After decades of in-the-field research and practice of his productivity methods, David Allen wrote the International Best-seller Getting Things Done. Published in over 28 languages, TIME magazine heralded it as The defining self-help business book of its time.
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Worst Entrepreneur moment
- David hired a VERY expensive CEO under pressure and against his intuition. The result? A VERY expensive lesson!
Entrepreneur AH-HA Moment
- Reaching out to peers he knew/liked/trusted and respected to the highest level, asking them to ‘nail him to a cross’ and be brutally honest resulted in the book Getting Things Done.
What has you FIRED up?
- Getting Things Done by David Allen
Small Business Resource
- Evernote: Bring your life’s work together in one digital workspace. Evernote is the place to collect inspirational ideas, write meaningful words, and more!
Best Business Book
- BrainChains by Dr Theo Compernolle MD.PhD
- Getting Things Done: David Allen, Getting Things Done®. Solutions designed to help you win at the game of work and business of life.
David: Dude, let’s go.
John: Yes. After decades of in the field research and practice of his productivity methods, David wrote the international best-seller Getting Things Done, published in over 28 languages. Time Magazine heralded it as the defining self help business book of its time. David, say what's up to Fire Nation, and share what's going on in your world right now.
David: It took me 30 years to figure out what I figured out, and that it works, and that it's bullet proof, and that we're not born doing it, so you actually have to put some cognitive effort, and a little bit of focus on actually making it work, but it's pretty easy to do, and it lets you surf on top of your game instead of feel buried by it. And that’s what we're doing is now spreading that worldwide, scaling it up.
John: And what are some things you're doing currently right now to really scale that up and continue to spread this love?
David: First of all I rewrote the initial classic Getting Things Done that I published in 2001. We've just launched the new revision of that for 2015. And that was a sort of bring it up current, make it even more evergreen, bring it into current language and profile for people, so that’s one thing. The second thing is we've now built a franchise program around the world where we're creating exclusive franchisees to distribute our training program built around the getting things done model into local languages and regions, etc. So those are two huge projects that we're involved in right now. And we're also in the works of building an online, you know, in your own time training program around this methodology.
John: So what was the original year that Getting Things Done was published?
John: Okay, 2001, you’ve done an updated version now for 2015, what would you say is just one thing that this updated version has that you're pretty excited about that wasn’t in 2001?
David: This is for everybody, not just for the fast track professional.
John: David, what we love doing at Entrepreneur on Fire is getting inside the mind of our guest. I'm just gonna fire off five questions. These are five insights into your mind David Allen. And take about a minute-ish to answer these questions, there's no super rush. The first one being ideally, what do the first 80 minutes of your day look like?
David: I check my hard landscape, what are the external commitments I have that if I don’t meet them I'm screwed. So I look at my calendar and the have to for the day. That’s the first thing I do. And then the second thing I do is – and usually I do that the night before, so in the morning I have – that gives me the luxury in the morning to sleep as long as I can, and luxuriate over a great cup of French pressed coffee, locally roasted and brewed. You know, check the New York Times, just sort of scan my world and the weather and so forth, and sort of see how I'm then gonna engage with my day.
And because basically most of my life, and almost all of my life is externalized into an external brain, that’s what we teach is getting all this stuff out of your head, and I've looked at that regularly, I have a sense of what's hot and what's not, and what's pushing on me, and what I want to do, whether I need to see if my dog needs to go out to pee. I need to see whether it's raining. I need to see – you know, there's a lot of things to calibrate, but it's pretty much a relaxed way to start to – I plan in a sense as little as I can get by with, and then sort of navigate down that road with all of this stuff in front of me, and just making constant intuitive decisions about what's next, what's next, what's next.
John: I love that you kind of stepped back and said that you actually kind of survey the landscape the night before instead of that morning, because I really love to focus on using as little mental bandwidth on making pretty big decisions first thing when I get up, and that’s a huge way to do that Fire Nation is by doing that the night before and having that prepped. And quick question, when David Allen takes his dog out to pee, what are you doing? Are you listening to music? Are you listening to a podcast, an audio book, or just nature?
David: Nothing. I'm just enjoying Amsterdam and what a charming city it is, and the weather, and the clouds, and the mist, or the sun, or the people, and the bikes, you know, it's really just hang time, it's great.
John: Yeah, I love it. And that locally brewed French press must be amazing coming from the Amsterdam area. And David, what's your biggest weakness as an entrepreneur?
