How to get your mind to operate at a more productive and creative level ? – David Allen
David Laroche: So, hello, Achievers! Today we are in Santa Barbara with a new, awesome guest. I’m sure you know him. He is the author of the bestseller “Getting Things Done.” He is David Allen and he is with me. Hello, David!
David Allen: David, nice to see you. Thank you.
David Laroche: I love your name!
David Allen: It’s a great name. You must be a person of intelligence, sensitivity, and character with a name like David.
David Laroche: Yes, I think so. I only interview people who are called David. So, you are the best-selling author of “Getting Things Done.” It is a book to help people to be organized; define their priorities. And I’ll let you introduce yourself; you will do better than me.
David Allen: Well, I wrote a book after 25 years of doing this kind of work, starting as a management consultant and then (really for myself more than anything else) exploring and discovering, and uncovering what are the principles that allow us to surf on top of our world and, sort of, feel very … So, over the years I discovered and then built an explicit methodology about how you learn what those principles are and then apply those to your life; that are not hard to do, but they make a transformational difference when you do them, both personally and organizationally, and within organizations. So, I’ve just uncovered these things. Almost in spite of myself, I wound up being an expert in something that has turned out to have a very global significance, and more and more as being attractive to people.
The book has just become, essentially, a manual for people of all walks of life to be able to improve their situation. What then happened is they transformed and changed themselves a lot just applying some simple principles that make it a lot easier to do what they’re going to do.
David Laroche: Great. I would love… I would love to listen to your story. I heard … you did 35 jobs (I don’t if it’s exact). I would love to listen to your story. How did you– From the age of maybe 15 years old to this first book, what happened?
David Allen: I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up. It took me, until I was in my middle 30’s, to really realize that what I really love to do was to see how people did what they did and to understand that. So, instead of having my own business, understanding what business was or what the process of work was, to be able to assist people in doing what they’ve been doing better and easier. People have often asked me, “Gee, David, have you always been organized?” In a way, that’s a misconception about what “Getting Things Done” is about; most people think that’s by getting organized. To some degree, it’s about getting more disorganized, because many people are too organized for what they are trying to achieve. And they need to loosen up and blow it up, and become more spontaneous and more flexible in their work. But I understand why most people think of this as “organization”, because most people, who are interested in this, have over-created because they are highly productive and highly creative people, and they’ve created a lot more than their personal assistants can actually manage. So, the “organization” part, as we say “bringing up the rear guard”, is oftentimes the biggest pain factor and produces the biggest solution for people right away.
But to that point, people said—have I always been organized? I say, “No. I work, kind of, messy. When I cook, I cook, kind of, messy and when I work, I work, kind of, messy. It’s one mess at a time.” But I think being able to have the freedom to make a mess is, really, your most productive state to be in. What I’ve always done was say, “How much easier can I make doing what I’m doing?” If I’m about to get up and walk out of the room I say, “What’s the easiest way to get out of the room?” I’m not, necessarily, going to take that way. I say, if you know what you’re doing, there are only two improvement opportunities: efficiency and style. Efficiency says, “Look, I could get there a lot easier with less effort so I can use that energy in some more meaningful ways.” So, efficiency has a huge — I’m a big “efficiency” fan just because I don’t want to waste energy, right? But also style will go, “Well, that’s the easiest way to go, but I think I’ll style around that way, because that’s what I feel like doing, and I want the freedom to be able to just express myself in, sort of, spontaneous ways.”
Now, if you said there is only two improvement — If you know what you are doing, then those are the things to improve. A lot of people don’t know what they are doing, so that’s a big improvement opportunity for themselves to figure that out, like: Who am I about? Where am I going? What am I doing? But once you have that, then, oftentimes, it’s building in the tools to be able to make that happen more easily, more elegantly, with less effort—is kind of what I’m about. I’ve always been wired that way and apparently not everybody is, because I wound up writing the book — I thought I was the last person all the world over in this stuff. But it took me… as I say, it took 25 years to figure out what I had figured out, and that actually was unique. So, that’s when I wrote the book—was after all that time and all that work, and I said, “Wow! I’d better get this into a manual book.” At some point somebody will figure this out (maybe); but nobody had and if I got run over by a bus, I wanted to be able to say, “Look, it’s in the book and you can figure it out how to do that.”
David Laroche: It’s amazing. Why did you do so many jobs?
David Allen: Well, frankly, I didn’t have a lot of aspiration about success in this world. I was more interested in God, truth, the light and the universe, and universal knowledge. I’ve always been attracted to the invisible, because it always seemed to me be more powerful and influential than the visible things. It seems like the visible things, you and I are engaged in, are actually driven by things we can’t see. At a more mundane level—how your feeling affects what you do physically. But you can’t see feelings; they’re invisible. What you think affects your feelings. You can’t see what you’re thinking; unless you’re a psyche that can see that kind of stuff. Those are invisible things that affect the visible. So, if I could get control of the invisible things — Look, I’m Mr. Lazy. My whole game has been—figure out what are the keys to the universe so that I don’t have to work hard. So, if you figure out where are the levers about what really drives this thing — That’s why my first job, at age five, was magician, because I said, “Look, if I can just think, move that over there and it moves over there, I go, ‘Wow!’”. Wouldn’t that be lazy? To me it was like, “How do I uncover what are the things that, if we understand them, un-warp them or whatever—would that have me to physically work harder?” But if we apply those, things occur that improve things. Things are better; things happen.
