In this episode Todd Brown and Robert Peake talk about how GTD can help you adapt to changing circumstances so that you can give your personal best even in tough times.
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00:04 Robert Peake: So welcome, everyone, to another Change Your Game with GTD podcast. My name’s Robert Peake and I’m here with Todd Brown.
00:10 Todd: Hello, Robert. Hello, everyone.
00:12 RP: Hey, Todd. So, we were talking briefly about what we should talk about as we often do just before these podcasts, and Todd was talking a little bit about… Well, I’ll let you speak for yourself, but just this idea that GTD can help you when you’re at the end of a long week. It’s Friday here, and we’re all back into the swing of things after the holidays and cranking away. And so, just that idea that you’re not necessarily… Your best changes, I guess, that you’re not always at this incredibly high state of sharp and able and raring to go, but that GTD works in that place too. So Todd, do you wanna kick off with a little more about that? I thought that was really an interesting observation.
01:03 Todd: Yeah. I think what I keep getting drawn back to is this idea that when we decide what to do, there are a number of things that have an impact on a good decision, right, what to choose to focus on. And so, the example that I’ll sometimes quote in one of my seminars will be, “Hey, it’s the end of a long day… ” I say, “It’s the end of a seminar day,” let’s say. Right. And seminars, I don’t do a huge number of them these days but the ones that I do… Seminars take a lot out of me. I love the work. I absolutely groove on it. I absolutely enjoy it but it’s also me on for eight hours, right, which takes a lot of energy. And so at the end of a seminar day, one of the things that I’ve come to realize over the years is that I am just not in a mental state to do any kind of, let’s call it, mental heavy lifting. Right. So, it’s in those situations where I just need to be sensitive to that and realize. “Well, if one of the things that I have on one of my next actions lists is I need to do a bit of a brainstorm on a strategy for a new approach to this client.” That’s probably not the right time to do it.
02:17 Todd: I think there’s a sensitivity and a self-awareness there to the idea that we’re not always high performers, and what’s appropriate for us to focus on is gonna depend on, among other things. Again, in one of the models we introduce, we talk about the fact that what context you’re in has an impact on what you choose to do. Right. Like, “Where am I? What tools do I have to have today? I’m working from my home office, regardless of whether, as I’m deciding what to do, choosing something off of my office list. That is the things I can only do at the office. It’s not gonna help.” So context is one thing. Time available is something else we consider. And then we have this idea of energy levels, which is I think what we’re talking about here. It’s an appreciation of how sharp am I feeling? How up for deep thought do I feel at the moment? And as you say, it’s now, what is it here? It’s quarter past four on a Friday afternoon. I’ve been hard at it for pretty much the whole day and it’s timely. [chuckle] It’s timely. I’m hoping that I’m stringing complete sentences together or you’re gonna have to back me up.
03:34 RP: So far so good. Yeah, so far it…
03:37 Todd: Glad to hear it.
03:38 RP: We’ll see as the podcast wears on, you know how you do. But yeah, if you nod off I’ll definitely, I’ll yell or something. I’ll shout.
03:46 Todd: Thank you.
03:46 RP: No, I completely agree. And I love that quote from David, that part of being high performance as an individual is recognizing you aren’t always high performance. So how do you deal with what’s real? You talked, I think, a lot about awareness and rightly so because at the higher level game, to me GTD is an awareness process, right, and it’s awareness of how you work that helps you to work smarter and better. But it also, I think, helps you to recover smarter and better, helps you to enjoy things smarter and better, enjoy your life smarter and better. And I think there’s a couple of things for me that really stand out about the system in particular, in relation to, if you buy this idea, this soft of I think it’s Carlos Castaneda Four Agreements idea that you wanna do your personal best but your personal best changes, right, based on how you’re actually doing. The simple example, everyone recognizes when they’re ill, that they can’t do as much as when they’re healthy. And for me having…
04:57 RP: The more I invest in, and get sharp at, and make habitual, thinking about my future self in relation to stating those actions very clearly, very simply, and very much in terms of what it looks like to get started, the better a chance I have when I’m, like you, kind of at the end of a busy patch, to still engage with those lists and do what’s appropriate to my energy level. There’s just a nice feeling, I think, about that, to say, “Look, I don’t have to just do absolutely nothing.” And sometimes you do, and sometimes that’s appropriate, and it’s great to have bookmarks in place that you can just step away completely. But sometimes it’s useful to be able to say, “Look, I’m doing what I can. And I know that, I recognize that, I trust that I’m doing my bit, I’m doing my personal best.” And you can see that through an externalized system that you are ticking off those things that you can do in that moment that you can keep ticking over, or you’re using what remaining little energy you have before you really need to disconnect for a weekend and rest to focus on the most important things, on the things that really matter.
