In this episode, Todd Brown and Robert Peake explore how GTD® can help with the “bigger picture” of where we want to go and how to get there.
00:06 Todd: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Change Your Game with GTD Podcast. My name is Todd Brown, and as always, I’m here with Robert Peake.
00:14 Robert: Hello.
00:15 Todd: And what we thought we’d talk about today, Robert, you and I were kicking some things around before we got on air, and we thought we would talk about, today, is alignment. And when we say alignment, what we’re really talking about is how do I make sure that as I’m making my tactical choices, I suppose, day-to-day about what to focus on, that what I’m doing is maximizing the chances that those individual action choices are best aligned with my bigger picture. What do I wanna be achieving? What do I wanna be… What do I wanna be accomplishing, medium term, long term? And ultimately, I suppose, to what extent can I have some confidence that what I am doing day-to-day is alignment with my core principles, who I am. So we’re at a pretty high… We’re up here. We’re up in the higher horizons as we say in the game. Yeah, and I’m just curious what’s your experience been with this? Is this something that you…
01:17 Todd: I guess I’m asking the question because my experience is that an awful lot of people when they first get exposed to GTD, the thing that they’re drawn to are the tools that we give people and the ways of working that help them to gain control. How do I get control of my day-to-day? How do I deal with my overflowing inbox? How do I deal with the multiple demands that I have on my time? And for a lot of people, I think this kind of appreciation that what all of that enables is this focus on the bigger picture and the longer term and the more strategic. I think for many people, that comes later, and I’m curious what your own experience was of that.
01:58 Robert: Yeah, my experience was a little different. I was lucky enough, believe it or not, to pretty much kick off my working life as an adult with GTD. And so [chuckle] needless to say, I’m a pretty big fan of the newly released GTD for teens book and the work that we’re doing to get this down to people who are earlier and earlier in their career. And I love that millennials are grabbing on to this and younger people are discovering GTD as I did. So my experience was very much one of having some, I guess, an inter-relationship between goals and the execution of them that I think was… Is somewhat rare. So I think a lot of people… What I experience in working with clients and just day-to-day interactions is that there can be real significant disconnect between goals we put out and the ability to have confidence that we’re gonna be moving toward those and making making effective progress.
03:13 Robert: And what’s beautiful about the GTD methodology is that it really is true as David says that the better you get, the better you better get, meaning, the more adept you are at executing successfully and making things work in your life, the more you’ll take on just as an almost natural process of wanting to grow and learn and progress in life as a human being. But I think we all have that drive. We all have some implicit sense of wanting to be better, to do better, to strive for more. For some people, I think it gets rather potentially dimmed or that people get a bit beat down or worn down in life, but it’s there, I think, from early. And what’s remarkable to me is that so many… We all have this, but we haven’t all made this explicit.
04:09 Robert: So to me, one of the really powerful things about the Getting Things Done methodology is that it gives us a way to not only externalize the day-to-day and get control of that but externalize the bigger picture and get in touch with that in deeper and more significant ways that help us to orientate toward moving toward that in ways that just sort of having a vague goal or stating it in our head or feeling like… One of the phrases I chuckle at all the time is when people say, “Well, I’ll try to… I’ll try to show up. I’ll try to do that. I’ll try to… I’ll try to remember to answer that email.” [laughter]
04:51 Robert: I’m just “Do or do not, there is no try.” The great GTD Master Yoda really had it right, that when we’re vague about what we want, or we’re vague about what we’re committed to doing, we get vague results, basically. So I don’t know not that that matches some of your experience in the… Having come to this slightly later in your career, or not, or…
05:17 Todd: Yeah. No. I think it’s a really good… I think it’s an interesting contrast. So you are at the beginning of your professional career, maybe not so deep into the feeling that you’re being overwhelmed by what’s coming at you, whereas I, I was in a challenging place when I first got exposed to GTD. It was in many ways, a good place; new role, lots of responsibility, great organization, but also I had the sense that, “Boy, there’s an awful lot on,” and so I was… The thing that appealed to me first, and I think I’ve gotten into this in a previous podcast, was the control aspect. Was, I really need to get control first. And it’s interesting, as you were saying we all have this internal sense that there is more and bigger, and we have these drives. I think that you’re right for many of us, and I also think that it’s… For many of us, it’s just so… It’s so covered over in a sense by our feeling of just being overwhelmed with the day-to-day.