That to me has always been a driver. I’ve always been fascinated by looking into that. So, it was never… I was never like, “I’m going to make a bunch of money or I want to be successful, or I want to be famous.” Those were not my drivers. I was really saying, “Wow! I want to find out what the core is; what the essence is.” And early in life I had, what you might describe as “spiritual experiences” or “inner experiences” where I experienced this bigger reality — “Wow! That’s phenomenal!” — and just had little tastes of that. (So, trying to figure out what that was all about.) But that, sort of, spiritual and inner exploration was something that was — Actually my prime driver, and still is, actually — It’s just the first few years that was more evident and, unfortunately, nobody was paying me to do that so I had to go have jobs to, sort of, keep a roof over my head while I was doing the inner exploration. It just turned out that I wasn’t stupid and I happened to like to have jobs that were more interesting. So, I wound up in lots of different kinds of jobs, and then discovering that what I was discovering in my inner path actually had some application to the outer world that I was dealing with. That’s, kind of, a long and complicated story.
There was no big strategic plan otherwise than just ‘what’s the best next thing I can see to do tomorrow that might be somehow in alignment with what was important to me and what I cared about?’. It was almost like—following my inner path then led me to a lot of experiences in the outer world. Then I began to realize, “Wait a minute, the inner path — frankly, it doesn’t matter what happens out here.” At some point, I, sort of, bought into that old spiritual paradigm that says, “Well, okay. If I really want to be spiritual, I have to give it all up and go get a rice bawl, and a cave, and live in the mountainside.” But I like good wine and beautiful women, and other cool things in life, and I said, “Isn’t there a way you can — it’s all, sort of, the same thing—why not be able to experience and appreciate all of that and not give up any of it.” It’s, kind of, like—I wanted the whole game, both the inner and outer life, and to have those to be able to match up. So, figuring out what could I do that then can align with my outer world that was very much in alignment with the inner world. I know that all sounds pretty much abstract and obtuse, maybe, to people listening to this. But a good example of…
David Laroche: But it is not for me.
David Allen: A good example would be—learning, for instance, that if you keep stuff in your head, that you think you should do, need to do, might do, that’s meaningful to you, and that’s the only place you have it, it will become very disturbing; it will become disturbance to you, because your head is not the place that manages that very well. Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them. But most people are running their life by some, sort of, system that they’re building internal inside their psyche, and then what happens is it, totally, distracts them from being able to focus on their real stuff. They’ll be awake at 3 o’clock in the morning with, “Oh, I need cat food”, or “I need to do the strategic plan”, or “I need to call Bob.” And those are irrelevant things to be thinking about at 3 o’clock in the morning—you can’t do anything about them. So, there is a very inefficient part of your psyche that starts to get entangled in a lot of things that are not managed very well.
But what does that have to do with your inner life? Well, if you try to sit down and be quiet so that you can listen to more of the subtler and more inner things and pay attention to your intuition—if you have all that other noise instead going on—that’s very, very hard to do. So, how do I shut up the noise? If you quiet the noise — I figured out the algorithm about how you shut up your mind. How do you stop it from thinking about cat food, or your strategic plan or “call Bob”? Well, there is a very simple algorithm about how you get that out of your mind. The question is — which I don’t really answer (that’s the challenging question that my work presents to you) — is what would you do if you had nothing on your mind? What would you think about? And that’s the clear space that, I think, most people really want to have; that allows people to “flourish.”
So, finding keys that allow people to free up their space, wherever they are and whatever level of horizon they’re focused on — If I get more clear space, I’m able to then see higher; see a bigger horizon; access that; have more ability to focus on that appropriately, as well as the ability to be able to implement it and execute on the decisions I make when I’m thinking there. When I have clear space to be inspired and once I get inspired, I’m going to create things I need to do; and people I need to call; and projects I want to do; and business I want to create, and I then need to be able to have a tool or mechanism to be able to throw those things into the pot and have those manifest. If I don’t, some part of me will block that process, because it knows. It says, “Hey, David, you have a cool idea, but you didn’t do anything with it. I’m going to stop your idea machine because I don’t want to keep frustrating you.”
David Laroche: What you are explaining now I love because I’m just experimenting (I can say that). Now, just before to ask you something, I would like to… [French part here] It’s the camera…
Yes, you are explaining that when you have a lot of noise in your head, you can’t connect to your intuition and do, maybe, the best action. And it’s amazing for me because the project to do — to come in the United States and do a big travel to interview a lot of people — is a lot, a lot of work. We have to answer emails; to send a lot of emails; we have to edit the videos; do the videos and I am — Two days ago I started to have a lot of stress in my body more than I usually feel, and I have keys about how to breathe, how to … my body, but it’s not enough because in my head I have a lot of things and I don’t arrive now to manage this noise. So, according to you, I have to write… I have to write each of my ideas on a paper. What advice could you give me to manage this noise?
David Allen: Well, you have to identify the noise first. So, that’s why write it down, or capture or collect the things that have your attention—“I need cat food. I need to get a life. I want to find God. I need to build a company. I need to call Jim. I need to get a … ” So, all those things you need to get out — first of all, that’s the first step—is to capture or collect things that have your attention. I need to identify those things. Second step — because you can’t leave it there. If you left it there, now you’re creating lists that are still stressful, because there are still decisions about the bank, or your mom, or your boss, or the cat food, or the business or whatever.
David Laroche: You just see what you have to do.
David Allen: Yes. You see a lot of things that still require some more attention, because the principle is—if you don’t give a proper attention to what has your attention, it will start to take more of your attention than it deserves. So, if you don’t give “I need cat food” the right attention, “cat food” will take up more psychic real state than it should, right? So, what attention do I need to give to “cat food”, or “bank”, or “doctor”, or “my mother”, or any of that? That is the simple algorithm, but it’s a very profound one. Stage two—once I’ve identified those things that are pulling on me (psychologically), then I need to decide what exactly do those mean to me and what am I going to do about them? In other words, is it something I’m committed to act on or not? Yes or no? If it is — By the way, if it’s not — and we get a lot of things that pop into us, that come into our world, that there is no action required; for which case it is either trash, or eliminate, or recycle, or delete, or stage for later assessment (incubate) — I need to hold this, rethink it two weeks from now or two months from now, or I just need to file it as “reference”; just something I might need access to. As we say, “toss it” to click for later assessment or file it, if there’s no action. If there is action—two simple questions, but very profound…
David Laroche: Yes, I love that.