David: I give too much away.
John: Expand upon that.
David: Well, you're probably going to ask me what were my biggest sort of hitches in the get a long in terms of my entrepreneurial world, and that was probably just saying: wow, making decisions a little sooner than I needed to in terms of financial and contractual decisions because I just wanted to get the pressure off of me to make that happen. And not spending enough time deliberating on that and doing due diligence to say was that really the right decision.
John: You will hear a lot of entrepreneurs speak to the fact that it's impossible to give too much away for free. And you definitely shared the opposite, so can you kind of maybe make one point about how you feel like that is an opportunity that there is a possibility to give too much away for free?
David: Well, I agree. You know, someone told me years ago, and I think it's always true that free samples are the cheapest promotion you can do. No, it is, so just hang out with me, let environment give you some of what I do, so you can experience it. Because especially in the experience economy, you really need to taste the stuff before you are willing to pay the money that you should pay to buy it. because it's gonna look and sound cognitively in print or whatever, it's not gonna be what the real experience of it really is for the folks who really have this nailed, who have really good stuff.
So I'm trying to figure out how do I give it away in the sense of let me have you taste this, and let me engage with that. I think let’s frame this; giving it away in terms of your product or service indeed, you can't give too much away. You know, just let people know what you're doing and just keep being the best, the best, the best, even if people steal it, just raise your price and be the best, be the source. That was one thing I really have learned over these years. I think the biggest mistakes were internally giving too much away. Meaning hiring somebody because they forced me to do that because I thought I needed them and they were way too much money than I should have paid.
And the more internal administrative kind of decisions, organizational decisions, in terms of giving too much away. I think that was – you know, when I wrote my first book I made an agreement with someone to split my royalties because I was strapped at the time and had no bandwidth to be able to really write the book, and I needed to be able to get some cash, be able to get a little bit of space be able to even start to frame how to sell the book and write a proposal about it. So I made a deal back then that I’d be embarrassed to tell you how much money I left on the table because of that.
John: Well, jumping on kind of both sides of the fence here and playing devil’s advocate, I mean, I really am also of the belief that there are certain products and services that you do need to put an investment on because your audience, Fire Nation, is going to value what you are providing, a lot of times with the value that you're putting on that. And let’s be honest, the value of free puts the investment into free, and a lot of times that’s just not consumed material. So if you make people put a little skin in the games and in specific areas too, that’s really critical.
David: Let me give you an extra spin on that.
John: Love it.
David: You know, I have two prices; you know, retail and free. A discounted price says maybe it's not worth that. Free says it's worth that, but you're making it worth my while to give you something that’s worth that much money.
John: I like that spin.
David: It's a great spin because that way I go: look, I don’t have to discount the value of what I'm doing, but if I give it to you for free, just understand I'm giving you that value right now. I don't have to undermine my own self esteem, my own perception of what the value of this is. And I give and take on that, you know, whatever, but as an ideal, I think that’s a great perspective and framework.
John: So conversely, what's your biggest strength?
David: I tell the truth, this stuff works. I'm consistent. There's no discrepancy in terms of what I do, and what I say, and who I say it to. It's one of those things like I never have to remember what I say. If you're truly honest, you never have to remember anything.
John: Yeah, I love that quote. I believe Mark Twain kicked out something like that.
David: He did.
John: David, you have a lot of good habits. We talked about some of them you have in the morning and the night before, but what's a habit that you wish you had?
David: Writing and creating consistently every day. I haven’t built that in yet. And I know a lot of people who have and it really works, and I haven’t been able to do that yet.
John: Have you heard of the entrepreneur by the name of James Altucher?
John: He’s a great entrepreneur based out of New York City. He actually recently published the book Choose Yourself, which I do believe made it to the New York Times bestseller. But then his wife pretty quickly after that followed up with a book The Idea Machine. And they're both huge proponents of just every single day sitting down and writing ten ideas, just ten ideas. And they are very honest that most of those ideas are probably gonna be crap, and you're going to forget about them within a day or two, but it's just getting that brain, that idea muscle in your brain actually working and moving.
So for you Fire Nation, where you're like: I can't come up with any ideas. Well, are you trying? Like, are you sitting down and actually working that muscle. It's like saying I'm not getting any stronger, but you're not lifting any weights, so use that idea muscle. And David, you have a lot of things that are pretty awesome right now. I mean, the updated revised 2015 Getting Things Done, but what's the one thing that has you fired up right now above everything else?