06:20 Todd: Like, “Don’t bother me with what my life purpose is, I’ve got 423 unread emails, I just… I need to be… ” this is what a lot of people are saying to us, in essence. “I need to be somewhat in control before any of that shows up for me.” And so there’s a great quote from David Allen that says, “When you pay attention to what has your attention, you’ll find out what really has your attention.” And so I think what’s implicit in that is this idea that, to your point, we are kind of drawn naturally, as things get sorted at the lower levels, as we get into control at the kind of next actions and projects level, that our attention very naturally just tends to go up, and we tend to then say, “Okay. Well, let me think about roles, let me think about medium-term, long-term planning, let me think about why I’m on the planet.” So I think, for a lot of people, it’s that, myself included, it was initially that kind of, “Okay, I need to be in control first before I can have any energy on any of the rest of that.”
07:27 Todd: And what’s been fascinating for me is that that’s a… That Horizons of Focus model is something… Obviously, I’ve been [chuckle] aware of it and looking at it for [chuckle] 13 years since I started doing GTD, but the richness that’s in there is just astounding. And what’s strange about that is, on the one hand, you just sort of look at the model and you go, “Okay, it’s not counter-intuitive.” There’s nothing there where you go, “Well, that’s rocket science, I never would have thought of that,” but what I think David did, and this is wonderful, I think a kind of a wonderful element, is… Or a perspective, is it’s going back to this idea of clean edges. Say to somebody, “Talk about your goals, what are your… What’s your vision for your future? What’s your… ” All of a sudden you wanna talk about squishy and not well-defined, “Goals? Okay, well, I’d really like to have some nice soup for lunch, and by the end of the week, I’d really like to make sure that the bins get put out, and… ” Which is not really on the same level as, “Well, I’d really like to be living in a different country and speaking a different language fluently, and… “
08:38 Todd: So this whole idea of time-banding outcomes. Again, in some ways it’s kind of an intuitive approach and yet the kind of the great thing about that model is it says, “Well, look, here’s a really sensible way to think about those time bands.” So yeah, the model… I think the model, I think, can be very, very helpful. And I love the word, “alignment,” this whole idea that ultimately, as I’m making decisions day-to-day about what to do, I wanna make sure that, as far as possible, those decisions are aligned with not just… Not just dealing with what’s arrived today, but that I’ve… A phrase I’ve started to use more and more is, “Let’s give my dreams a chance.” Those longer-term things that I’d really like to be making happen in the world, let’s make sure they’ve got a fighting chance to be happening, too. So this kind of alignment with… Alignment and balance with what I wanna make happen, I think, is really… Is important, and it’s something that the methodology supports.
09:42 Robert: Absolutely. Yeah. And hearing you talk about that, the, “What has your attention?” question, and that’s sort of the simple power of that, I reflect that, yes, many people need help just getting out, they’re buried, they need a flashlight [chuckle] they need a torch, they need a rope. But for some, their attention is, for example at the areas of focus level if major changes are happening in their life, becoming a parent or changing job, the areas of focus suddenly become really significant called, “How do I deal with the fact that all of that is moving.” And organizations talking about alignment, very often a lot of them are kind of strategic thinking and that the thinking that you go off-site or you get a large number of people into a room and then you realize the hourly rate [chuckle] when you have that many very senior people in the room, it’s pretty high. So they invest in thinking that these are horizons. They invest in thinking about where we wanna be as a company five years from now. So we do dip into the model in different places other than what’s the next action, what’s the next email, how do we get you just even a little space to start to think about this.
11:03 Robert: Sometimes it’s a little bit artificial in the sense that we make the time for the off-site and then we bring it back and then we try to execute on it. But it can be… Alignment can work just as well in relation to a team as it can an individual. And I don’t know about you but I sometimes feel like there’s a small family in here. We are a legion. [chuckle] In terms of the interests, in terms of the demands, in terms of what side of the bed I wake up in a particular day and how I feel about things so forth. So getting alignment in… Within yourself, even just within all the different aspects of you to decide. And to me, alignment is very much about not only identifying what you intend to do, but using that as a reference point to also let go of the things that aren’t in alignment with that intention. To be able to say… And conscious enough to be able to say, “I know that doesn’t feel like I’m just turning something down.”
12:05 Robert: “But rather, I’m creating space by not putting my energy into that because this is where I really want to go.” And I think so many people say to me saying no is hard, saying no is painful, saying no goes against my cultural conditioning, what my mother taught me, it feels impolite, it doesn’t feel like being a team player, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So I think to me, alignment empowers not only the big yesses that you’re headed toward but also empowers you to say no, which a lot of people, I think, struggle with considerably.
12:43 Todd: As you’re talking about it, the word alignment is, I’m kind of appreciating something that I’m having an aha moment as we’d say. But of course, if you’re gonna be aligned what that implies is that you’ve been clear about where you’re headed. If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s very difficult to be aligned with that. And I think that’s a critical piece of this that… One of the things that I think that I’m starting to appreciate as I get more and more into this work and it’s obviously an on-going process. But is that, at its core, Getting Things Done makes the assumption that we are interested in being productive, that we are at our core productive beings, that we want to make things happen in the world. Now, how productive you wanna be versus me and what we’re focused on and all of that, that’s completely personal of course since it’s gonna be very different for different people but what I think I’m becoming more clear about is the fact that what GTD enables is sort of the flourishing of that aspect of us.