David Allen: What outcome am I committed to (if any) about this? What’s the project? You get to mark “mom” off as “done”; or “bank” off as “done”; or “doctor” off as “done” when “what’s true?”. What’s your project? What is your outcome? What are you committed to achieve? When are you going to finish making these videos? David, when are you finished with this? When “what’s true?” (right?) That’s the finish line that you need to also define, because that’s a stake in the ground you need to put up there; bang that on the ground because the winds of life are going to blow you all over the place. If that was the only thing you had to do — “Mmmm…” — it still would be challenging, and you’ve got about 45 of those, right? (including all the things in your personal life and everything else). So, you better give yourself a nice stake in the ground called “Finish this video project and here’s what ‘finish’ means. And I need to keep reminding myself of that consistently; to say, ‘What do I still need to do next ‘to move the needle’ or to able to check that off?’”
So, the second question (here’s the outcome)—what’s the very next thing that would be to happen to start to move forward on that? And that’s ‘what’s the next action?’ question, which is such a core key element to how you get things done. In other words, the key to getting things done is what does “done” mean and what does “doing” look like and where would it happen? So, you’ve got this final thing on your video project here. You need to have that some out there, and you need to decide how often you need to look to that final outcome and asses where you are against that. “Oooh, there’s still a ‘delta’; I can’t mark it off as ‘done’, yet, because something’s not true, yet.” And then of course your question is—so, what’s the very next action you need to take to start moving toward completion? Is that a phone call? Is that an email? Is that a “surf the web?” Is that a “draft a document”? Is that something you’re waiting on for Julie or somebody else to get back to you about? You need to make sure you’ve defined those. Once you have defined out the coming action, and you park those some place that you trust you’ll see those in some appropriate place, guess what? A free mind. Not finished? Put off your mind, because your mind will say, “Gee, David, you haven’t quite finished, appropriately, engaging with your commitment yet. Until you’ve made these decisions, park those in some appropriate place.”
I just discovered this algorithm—it’s not hard; it’s not like some foreign language or some new technology. Everybody knows how to write things down; everybody knows how to decide what’s the outcome, what’s the action step; everybody knows how to keep lists; everybody knows how to look at them on some regular basis. So, these are not behaviors; you don’t know how to do. The behavior you have not orchestrated yet, in a coherent way, to make sure you can walk through your life with nothing on your mind except whatever’s in front of you, so that you walk around in the presence, not having that some exceptional event. I just figured out how you do that. What you do with that clear space is up to you.
David Laroche: So, I have to focus on what I want to achieve (the outcome); for example—finish the video. I would like to take the example of this tour. When I came to United States I had two goals. The first one is to do 30 interviews; the second one is to do 10 interviews with top leaders. Okay? To reach that I have a lot of ways: I can send emails to people to introduce me; I can send emails by LinkedIn, by Twitter, by mail; I can go to the Universal Studios to reach people I would like to reach. I think I have a lot of noise because I would like to do everything. I would like to contact not only 30 people, but maybe 200 people, and it is hard for me to accept that I have only 24 hours to sleep, eat, be with my girlfriend, work, email, and I would love to do everything. And I think I have a lot of stress because I’m not realistic. What do you think about that?
David Allen: Well, there is a lot to unpack, in terms of what you just said. First of all, let me ask you. Are there things about this project that are not on your mind? Or things about your life that are not on your mind; important, but they’re not on your mind; they’re not bugging you; or they’re not plaguing you; they’re not bothering you.
David Laroche: Yes, I think…
David Allen: Why?
David Laroche: Why?
David Allen: Why are they not bothering you?
David Laroche: I don’t know.
David Allen: Well, you’ve probably decided that whatever about them is okay; that there’s nothing that’s going to — Whatever needs to be done about them has either been decided or the results of those decisions have been parked in some place that you trust—“nothing will blow up; nothing will explode”. So, you said, “Here’s what I’m not doing and that’s okay”, right?
David Laroche: Yes.
David Allen: So, what you need to do to get the rest of this project off your mind is exactly the same thing. What do you need to do to get off your mind about the 200 people (you might want to do about this) that you may not have time to do? Now, that makes it a little subtle, but it’s like, “Okay, David, what would you need to do to get this off your mind?” You say, “Well, I need to look at all the possibilities: I need to look at how much time I have. I need to look at what I want to produce by what time. I need to say those are—if they show up, that’s cool. Here are the ones that are absolutely mission-critical. Here are the ones that would be nice if I could get them. Here are the ones that— you don’t beat the great little bluebird if it landed on my shoulder; but I’m not going to go work on that.” And you need to back off and take a look at your whole landscape and give yourself a map of what you are about and go, “That’s fine.” You just haven’t done that. You just got it all on your psyche. That’s why it’s trying to — it will wake you up at 3 o’clock in the morning about that stuff with nothing you can do about, because your psyche is not the place to do that. Your cognitive mind, your conscious mind, your intuition and your intelligence can manage that, but not when you’ve loaded all that inside your psyche. So, you just need to create a bigger map and step back and say, “What’s the map I nee to look at? Here’s the “Someday/Maybes”; here are things I might want to do; here’s the possibility; here’s where we are… Yes, you deal.”
David Laroche: Great.