David: How to scale the methodology that I crafted, and a recognized crafted, and have created a deliverable format in to as many people in the world that want it before I die.
John: Yeah, what's exciting David is how you’ve built this massive audience, this following, this tribe that knows your content is amazing because they’ve tried it, they’ve used it, they’ve gotten the results, and now you take a step back and you say: how can I scale? How can I leverage? How can I create one thing that’s gonna have a massive impact on this audience that I've already created that knows likes and trusts me, like I did with the book Getting Things Done. I'm really excited to see how you're gonna go forward with that.
It’s gonna be a great lesson to us all. We're gonna move into now David the section where we take a look back in your entrepreneurial journey, because you’ve had some great moments. But I want you to take a second and really share with us, Fire Nation, your worst entrepreneurial moment. Really take us to that moment and tell successful that story.
David: I've hinted at it already, which was basically not acknowledging that’s who I was, what I contributed was unique in and of itself. And that I needed to validate that in the business model and format. If I go to some specific instance, when my wife and decided that we would just take this methodology and not just keep it a boutique, sort of my own thing, my own book, keynote speaking, whatever, and scale it, that we needed help to be able to do that and to build at least a small company that had the bandwidth to be able to do that.
And so hiring a CEO, finding somebody who could manage the operational side of this because I'm not the best player for that play, and recognizing that, but not taking enough time to do due diligence to find out what was the really right person to do that. And that was a very very uncomfortable and expensive mistake.
John: So let’s really analyze some of the lessons you’ve learned. I mean, obviously hindsight is 20-20, so let’s kind of go back through the process. And just maybe have you share a couple things specifically that you did wrong in that hiring process. And really keeping in mind that we have our listeners, Fire Nation, who are entrepreneurs, wantrepreneurs, sidepreneurs, they're looking to build their team and add people both above and below them potentially on the totem pole. What could you really share specifically here?
David: Don’t let somebody else’s timeframe drive yours.
John: And how did that happen specifically?
David: I was – you know, I needed to figure out if I was gonna hire somebody at a very senior level. And they got another offer, so they said you have to – so you have to decide by tomorrow. And I wasn’t really ready yet, but I didn’t want to lose them. And I didn't trust my own ability to be able to say: well, I can find somebody else that might be able to fill that role. I made a rash judgment.
John: What was your intuition telling you at the time?
David: I was so confused at the time, and so distracted I was trying to write my third book, I was trying to get out – from out of all this. This guy had shown up and had credentials that could do what we do. And it was simply a – I wouldn’t have – if it had been up to me, I’d of said let me sleep on this for another two, three, four weeks to think about this thing. And he said I need the decision by Monday. So otherwise, I would have lost him. You can't ever really say these are mistakes. I learned a ton, frankly. You know, your biggest mistakes frankly are your biggest learning process.
John: Totally. And that’s why I dial in on these for every single interview with Entrepreneur on Fire. We've had 938 now previous to you of these learning experiences from successful entrepreneur’s failures. And how awesome is that that our listeners can really get to understand that this is part of the journey, this is part of the learning process. I know that I'm learning a lot here already. And for me it seems like your intuition was telling you: David, take a step back, take a deep breath, let’s analyze this situation. And so often Fire Nation, our intuition is there for us to guide us. It's gonna be right more times than not.
And it's really tuning into that and listening to that is an important, really an important skill that an entrepreneur needs to develop. David, on the flipside to create Getting Things Done, you had a ton of “ah ha” moments building up to that. I mean, that book is chalk full of them alone, but what I'm really looking for now is a story. We as listeners resonate with stories, so take us to an “ah ha” moment, a single “ah ha” moment that you had, that light bulb that went on at some point, and tell us that specific story.
David: Boy John, you know, there are three or four that would rise up to that level, were the cream to the top in terms of those major things. I think one was I bought out a couple of partners, decided that I was essentially the – that I had frankly built the key driver of what this was that I had a hold of. And so really needed to step up and manage this instead of being equal partner to other folks. So to make that step was a big change to begin with. And then, brought together a whole bunch of friends that were pretty sophisticated people that I trusted that were in the business world, and had them – had a whole day.
I said: okay, let me put myself on the cross here, you guys just nail me. What's wrong? What I have done? What am I missing? What should I be doing? You know, what's up? So bringing together a group of folks, and they said, “David, write a bestselling business book.” And I went, “Oh, my God, what? That’s not what I do.” Okay, so that was a big “ah ha” moment where they said, “You’ve done this for 25 years now. This is bullet proof. You must get this in print and out there to the world on a much larger scale.”