06:14 RP: And then you are making negotiations with yourself like, “Look, really need to do this, really need to get through this thing,” and we know it’s the right thing to do, and once we’re done, downtime. So to me, that system facilitates that in a whole different way than the kinda, “Oh, hope it’s right. Not really sure.” Working from home, go downstairs and see if there’s any more cheese in the fridge and [laughter] that kind of less productive behaviors that creep in when you’re not really sure what your options are. So to me, that was one of the big keys, I think, to recovering well and being productive in ways that are appropriate when you’re not on your A game, which is not always.
07:03 Todd: Yeah. I think as you’re talking about it, what’s occurring to me is that, I think, of course this is very personal, and how… One of the things that’s always fascinated me about GTD is that it supports you regardless of how high you set your standards in terms of our own productivity, right? So, I think about the people that we’ve worked with over the years who are just… They are giving their… In many cases, their professional lives a huge focus, getting an enormous amount done, GTD helps them to make sure that they’re being as productive as they possibly can be. The boss notices, they get promoted, and that’s what they wanna do, and GTD absolutely supports them in that. And I think at the other end of the spectrum, GTD, if you are so minded, GTD helps you to explore the limits of your own laziness. Right. In other words, “How lazy can I be without getting fired?” [chuckle] Right. And if you’re motivated more in that direction, then GTD can also provide you with the support for that. So it’s always something that’s been, for me, I think, fascinating.
08:13 Todd: And I think, surprising to a lot of the people that I’ve worked with over the years, that we don’t make any going in assumptions about how productive you wanna be, how much of your life do you wanna focus on your professional work as it were, how much… Are you looking to create more space with your friends and family? If so, great. Are you looking to get 20% more done at the office so the boss notices and you get that big job? Great. Right. We can help you either way. And I think, again, people who come into our work come into our world and take part in the seminars or the coaching, quite often I think they come in with this assumption that what we want for them is that they will be as productive professionally as they can be. Right. “The company has paid for the seminar, the company wants me to work hard, or the company wants me to get more done.” Of course, all companies want to get the most out of their people, but at the same time, when it comes to the work, ultimately, it’s gonna be the individual that’s driving what… Their own standards are going to set what productive enough looks like, if you will.
09:27 RP: Yeah, yeah. No, I think that’s a really, really good point, that productivity isn’t this objective thing that’s the same for everyone, and it’s really, in terms of, as you said, standards or this idea of personal best, it’s not the same even for one person, moment to moment, right? It’s going to vary. And as you so well-put, I think it… One of the wonderful things to me about GTD is it meets you where you are. It meets you where you are, and it helps you move to where you wanna be in relation to that. One of the factors… We talk about this in the seminar in terms of just the psychological game of managing your commitments, one of the big things to me… Well, what prompted it, weirdly enough, I’m such an associative person as I’m today drinking out of one of my favorite mugs. I don’t know if you can see it on camera, but it says, “I work hard so my cat can have a better life.”
10:28 RP: I love it because what it reminds me is that, in a way if you don’t appreciate yourself for some of these things that you do that are within your integrity, part of your personal best but they won’t necessarily be highly recognized by others. Your cat certainly won’t, right? [chuckle] Your cat’s just gonna want the better food all the time and whatever else. So, there is something about managing your commitments, ticking things off and seeing that you’ve done that and being able at the end of a day to say, “I did a good day. I was a little tired, I was a little subpar, whatever today, but I did an appropriate day for where I was at and what was true for me.” And then on other days when you’re just firing on all cylinders, you go, “Woah, I did a good day. Given that I was really energized, really raring to go, I did a good day for that.” So that element of appreciation, that kind of feedback loop that happens when you just tick stuff off and go, “Yay, did it,” right, and move on to the next, to me is a big, big factor in, I guess what I’d call the integrity of maintaining your personal best, whether or not the external circumstances always recognize that.