David Allen: And to some degree you’re just spoiled; you’re just too young. You want to know the answer to that? Grow up and you’ll find out what you can’t do and you speed up by slowing down. You go, “Hey, you know, cool! That’s enough; that’s sufficient.” I don’t want to put a damper on your enthusiasm, but a way to corral the enthusiasm — You know one of the big champions of my work, a guy named Evan Taubenfeld—he’s a rock guitarist. (He was Avril Lavigne’s guitarist; he produces with Warner right now.) And Evan said, “Look, before GTD…” — (my methodology). He said, “Before ‘Getting Things Done’ I started a lot of songs.” He said, “After ‘Getting Things Done’ I finished a lot of songs.”
There is a lot about just being able to get a grip on your creativity and to be able to identify and objectify, and become more explicit with what your agreements with yourself and dreams, and fantasies are. Fabulous! I’ve created my whole life out of fantasy. My life didn’t exist. This job did not exist; I made it up and then I just made it happen. So, I’m an absolutely firm believer that if you give yourself the freedom to have the dreams, have the vision, but passion as highly overrated—I’m sorry. No, the more passionate you are, the more depressed you get. I’d rather be bored with what I’m saying and pick up one or two things, and you just start to implement in the mundaneness of your life. Then those things start to create the ability for you to be able to, sort of, raise the tide, not just have a stormy sea. You want the tide level just to raise up in your life. So, find what are the practices, the habits and behaviors that start to elevate your ability to have a freer space inside and then free up your ability to make intuitive decisions about it. To me, after 68 years—here’s my advice to a 20-something from a 60-something, right? It’s just what you want to do, is you want to raise the sea level; don’t worry about the storms.
David Laroche: It’s perfect.
David Allen: Now, the storms, by the way, your passion will start to push up against your improvement opportunity and will start to give you directionality. But the real direction will be—what do you still feel like doing when you don’t feel like doing anything? Your system is only as good as what you’re willing to still maintain when you feel like crap, and have the flu (you don’t feel like doing anything); because your system will be only as good as your weakest link. So, that’s why I say — My advice to anybody would be — especially people that say, “Take control of your own life.” What’s different about what we teach, as opposed to a lot of other trainings and other things out there—a lot of them start with what you should be thinking about; what you should do. We start with—where are you? What are you doing? And how could you get more control of that? Because if you get control of that, then that will allow you the freedom to elevate your focus to the next level of game that’s not under control and to get it under control.
David Laroche: Cool.
David Allen: So, that makes sense?
David Laroche: Yes. In this topic I have another question. Just before the interview we were talking about work. How do you manage your life between work, your wife, your dog?
David Allen: Yes.
David Laroche: How do you manage that because — For example, I can follow the process (method) and not be stressed, but I want to… I want to work. How can I know that it’s enough? I have to sleep. I have to take time to eat. I have to travel and not to be only without the …only with the fact that I work, for example.
David Allen: Sure. You drove here from Los Angeles, right?
David Laroche: Yes.
David Allen: So, there were lots of things you did in the car.
David Laroche: Yes.
David Allen: Right. And whoever drove — if Julie drove, right? (you drove?). But you were focusing on—sometimes I’m braking; sometimes I’m accelerating; sometimes looking in the rear-view mirror; sometimes I’m talking; sometimes I’m listening to the radio; how’s the temperature in here, right? A lot of things are going on and what did you do? I just said—“Well, what, right now, do I need to do to, dynamically, keep these things all, sort of, managed appropriately?” So, it’s really about appropriate engagement. How am I appropriately engaged with the traffic on this part of the freeway right now? How am I appropriately engaged with the person I’m sitting with in the car? How am I appropriately engaged with the temperature in my feeling in my body? So, it really comes back to—are you appropriately engaged with your health?
Here’s the big secret, so don’t tell anybody. Getting things done…
David Laroche: Yes. I will cut the video. Sorry.
David Allen: “Getting Things Done” is not about getting things done; it’s about being appropriately engaged with your life and work. Right now, you and I are not getting a lot of stuff done, right? How many things am I not getting done sitting here talking with you? How many things are you not getting done? But our ability to be present with each other in this conversation, for whatever this is about, is the degree to which we sense, or feel or know that we are appropriately engaged with all the rest. So, “appropriate engagement” doesn’t mean I’m doing those. It means I’m okay I’m not doing those, but I need to know what those are. And I need to know a lot more consciously what those things represent to me, and I need to build in a much more sophisticated process to be able to analyze and evaluate. Believe me, before you showed up I did a quick map about what else is going on in my life today; what else is going on in my life…
If you could look at my systems, it wouldn’t take me more than 60 to 90 seconds to give you a very quick map of every single thing I might need to have on my awareness right now, in terms of what I’m doing. And I just said, “Nah, you’re it.” I may have had a bad judgment; we’ll see. Maybe this is the wrong thing to do this afternoon; you know, “live and learn.” But in order to be able to do that I had to be able to “put all that to bed”, but you can’t do that by drinking, or ignoring it or meditating. You have to do that by being engaged with it appropriately and then parking it—“that will wait; that’s what that is; that’s what that fits.” So, it’s really about how do I manage all the different maps that I need to see, right? What’s the map you need to see about tonight? What’s the map you need to see about this week? What do you need to look at to feel comfortable how you’re allocating your resources to finish this project? What do you need to map about the project? You need to map about the rest of your life and that against this project.
So, back to your point, say, how much time do I spend in my health vs. my work or whatever? Do you have a map about all the aspects of your life that you think are critical to you? How’s your health and vitality? How’s your relationship? How’s your spiritual life? How’s your career development by the way? How’s your sense of service? How are your relationships? How’s fun? How’s your recreation factor? How’s your personal creative expression factor? Do you want to create a map? You’ve got one—you have one internally. I’m not making these things up. I’m not telling you should go…
David Laroche: …
David Allen: I’m not telling you—“you should set goals.” You’re talking to a lot of people that go, “You should set goals; you should be passionate; you should write your mission.” I go, “Nah, forget it.” Only pay attention to that if you need to pay attention to that to get that off your mind.