And so being willing to swallow hard and say okay, and take that from my someday maybe list and put it on a real active project called: okay, publish book about this methodology. And that was a pretty big “ah ha” moment. I don't know that it was an “ah ha”, it was more of a swallow hard and be willing to accept that I was ready to do that, and that it was bullet proof enough that I was willing to put my life’s work out there, you know, in print to the world.
John: We all seem to have these someday maybe things that are out there. And what I really want you to do Fire Nation, I mean, hearing David and what he has accomplished since taking that someday maybe and putting it as a priority a satisfied focus is absolutely incredible. And I love David how you use the terminology, they put you to a cross and they just nailed you to it because there is nothing more important, there is nothing more critical than having peers that you know like and trust and respect tell you what you're doing wrong. And another word for that is a mastermind.
And that’s why being part of a consistent mastermind, mine meets every week for an hour. It’s just three of us, so we can all be on the hot seat consistently. And being part of that mastermind where you are being nailed to the cross consistently, and your business is being analyzed and being held accountable for, there's nothing more important Fire Nation, you have to make that happen. I mean, that’s the “ah ha” moment that I got out of what David went through to Getting Things Done, done. David, I'm not gonna let you go quite yet. We are about to enter the Lightning Round, but before we get there, let’s take a minute to thank our sponsors.
David, welcome to the Lightning round, where you get to share incredible resources and mind-blowing answers, sound like a plan?
John: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
David: My willingness to accept that I was the source of something unique.
John: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
David: Relax, let go, and trust your inner wisdom.
John: What's a personal habit that you do have David, that you believe contributes to your success?
David: I empty my in baskets in my head daily.
John: Can you kind of share a technique you use to do that successfully?
David: You take everything that has your attention, you pick it up, you decided, excuse me, what is this and what does it mean to me? What am I gonna do about it if anything? Decide the next action and any project it represents, park those in appropriate places, you have a trusted system that keeps track of all your agreements with yourself, so you can review it regularly and then take a nap or have a beer in freedom.
John: I love that you use the words: you decide. It's a decision Fire Nation; you make the decision to discard those meaningless thoughts. There's a great quote by Peter Drucker I heard just the other day. I'm gonna butcher it a little bit, but basically doing something efficiently is not better than doing that thing that shouldn’t have been done at all. So if it shouldn’t be done at all, just doing it efficiently doesn’t make it good. Like, you need to make sure in the first place that should be something you should be focusing on.
David: Yeah. But let me pushback on you a little bit.
David: Doing anything efficiently, you know, killing people, cooking dinner, whatever, is going to teach you something about who you are and how you manage this world effectively. Because, you know, efficiency has gotten a bad rap, but quite frankly efficiency is the whole game called what are you about, and how are you managing that with the least amount of effort? So anybody who can manage the efficiency factor itself, even if you're doing bad things, or not appropriate things, or the not most strategic things, you're still – there's still something that you're learning there that you can apply. It doesn’t take any time to change your focus, it takes quite a bit of time to learn to efficiently execute.
John: I'll take that pushback David Allen.
John: And let me just get that quote right because I did butcher it. The quote is by Peter Drucker, “There's nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all.” So it kind of is a tongue twister, I obviously butchered it the first time. And I love the pushback that you gave David Allen, so Fire Nation absorb both of those, and see what strikes your fancy. And David, do you have an internet resource, like an Evernote, something along those lines that you can share with our listeners?
David: Well, I love Evernote; it's a great database for me.
John: That’s what everybody loves, which is why I say like Evernote, so not everybody says it.
David: No, it's great. It's fabulous because it digitalizes all that stuff, and you can make check lists, you can put all kinds of things in there. it's a little awesome because it's so simple. So you have to figure out your own algorithms about how to organize it. but if you're willing to step into it and play with it, give yourself permission to take three to six months to get comfortable with how you’ve organized it, so that it works for you. But a lot of people step into it and go: oh my God, this is so huge, and I try to create my stacks and my organizing and whatever, and it's not quite what I want, and so then you stop using it. Give yourself permission and time to play with it.
John: And there's a great resource out there called Evernote Essentials. I actually had the creator of Evernote Essentials on the show a few hundred episodes back. A great guy and a great resource that really lets you ease into that. David, we're gonna let you take Evernote, so there you go. And if you could recommend one book for our listeners to join Getting Things Done on our show notes page, what it would be and why?