13:50 Todd: In other words, it’s getting rid of all of the friction that gets in the way of us being productive human beings. There was a really poignant interview that I read with someone not long ago who is in the terminal stages of a very… Of a fatal disease and they were interviewing him and they said to him, “What are you doing with your time?” I don’t remember the exact question. But basically what he said was, “In the time that I have left, I want to be as productive as possible.” And I thought about that and I thought that is really interesting that this man at this point in his life is still focused on, “What can I make happen, what can I change, what can I enable for me and for others in the world?” And so it’s one of these things about GTD that I’m becoming more aware of and really treasuring frankly, is that this idea that, at our core, we are productive. We are, as I think I’ve said before, we are teleological beings. We are purpose-driven beings and GTD just enables us to be productive in the most friction-free ways possible.
15:06 Robert: I like that. Yeah, and it makes a lot of sense. And I think as you say productivity is very personal. So what may look productive for me, may be completely out of alignment for someone else and just maybe the wrong thing to be focused on. But how do you know? You know. And I think whether you’re a young person just entering the workforce now or you’re in a sort of mid-career and sort of blinking into the lights and looking around and going, “Is this… Is this… Is this all there is? And what’s next? And do I wanna make some big change or not?”
15:51 Robert: I think having a way to externalize, evaluate, and move upon those things that call to you… And I think all of us, whether or not it’s in a formal sense, there are those vocations, there are those moments in life where something really calls to you at an intuitive level, and says, “This might be yours, this might be you over here.” Having a way to identify that and, again, evaluate what you’re actually doing to move toward that, is simple but profound. In my experience, it’s simple but profound. And the difference between exteriorizing that, reviewing that, being in touch with that, creating projects and the actions, and seeing yourself move toward that and not, very often is the difference between simply getting there, or wishing that you did.
16:51 Robert: So people, when they say, “I feel adrift, or I don’t know, I feel like I’m getting to the bigger picture stuff,” it generally comes down to, “Have you identified it?” and, “Have you been reviewing it?” And by reviewing it I don’t just mean looking at it, although that could help, ’cause just the act of reviewing while looking at what you’ve said or set out as a goal starts to… It seems like it starts to wire the brain in a different way toward that, but also reviewing in the sense of looking at what you’ve said you wanted to do and looking at the resources you’ve allocated toward that, what you’ve said, “Yes,” and, “No,” to, or, as an organization, the resources you’ve allocated toward particular goals, and which is, again, a lot of, “Yes,” and, “No,” decisions, whether it’s on a P&L, or it’s in just in your social life.
17:41 Robert: And have you identified concrete commitments about that that you’re going to fulfill and follow through on, whether they’re at the project level, or the action level, or at some higher level? Have you set… Are you doing things toward that? So I think it makes an enormous difference in the execution of things, and I think, also, as you said, “We are purpose-driven,” and without a sense of purpose I think you can start to sort of count the days, [chuckle] frankly. I mean it can be a bit of a slow race toward the end, rather than feeling like there is that something out there that does call me that is mine to do, and I’m moving toward it, even if I’m not there, even it may take a long time to get there. The fact of moving toward it has its own contentment and sense of purpose and sense of rightness, in my experience. I don’t know about you.
18:47 Todd: I’m with you. And as you’re talking about it, I think the other thing that it requires of us, though, is that we are, and this is especially true if you talk about kind of your medium and your long-term goals, is that you’re willing to live with a sense of, “I’m not really sure how I’m gonna get there.” We really need to be able to own that idea that, “This is something that I want, this is something that I intend, and I’m not 100% sure that or how, that I’m gonna get there, or how I’m gonna get there.” So… But as you say, just identifying those outcomes makes them more likely to happen, being concrete, writing them down and saying, “This is what I wanna do,” I do that in my seminars when the… At the beginning of the seminar one of the things that the delegates do is write down what their intended outcomes are for the day, or for the seminar.
19:44 Todd: If it’s a two-day… One of our standard two-days, or whatever it is, they write that down, and I say to them, “Just because you’ve written it down, it’s more likely to happen.” But I think… Yeah, I think that that’s also a requirement, we have to be able to live in a state of… Live in a state of hope and optimism, and quite about our outcomes, our intended outcomes. And I think we also, from time to time, have to do an evaluation that says, “That was my outcome. And now, after having lived with it for weeks, or months, or whatever’s appropriate, I just have the sense that that’s not the right outcome,” so it might be that it’s time for a pivot, and we go in some other direction, or it’s time that that just is an outcome that we give up on and decide, “That’s not gonna happen.” So we can’t guarantee outcomes, of course, but the power of just identifying them and focusing on them, as you say, that significantly increases the chances that they’re gonna happen.