So, you’ve already got the map internally. This is all about—how do you become just more conscious of “what is?”?
David Laroche: Yes. We have an unconscious map and we just make it consciously.
David Allen: Yes, or just become more and more aware of why you’re here and what you’re doing. Now the strange thing about it is that “getting things done” is not about getting things done; it’s about being appropriately engaged. However, if you are here on the planet to get things done, then you’d better be getting things done in order to be able to appropriately engage. So, the strange thing is that a lot of people want to go “be.” “I want to go ‘be’. Don’t give me all of that ‘do’ stuff. I need ‘to be.’” If you’re in a world where “doing” is why you’re here “to be”, you have “to do” in order “to be.” And the people that I know that are truly most into “being” are very high-level “doers”, very high-level. So, there seems to be something about the way we are engaged on the planet; the way we seem to be engaged in our life and work is we seem to have something you can’t stop, which is your intentionality. There is an “intention” inside of you—you can’t stop that. It will breathe you even when you’re unconscious. There something that says, “There’s something here to do, to express, to expand, to experience or whatever.” And I don’t think you can stop that. I can’t prove that one to you; this is just intuition…
David Laroche: It’s what you believe.
David Allen: … but I haven’t been able to disprove yet, either. And if that’s true, then some part of you needs to just listen internally—“Wait a minute, what’s got my attention right now?” That’s a fabulous mechanism, by the way. It’s elegant—Oh, my God. How phenomenal! How miraculous that you got a mechanism inside of you that actually has the temperature gauge about that inner map! And all you have to do is start to listen to what you want to do. One of the things I learned, David, over the years (if I could share this with anybody) is a lot of my agony was—I wanted the perfect thing to do before I wanted to go “do.” When I think of Seth (your conversation with Seth)—“Look, just go start doing!” If you’re waiting to find out how to do before you start to do, you’ll never figure out how to do.
David Laroche: Yes, that’s why I’m doing interviews in English, because I can’t speak English with leaders if…
David Allen: Now, good for you! It’s fabulous! And as you do, there is a, as we say, “Ready. Fire Aim.” – “Okay, let me go start to shoot” and then quickly course-correct based upon what happens as I start to engage. So, starting to engage — The advice I would give to people is like, “What, internally, do you really want to be experiencing in your life? What’s your most fabulous fantasy?” Somebody asked me that question years ago. It was a really…
David Laroche: That’s why you asked me the kind of question before.
David Allen: Yes. Well, it was a phenomenal experience for me when people said—what am I really after? And I was willing to — it was embarrassing, but he was a dear friend, and I said, “Well, you know, from the time when I was a little kid I wanted to be the President of the United States.” And he asked me a very profound question that said, “Why?” I thought I had to think because you can’t give an answer like, “Well, my ego wants to be out there and would love to have the audience; to have a large audience and that stuff.” And the truthful answer inside of me was, “I want people’s attention.” I wanted to be able to not only have people’s attention, but have people’s attention that was positively directed toward me, so that I could provide them a huge value. I didn’t really understand that, but I had to be willing to be embarrassed to fess up to the fantasy, but then look inside what was the core essence of what I thought that fantasy would give me as an experience. And he said, “David, how could you get that right away?” And I went, “Oh my God, I got it!” From that moment forward I never had a question. It was always “Okay, now I’m on a path to, more and more, do things of value and create the opportunity to get people’s attention, in some way, in that way.” So, I think being willing to — sort of, the dichotomy or the paradox that says—“be willing to acknowledge your fantasy and then be willing to get very real and immediate about things you can start to do toward what the essence of that fantasy would give you.” And that’s a master key.
David Laroche: Yes, I love this master key and I have a question for you about that.
David Allen: Sure.
David Laroche: One of my goals is to build a one-year school for youth of the age of 18 years old or between 16 or 20 (I don’t know). In France the “Baccalaureate” is at 18; that’s why 18 years old. I find a lot of youth lost, doing big studies and they don’t know why. Me too, I was a Computer Engineer and I didn’t know why.
I would like to build a one-year program about the foundation of life; the foundation of communication; the foundation of success. According to you, what do I have to do in this program to help the youth to find this master key?
David Allen: It’s that simple. Keep track of your fantasies and then ask yourself what experience do you think that fantasy, if that came true, would give you that you don’t have, yet? And then say—and what could you do, within a realistic framework right now, that could start to give you more of what that experience is? It’s really that simple. You don’t have to get much more complicated than that.
David Laroche: So, according to you, I only have to ask them that.
David Allen: Sure. My ultimate question is, “What’s got your attention?” If your mind is not totally empty, except for what you’re doing, then I would just say, “What’s still in there that you have not processed or dealt with, yet?” Because another big enlightenment moment that I had in my life was realizing that somehow in this and, potentially, a million other life times, I’ve created a whole lot more things than I could ever finish or fulfill. So, I don’t need to worry about how much more creative I need to be. I just need to be aware of what’s showing up in front of me and finish it with completion and elegance, so that the next thing is allowed to show up. Now, that may just be for my own personal path. I don’t know if that’s true for everybody. I know it wouldn’t hurt anybody. Just look around and say, “What’s incomplete in your life? What’s still got your attention? Why don’t you just finish that up; close that up; do that with as much elegance and excellence as you can, and then watch what space that will open up for the next thing that’s coming up toward you.” I think everybody’s got a huge draft of opportunities coming toward them and it’s not about “those are not available”—you’re not available to them.