11:48 Todd: I think probably the people that came up with your mug had no idea the depth of thinking that could have laid behind that phrase. Yeah, no I think you’re right. I think it’s a very personal consideration, it’s a very… It’s one of the things that we wanna help people to get clear on is, what does good enough look like for me? Right. It’s funny, I was reading something recently about what seems to be a trend in the workplace. As I read the article, especially amongst folks who are entering the workplace, millennials and the generation after them… And again, I don’t know any reason why this would be specific to that generation. But the phrase that was used to describe it is, “Rise and grind”. And the idea is that what you’re doing is dedicating as much energy as possible to your job. And it took me back. I was reflecting on the fact that back in the dot com days, I remember vividly reading an article, it was an interview with somebody who was starting a dot com or was involved in a startup.
13:04 Todd: And he described his family, his wife and his children, as basically as sources of friction, as things that helped him… I’m sorry, that kept him from getting done the things that he wanted to get done. I found that, as you might imagine, a little interesting in terms of life choices. But going back to it, I think there is… In any culture, corporate culture, national culture, I think there’s going to be… There will be people who are saying, “Hey, I really am about achievement in the professional sphere. That’s what drives me, that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning, that’s where I wanna put my energy.” And I don’t wanna say to that person, “No, that’s wrong. You need to spend more time with your family.” That’s ultimately a decision that they need to make. I think for a lot of people that said, what’s quite interesting is that some people don’t realize that there is a balance to be had between professional achievement and personal satisfaction.
14:18 Todd: Right. So, if we make… Just to put top line numbers on it. If we make somebody 15% more productive, well, that’s the better part of a chunk of day in a standard work week, right? So then all of a sudden, we’re asking the question, “Okay, well, let’s say we freed up six hours in a week for you, what are you gonna do with those six hours? You’re gonna go home early? You’re gonna… Keeping in mind, you will get done as much as you got done before ’cause you’re more efficient. What are you gonna do with that extra time?” Again, I think whenever that question comes up, whether it’s in a seminar or coaching, I just love that question. Just seeing what people say, ’cause… I’m not gonna try to enforce motivation. That’s wrong. That’s ultimately down to the individual.
15:06 RP: Have you ever seen people be afraid of the extra time? You ever seen that thing where people go, “I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t just busy, busy, busy”?
15:16 Todd: Absolutely.
15:17 RP: Yeah, yeah.
15:17 Todd: Absolutely. This happened in… I was watching somebody else do a seminar with my master trainer, had on the other day, and this person was as distracted… I mean, taking phone calls in the seminar. We had to ask her, of course, to step out. She was checking emails the whole time. She was not in the room, in all practical ways. And so, we had a quiet word with her at one of the breaks and she didn’t say it in so many words, but basically her own… What seemed to be the case was that her own value, her own worth was tied up in being busy. That was the most important thing. And what was frustrating for me about that was not that she didn’t completely embrace GTD, but more just that what she seemed to be missing there was that she was letting the world, all of these individual interactions drive her. So she was reacting to every email as it arrived, she was texting, I don’t even know. But she was using her mobile device an awful lot during the seminar. And the question which I wanted… Well, I did ask her and she wasn’t really ready for this question, but I said to her, “Come the end of a day, do you generally have the sense that given the big picture, you focused on the right things?” And her answer was pretty much, “Well, I don’t need to worry about the big picture because the world keeps me as busy as I wanna be.”
16:50 RP: Wow. Very interesting response. Wow. Yeah. And as you’re talking, I’m thinking that whether your motto is rise and grind, which I think really should only apply to baristas, but that’s a personal…
17:07 RP: Personal value judgment there that…
17:08 Todd: Nicely done.
17:09 RP: That I should withhold. So we can edit that out, or maybe not.