20:46 Robert: Yeah. Absolutely. And I like the little guideline of sort of 51% believable, meaning it’s a stretch, it’s maybe a big stretch like, “Whoa, this is a goal that I have no idea how I’m gonna reach,” but it’s… There’s some factor of it’s slightly more likely than not, given my life circumstances where I’m at I could see this happening more than I could think, “Oh, that’s ridiculous, this would never happen.” So it’s within the realm of possibility, in terms of achieving it. And I also think within the realm of possibility in terms of the kind of timeline you wanna set on it. Because we’re talking a lot about productivity and how personal it is and… Frankly, sometimes the most efficient thing you can do is take a rest.
21:29 Robert: That is efficiency, even if it’s not necessarily producing an external result, because, frankly, you don’t just wanna slam down on the gas pedal until you run out of gas. [chuckle] That’s never a good approach to… Well, to driving if [21:44] ____ 25, or to going toward any particular thing you’ve set out for yourself to do. So I think there is a real confidence and… Yeah.
21:57 Robert: I guess the word… Yeah, contentment that can come with putting out something big. And there’s really kind of something sort of playful and interesting about putting something out there that you know you want and not knowing exactly how you’re going to get there. There’s a kind of… I don’t know, a sense of relationship to the world from that point on, for me, anyway, where you go, “Alright, let’s see how this is gonna work. Let’s see how… Let’s see what shows up, let’s see what I can make happen,” you’re orientated toward that. And then I think you just need to be reasonable, patient, sensible, lean into things rather than dive into things in relation to that. But great many things in my world began with 51% believability, just right around 51%, too. It was really almost could have gone either way, but it went, “No. Yeah, this could happen, this feels right.” And then from there things started to coalesce, so it’s powerful. It’s subtle and powerful, and it’s not magic, it’s not some sort of goofy thing, it really is about your relationship to you on an ongoing basis, in terms of how you allocate your energy and your focus more than anything.
23:16 Todd: Yeah. Yeah. And being clear about those, owning them as commitments, “I am committed to doing this,” is, I think, is, I think, part of… I’m repeating what you said with slightly different words, but I think that’s a really important part of it. So… Okay, I think we’re coming sort of to the end of our time today, do you have any… If we were gonna write the executive summary of this session, anything you’d like to say, or any tips for people as they take this information and have a go at implementing it in their own lives?
23:48 Robert: Yeah, I think if you’re feeling a little rudderless, or even if you know what you want but you’re kinda scared, that fear and enthusiasm sit pretty closely together in the human emotional register. For those things, you need to get them out and acknowledge them, acknowledge their existence, and at least take a step, lean in that direction of those things that you want more of in your life. And see where you may be in or out of alignment with them, in terms of what you’re allocating, this works just as well for an individual as it does for an organization. Because an externalized goal is, as you’ve said, Todd, a considerably more likely to be achieved goal. So I think externalization, getting it out there… Vague ideas lead to vague results, and so don’t be vague, go for it. What about you?
24:46 Todd: I’m with you. And I would just add that the more you can make that vision of whatever it is that you want to achieve emotionally resonant, to have a look at, “What would this… ” Spend some time on it, not just, “I’ve got a new car, I’ve got an incredibly flash new car sitting in front of my house and all of my friends and neighbors wanna come over and go for a ride.” I don’t know, pick yourself out… Pick yourself something that really speaks to you. With benefits for yourself, benefits to your family, to your friends, to the community, to the wider world, what would it look like if that thing was wildly successful? Because, again, the more we’re identifying those things and making them emotionally resonant, the more likely… Again, the more likely we are to engage with them and also the more likely they are to be realized in the world. Great stuff. Robert, thank you. As always, it’s been a pleasure.
25:49 Todd: Thanks everyone for being a part of this. Thank you for being a listener or a viewer here on the Change Your Game with GTD Podcast. As always, please do visit us, you can find us on the web at www.next-action.eu, that’s next-action.eu. You can also find us on Facebook, on LinkedIn, and on Twitter, you can follow us there. And if you have any topics that you’d like us to discuss on the podcasts, please do let us know, we’re very happy to have suggestions. We’ve, over last year or so, we’ve done two or three, I think, from folks who’ve suggested them. So please do let us know if there’s anything that you’d like us to be talking about, we’ll throw those in the hopper as possibilities, and we look forward to seeing you next time.