David Laroche: So, you are saying that when you finish the things you began, new opportunities come.
David Allen: Exactly.
David Laroche: Cool.
David Allen: And you, actually, don’t have to finish them. A way to finish them may be to look out and go, “That’s enough.” You know, I have a 2.2-year span for hobbies I discovered over all these 68 years. Two years I was in bonsai; two years I was a sailor; two years, actually four years, I was in karate; two years I started the flute… That’s just me (I’m a, sort of, “Jack of all hobbies” as we might say), but I discovered those were enough. Did I get to be an excellent person in any one of those? No, but I just got enough and that was it.
David Laroche: But in your head—“It’s okay. It’s done.”
David Allen: In my head—“Okay, it’s done.”
David Laroche: Right.
David Allen: So, looking at what you’re doing and saying, “Do I want that as something I want to accomplish or experience? Have I done that yet?” And if not, then that’s part of your work to do…
David Laroche: And maybe “Do I need to do a perfect video now?” It could be the question.
David Allen: Yes. Well, you would have to decide what enough is. Every artist does. There is always more you could do.
David Laroche: Every …
David Allen: But at some point, you will overdo it. That’s an intuitive judgement. There is no theoretical formula for that.
David Laroche: But I care a lot about your intuition.
David Allen: Sure. And it all comes back to, David, “Let me look at the map—is the video where it needs to be? Are my relationships where they need to be? Is my fun factor? And to be able to step back and, sort of, take a look at your life from a more objective or a more explicit standpoint, instead of being wrapped up in it and then being run by it. So, that’s all I did—was figuring out how to loosen the knots and the strings that somehow we create around ourselves. Just unhook from those and step back and say, “Okay, now I’m going to go play with the dog. Now, I’m going to work on the video. Now I’m going to do this.” But there is no way I could manage that appropriately and be present with each one, and not be disturbed by anything else unless I had these external maps. I haven’t found a way to do that. There may be somebody that could do that. I can’t. Our lives are much more complex than most people realize.
David Laroche: Yes. And what do you think — I just would like to listen — I know your opinion, but I would like to listen to that. What do you think about the fact we do simultaneously (do you understand what I mean?), for example, for the same project –… — for the same project—doing… answering mails, in the same time doing another task; in the same time doing another task.
David Allen: You can’t do them at the same time. You can switch rapidly.
David Laroche: Yes, like a computer…
David Allen: And whether switching rapidly is efficient — because I’m on hold on the phone, why not process six things? If you’re waiting for Air France to get on the line with you so you can book your plane, why wait six minutes? Why not use six minutes to dump out a bunch of emails and process a bunch of other stuff? Then come back one the line stuff; then come back to what you’re doing. That’s great! Thank goodness, we have the ability to be able to switch the things we’re doing there rapidly. (I don’t know if you can hear this, but my dog is snoring).
David Laroche: It is all voice.
David Allen: So, I love the fact that I have the ability to be able to switch back and forth between lots of different things so that I don’t lose and waste a bunch of little windows of time; that I could move a lot of things forward that don’t require a lot of mental horse power; don’t require a lot of thought. That’s really powerful. The problem is—if I go, “I want to work on this” and then I get interrupted or I, suddenly, get distracted by that, and then I get over there, but I haven’t left a place holder for this, that I trust I’ll get back to appropriately; then a part of me brings that with me to that. And now I’m starting to be in stress, because, now, I’m trying to deal with something but there’s something else that’s still running around in my psyche. So, the ability to have place holders for things —
It’s like in Martial Arts—when they fight four people at once, they don’t fight four people at once. It’s that person, and that person, and that person, and that person. Basically, they’re fighting one person at a time, but they’re just leaving that one; scanning the horizon, focusing here; scanning the horizon, focusing here. So, there’s no residue going from one to the other. There’s just a constant — in the military they call it “situational awareness” — it’s a constant sense of the environment. But I’m not being pulled because of one thing, because I left it going over here; I didn’t bring that with me. Most people do, however, because they don’t trust—“Hey, let me write a note and throw that in my own ‘in-basket’.” So, I trust that that will then trigger that vector again, if you don’t have a good place holder like taking notes that then will be a trigger and remind of what you were doing and go to do other things. Now the brain is going to try to multitask, which it actually can do—to have conscious focused attention…
David Laroche: Like the computer—it is the example.
David Allen: Yes. You can’t give conscious focused attention to more than one thing at a time. You can do a lot more than one thing at a time—you’re breathing and you’re pumping blood; and when you drive and you’re talking to other people. You do a lot of things all in one time, because those are habitual, so there doesn’t need to be a conscious focus on that. Those are “built-in” in terms of the systemic processes and responses. You can do a lot of those things at the same time. But I can’t focus on answering this email and focus on talking to this person that is walking through the door at the same time. Impossible, but when you try to do those, then some part of you feels in stress and you actually… you’re trying talking to the person, but you’re not there. You’re trying to deal with the email, but you’re not there. And now you’re being ineffective about either one.
David Laroche: Yes, I think so. Julie has two questions for you. I’ll let her ask you and I’ll come back with two questions.
David Allen: Good. Are we recording okay?
David Laroche: Yes.
David Allen: You’re sure you’re getting me?
David Laroche: My last question is a surprise.
David Allen: Okay, I love surprises.
Julie: My question is a question I ask to everybody (like to have a panel), and it’s about education. So, how do you think we could improve education?
