about is getting people with clear about that and back to your point, but initially, like how does that affect the team? I bought into a team meeting? What's got the team's attention? And the reason it does is because they're the team's not yet appropriately engaged with that thing.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, and often, that's just a it's not people aren't thinking about what has my attention, right? If they're not doing that meta level, their attention is what's on?

David Allen
Well, ask any of you who have been listening or watching this? Where is your mind gone? It has nothing to do with what Richard had been talking about. That's what I'm talking about.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. Perfect. Yes, and even in the conversation, I was my mind was going off and going, oh, yeah, you know, these things, these things I need to be dealing with and not on my list at the moment as well, right? Because this is always a work in progress. We never...

David Allen
Celebrate it, you know, in a few months, and I still have to do this. I don't get scot free because I've made it up. I've made it up because I enjoy like being spontaneous and follow my intuitive judgments and whatever. I just found that I can't do that without doing this methodology to free up the space in my cognitive.

Richard Medcalf
Well, I remember ask you, David. Last time we spoke, I said, Don't you ever fall off the wagon yourself? Right? And when the GTD system evolved, if you think you've got to get done, you said, at least there is a wagon to fall off on, you know, because you can then get back onto it and I thought that was a great, that's stuck with me because yeah, sometimes life gets busy and that's you don't...

David Allen
Keep falling off the wagon. The wagon may not be moving fast enough. You know, or, you know, maybe pointing in the wrong direction. So you may or may not be playing a big enough game, but I fall off the wagon regularly. I just know how to get back on and get back on fast. Right?

Richard Medcalf
Nice. Well, hey, David, thank you for giving us your time today. It's been fantastic to chat as always and and just discuss these these ideas of your outcome and action thinking and what has your attention and so forth. Every time I I engage with these topics, I kind of realized that I need to up my own game, right. There's things that are not on my radar, perhaps that need to be there and there are areas where perhaps I can kind of sharpen up again. So thank you once again for your generous use of time and looking forward to again to the book on teams when that comes out. If people want to get in touch with you, or kind of find out more about your work, what's the best place for them?

David Allen
Just go to gettingthingsdone.com Depending on where you are on the planet, you know, we've got certified trainers and coaches all around the world, delivering this methodology in more detail. So if you want to be get one on one coaching or you know, want to go to a public training or get an in house training, you know of our stuff, you'll see that just go to getting things done.com and click on training and coaching and then and then type in your country and you'll see who's who's our certified partner and certified trainers in that area. So, you know, that's the easiest way to get in touch. If you just go to gettingthingsdone.com/youtube You're gonna see me, my three TED talks, you're gonna see me talking about you get sticker made, just talking about the same kind of stuff, but in many different ways and that's a way if you just want to snack on what this is, you know, that's obviously the book Getting Things but the new edition, you know, Getting Things Done is a great manual for everything I've been talking about.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I definitely I definitely recommend book to people because the book really allows you to engage with these concepts and really learn the language, which really helps things stick. So that's definitely recommended as well as their source of resources. Well, thanks, David. Many thanks. One last comment like what's your mantra right you know, if you were to leave right one message, one saying or one word of wisdom, how would you how would you want to end this?

David Allen
Well in your heads for having ideas, not for holding them.

Richard Medcalf
Perfect. Thanks, David and speak soon.

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