David: Well, aside of my new revised version of Getting Things Done of course, which I can't not promote.
John: Of course.
David: The last book that has totally stoked me, and I think everybody listening to this needs to read is a book called Brain Chains, two words, Brain Chains. Chains meaning, like chains around you that limit you. By a guy named Theo Compornolle. And it's really about if you think multitasking works for you, you're screwed. And a lot of aggregation of the last 20 years of research in the brain science about how – challenging how dangerous the new always on 24/7 digital world is for everybody. Not that you should get rid of it, but very very aware of the danger of how addictive it is, and what it's been limiting you from being able to do when you get addicted to it.
And then, you know, read it at your peril because he will convince you, you know, if you're really willing to be open to it that even freehand audio in your car on the phone is as dangerous statistically as texting.
David: So be careful. But this is very very absolutely critical information for people to get. It's a manual for your brain, about how it works, how it doesn’t work. It's called Brain Chains, everybody get it. If you're in this world at all, and it will give you some really good tips. I learned some really cool stuff reading that. And I actually spent a day with him in Brussels a couple of weeks ago, the author. He and I may actually do a collaborative workshop together in the fall in Amsterdam. A very interesting guy, he was a child psychiatrist to begin with, and then got into – I mean, he’s got more credentials than you and I could even spell.
John: Well, I have zero, so. Well, listen, I really want people to realize that this could be a current peril, but a future saving grace, so I'm glad you shared that David. And my question to you on these notes, have you turned the most recent updated and revised version of Getting Things Done into an audio book?
David: I haven’t recorded it yet. I actually don't know what they're doing about that yet. Sorry John, I'm kind of a dummy here.
John: No worries.
David: I don't know. I think it's out in Kindle and etc., in terms of just the digital versions, but not audio yet.
John: I'll tell you my audience just got a little disappointed. But this isn't gonna be going live from about a month and a half from when we're talking, so things might change by then Fire Nation, check in, because I know David understands the power of the audio book for sure.
John: And Fire Nation, I've teamed up with Audible because I know that you love audio books. And if you haven’t already you can get an amazing audio book for free at eofirebook.com. And David this next question is the last of the Lightning Round, but it's a doozy. Imagine you woke up tomorrow morning in a brand new world, identical to earth, but you know no one. You still have all of the experience and knowledge that you currently have. Your food and shelter is taken care of, but all you have is a laptop and $500. What would you do in the next seven days?
David: I would survey that world. I would do what's got my attention now. And I would start to do basically a capture function, look what's got my attention right now? What did I notice? What's potentially meaningful? What do I need to do? So the first thing I'm gonna do is to – before I make any decisions – I'm gonna gather anything that is pinging on my consciousness, and that’s the capture step. It's the first step of how to get control of anything. If you're feeling somewhat out of control because you throwing me into a situation that is somewhat out of control, how do I get it under control? Well, it's the five steps that we've uncovered. You capture what's got my attention now.
The second thing I'm gonna decide what do I need to do about that? Is there a next action about that? Is there some project and outcome I need to clarify about that? and then I'm gonna organize those in some appropriate place, and then step back and review and reflect, and then started to engage and move forward, and then keep that process going. So the first thing I'm going to do is make sure I've got some place to capture stuff, an in basket and a pen and paper. And basically that’s how – you know, that’s all I need.
John: I love it. Capture that that’s around you and take your next action from that, organize it, review and reflect, and then engage and move forward. And David, let’s end today how we started my friend, on fire, with you sharing one parting piece of guidance, the best way that we can connect with you, and then we’ll say goodbye.
David: Your head is for having ideas, not for holding them. Check out website gettingthingsdone.com, and have a great rest of your life.
John: So kind. And Fire Nation, let’s be honest, you're the average of the five people that you spend the most time with, and you have been hanging out with David, Mr. GTD himself, and JLD today, so keep up the heat. And head over to eofire.com, just type David in the search bar, his show notes page will pop right up with links to his new book, to his book recommendation, to his websites, everything, or just go straight to gettingthingsdone.com. Don’t forget to snag the new updated and revised version of Getting Things Done.
I'm not gonna say it's a quick read because it's not, but it may be the most worthwhile read of 2015 and beyond for you. And David, I want to thank you personally for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today, for that my friend we salute you, and we’ll catch you on the flipside.
David: Thanks John.
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