David Allen: Whoo, that’s a big question! I have (and I’ll admit) a personal bias about this, that what I’ve learned over all these years really should be taught in schools. It should be really taught by parents raising their children, as well as reinforced in schools, and it’s not. And that’s “How to think about your things?” See, I discovered, essentially, the thought process you need to apply to making your world work and getting things done, and that’s not being taught right now. The next book, by the way, that we’re working on, and I’m working on it with my CEO and our head of our “Coaching Services”, is a book for parents and caring adults about how to use daily teaching moments so that your kids learn how to think in terms of the GTD or “getting things done” thought process before they leave school.
Julie: It’s great.
David Allen: Right. We’ve seen the kids as young as three and four, and five years old can learn to think—what’s the outcome I want to produce? What’s the action step I need to take? We’ve got kids now that have been raised with this methodology because their parents have been in it for 20 years. I’ve got now 20 and 21 year old kids that have lived in this, and they wouldn’t even think of keeping stuff inside their heads. They wouldn’t even think of not having an “in-basket.” They wouldn’t even think of not keeping a list of projects and having next actions about all of those. But that’s not being taught. To a large degree, what I still get a sense of is that education is giving people information but not teaching them how to process it or how to think about it. I think that’s an algorithm or that’s something we would love to get into the school system. Believe me, I have teachers, and principals, and parents, you know, the world over. One they read my book they are going, “Oh my God! This is what we really need to be teaching the kids and is not being taught; at least from what we’ve seen.”
Julie: Okay. So, “How to process information?” would be a great thing to teach.
David Allen: Exactly, and “How to keep track of your commitments? How to understand what they are? How to free up your mind, so you can think about what you want to think about?” I mean, how many kids — you’re just saying, “Look, you’ve got a holiday coming up. What a wild success? What would a fabulous holiday be?” How many parents or how many teachers are asking kids that question. It’s a simple “outcome” question. But “outcome and action” thinking are not built into our culture, yet. There is a lot about “Well, here’s what’s coming up and what do you think about it?” Well, I’ve discovered in — I think we’ve all discovered — there are better ways to think about things, and it’s not about being smarter. It’s like, ‘Wait a minute. I need to learn how to use my mind in an appropriate way.” And that can be taught. It could be modeled, certainly, and kids can pick it up.
Julie: Okay. Thank you. My second question is about the world in general. How do you think… What could be the three actions human beings could do to make this world a better place to live?
David Allen: The three things people could do to make this world a better place to live… Number one—relax. Take themselves more sincerely, not seriously. And pay attention to what the inner voice really has for them as a message.
Julie: Okay. So, it’s like listening to oneself; be true to oneself?
David Allen: Absolutely, but that’s a complicated question called “Which self are you true to?” I’ve got a lot of “selves” inside of me; you do, too. There is one that just wants to eat anything and everything forever, and that’s not necessarily the best self that I want to have. I’d say the self that is the author of the still small voice that knows who you are; that has a loving, neutral presence in your consciousness; that no matter how bad it is and now matter how weird your life becomes, there is still this little place inside you that says, “Isn’t this funny?” And that place — and listening to that voice and learning to listen to the subtler levels of truth inside of who we are, is the master skill of life.
A lot of my work and a lot of — and I think learning to “How do I create environments and contacts where’s easier to access that voice and tools to be able to access that intelligence; and tools to be able to manifest the results of what those voices tell us to do. And that’s a lot of the game I’m involved in. I have a personal bias—I would say “Hey, everybody should read my book and implement that and it will create a lot more space for you to be able to then access these things that, I think, are deeper levels on it.” It’s not about being more efficient, or getting more done, or working harder or anything like that. It’s really about being, to your point, more true to the self that is the part of us that is really connected to everything and knows what’s going on. It’s not about adding anything in. It’s really about quieting and creating more balance, and more equilibrium, and more access to the subtler sounds.
Meditation and spiritual practices; contemplative and reflective activities—it’s not about shutting everything up. The universe is always on. The universe is always highly dynamic; it doesn’t stop. So, it’s not about “I want to stop because the universe—there’s nothing going on.” No, there’s a huge amount going on. What you want to do is stop listening to a certain gross vibrations or sounds so you can hear more refined ones. And then connect, and then explore, and then ride on those sounds. That’s been, at least, my personal experience with why I’m here, and I’m still a beginner and I’m learning to do more and more.
Julie: I think it’s a great advice.
David Allen: Good.
Julie: Thank you.
David Allen: You’re welcome. Good question.
Julie: Thank you.
David Laroche: I have two last questions. My last question is for youth; it is a short question. Do you have some — with your experiences — do you have some life lessons you would like to share to youth, to become happy and successful in this life? It will be a separate video, … , on another website. And you can look at the cam recorder if you want. What could be the life lessons you would like to share to youth?
David Allen: Sure. Lesson number one is—listen to your own, still small voice inside of you that has inclinations, fantasies, fun way, cool things you would love to be able to do, and don’t deny those. As the matter of fact, you want to capture those; you want to acknowledge those; you want to put them out in some way. You don’t have to share them with anybody else, but at least share them with yourself. Then, at the same time, ask yourself—“What are the things that would allow me to have the experiences that I think those will give me?” And begin to just say, “Hey, if I could make it up, what would it be?” And give yourself permission to do that. The risk of the visionary is being willing to hold a vision that you have no idea how to get from here to there. But you’re willing to hold it there as a picture, and still deal with all the troubles, and challenges, and things that may be in the way—“I don’t know how to get there” or “That’s so far away. I don’t see how to do it.” But hold those there; keep those sacred somewhere for yourself. And then start to take some real specific actions—“What are the things I could do that might move me toward that; that would be in alignment toward that?” And don’t wait for perfection. Say, “That’s a direction.” You want things directionally correct, not perfect. There is no perfection here; it’s all about excellence and it’s all about the right direction.
You don’t even need discipline, so relax. You really need to say, “Where’s the fun?” Follow your fun; follow the things that would be fun. And you may not know where that will lead, because following whatever that is — You know, (the funny) I’ve never actually achieved any real goal that I set, because by that time I moved toward that goal and toward my own self, so that I actually could have a better or bigger, or more expanded or even a more different goal. But I had to pick the first one to begin with or I wouldn’t have gained that maturity. So, these things are things we toss out for ourselves. The future never happens by the way; it’s always today. But the future is a handy illusion you can use to, sort of, toss the rock out; and then let yourself get going. And then just learn from your experience; keep having the vision; keep trusting your heart, in terms of what may be driving that vision on inside it. But then you just get active and just start to course-correct and stay involved; keep going. That’s my key.
David Laroche: It’s great. (I’m sorry) I love what you are saying—it’s very powerful. What do you think?
Julie: I love it.
David Laroche: This is my last question. So, the goal is to touch people in a way that they weren’t touched, maybe, before. My question will be — I will ask you again. It is a “cut moment.” My question will be—How to become unhappy? How to become an average person in this life? The goal is to build a funny video with each interviewee to explain them how — do you understand what I mean?
David Allen: What are the two questions again?
David Laroche: How to become unhappy in this life? How to become a loser? We can say that, too.
David Allen: Unhappy, how to become unhappy? Okay.
David Laroche: Unhappy, yes. I ask that to each interviewee and I will build a video with the best keys to become an average person in this life. Do you understand? Yes? Okay, you just have to say the opposite of what you have said.
David Allen: Sure.
David Laroche: So, David, I have a very serious question for you. It is very important because I would love to help people to become losers, and I tried … Do you have any advice and tips, strategies, process, method to become unhappy in this life?
David Allen: Yes. Do not have forgiveness in your psyche.
David Laroche: Okay. It is the main key…
David Allen: Forgiveness of yourself and of others, and the ability to say and to let it all go, and start fresh. If you think that you have to pay for everything, and that you have to be perfect, and that nothing is worth doing if it’s not perfect, and therefore you’re not perfect, and therefore you don’t deserve anything in this world, will be the, absolutely, perfect path to being unhappy and unsuccessful in your life.
David Laroche: Wow! It’s great! Thank you very much. Do you have another key?
David Allen: To be unsuccessful in your life?
David Laroche: Yes. What can I implement this week, for example, to try it myself?
David Allen: Over-commit and beat yourself up for not keeping your agreements.
David Laroche: Great! I love your key! I will try everything. Thank you very much, David, for this key. Great.
Darre n Hardy: Sure.
David Laroche: My last video is without me. It is a short video. Did you see the one with Seth Godin?
David Allen: Yes.
David Laroche: It is the same. The audience is older people, maybe 40 years old, 42…
David Allen: Oh, really old people.
David Laroche: No, older than youth. The question is—According to you, what could be the key factors of success? Are you ready? So, David, according to you, what could be the key factors of success?
David Allen: I think the key factors of success are—to pay attention to what has your attention and you need to be able to unload all the things that are pulling on you that you’ve attracted to, committed to; that you’ve got yourself involved in, and extricate that out of your psyche, in some external form, so that you step back and then make decisions about, out of all of that, where are you really going? What are the outcomes after? And what are the actions and allocation of resources that you need to make? Then park all of those in some appropriate places that you trust so that some part of you can become present; so that you’re not using your psyche as your system. But use your psyche as a “freed-up” place to be able to access your intuitive intelligence, and not let yourself get wrapped around the accelerator or caught up with all of the things of life and work that most people are and haven’t learned, yet, the techniques to be able to distract themselves.
You have a life and you do work. And you are not your life and you are not your work. But if you don’t step back and be able to manage and control what you create within those, than they will own you instead of you owning them. So, the real key is what do you need to do to be able to unhook from those things, so that you can then hook back in to who you really are, and access the internal truth that’s always there in your heart, or your spirit, or the “seat-of-the-pants”, or your intuitive intelligence, or whatever you want to call. That’s the place that you need to go to. That’s the place you get to when you’re present with what’s going on. So, use whatever tools you can to come present; listen to that voice, follow those directions and keep going.
David Laroche: Wow, it’s great! Yes. I think it will help a lot of people to — especially, what you’re saying about the fact that we have to look inside ourselves. It’s amazing to — I think a lot of people don’t know, really, all you say about intuition, and they think it’s only an organization process. You inspire me. I love that.
David Allen: Well, my message would fit with your culture, too, because you are a culture that puts people in jail for all this New Age stuff. You got one of the most reactive cultures in the world for this spiritual stuff, believe me. They closed down health food stores in Paris, I know. I know people that are in that.
David Laroche: I would love to have an endorsement, a feedback from you. Do you prefer I ask you a question or can I let you do that?
David Allen: What would you like me to say?
David Laroche: It’s only that—what do you think about me from the short time we were together?
David Allen: Oh, cool. Sure, fine.
David Laroche: My name is David Laroche and you can pronounce it the way you want.
David Allen: David Laroche.
David Laroche: Wow, Great! You can start.
David Allen: It’s been fun hanging out with you, David Laroche and you’ve asked great questions…
David Laroche: I’m sorry. I’m not enough clear. Can you speak in third person? What did you think about David Laroche?
David Allen: Ah, okay. Sure. I can do that.
David Laroche: It’s okay?
David Allen: Sure. Hey! David Laroche has spent time with me. He had some fabulous questions. An elegant, both personality and energy, and interest, and enthusiasm made it very easy to play with and I’m looking very much forward to continue to stay engaged with David and the work that is doing. He certainly inspires in terms of who is getting this message to, and the way that he is going about it—it’s easy; it’s fun; it’s elegant and gets my vote.
David Laroche: Great! Thank you very much.
David Allen: Sure.