17:14 RP: But whatever your value system, whatever your standards, whatever you believe about yourself as human beings, there’s some fundamental things that we come across. And not to totally bum out the mood here but I will. We all will at some point experience bereavements of some kind, whether it’s losing a loved one, or a divorce is a kind of bereavement, illness, short-term but for some people longer-term illness, or even chronic situations. And what’s amazing again to me about GTD is, I’ve worked with people, and experienced GTD help in all of those situations. I’ve experienced GTD create a sense of connection to being able to carry on and maintain some positive productive engagement with the world in very intense emotional and physical circumstances. And like I said, the world’s kinda, in my world somewhat divided into those who have suffered and those who haven’t yet. [chuckle]
18:30 RP: Again, not to totally, totally depress everyone, but in a way, because GTD can meet you where you are, that game of the busy, busy, busy trap, in my experience at some point, the music’s gonna stop there. And it’s like, “Well, what have you built to sustain yourself through tougher times?” And for me, I can say me having an ingrained habit of being able to think about my future self and define what I need to do, and then having that other ingrained habit of going and picking off the things that are appropriate to do to engage, could just really make a huge difference in one’s life and in one’s well-being, psychologically, and even physically, just feeling like you can carry on in a productive way, can have a huge effect, can have a huge effect in tough times and I hate to say it, but some level of tough times, I don’t think anyone is exempt from.
19:39 Todd: So, maybe if we could kinda… I’m just thinking. The umbrella idea here was that, there’s this idea of being sensitive to being self-aware about the fact that we are not always at our productive best. That’s in some ways that’s the wrong way to put it. You do the best, you do the best you can with a situation that you’re in, whether that’s your energy level or your context, or whatever, whatever the criteria or determining what to focus on. So if we were gonna boil this down and say to people, “Okay, well, here are your top takeaways from this in terms of what you’d recommend that they implement and how they work.” What kind of guidance would you give them?
20:30 RP: Yeah, that’s a good, great question. I think, you were talking about, how do we define this term of… To me, there’s an unreasonable ideal, that’s what I would call it. An unreasonable ideal that doesn’t match the circumstances sometimes of what’s true for you. So getting real about what is, to me is a lot of what GTD’s about. Getting a complete current inventory, just the projects and actions just starting there, even if you haven’t processed every email out of your inbox, but at least creating some focus in that way, putting a stake in the ground. Again, to me, one of the things it creates is an externalised mechanism to be able to see yourself succeeding, ticking things off, getting stuff done, and then being able to acknowledge, “Hey, I got stuff done today. I may not have met some ideal, but that ideal may not have been realistic to the circumstances of the day either. I wasn’t back-to-backs but I made good use of my 15-minute breaks.” [chuckle] Or whatever. Or, “I had a stonking head cold, and I made reasonable use of the day anyway.” Season that one to taste. But yeah, for me, the acknowledgement cycle in GTD is a huge part of knowing, “Am I giving it my personal best?” or, “Am I holding out on unreasonable standard?” or, “Am I just slacking off?” What about you? What are some of your takeaways you’d want people to take from this?
22:00 Todd: Yeah, it’s… Again, I think it’s a… It is a fascinating area of personal exploration for a lot of people, and I think asking yourself some… Just riffing on what you were just saying, I think it would be interesting for people to think about, when are they, generally in the course of their day or their week, just pay attention to, when do you think you’re generally, at your mental… In your mental optimal state? When are you and this just kind of, “Oh boy, oh boy, I’ve got two brain cells left to rub together, and that’s it.” So I wanna have… I wanna be clear about in a general way… Not of course that you then just don’t… You put that in a spreadsheet, and you never vary from it, but just generally. And over time starting to try to align the type of activity that you choose to engage in with what your energy levels seem to be, right? So do a little bit of forward planning around all that. And modify, as time goes by, as it seems appropriate. And I think it’s interesting, when I was in my career, back when I was working in large corporates, I think I used to beat myself up a lot for not engaging in things which, in retrospect, were not things that in the state that I was in, there was any productive way for me to really engage in.
23:29 Todd: And so, one of the things that I’ve taken away from that is that I’ve stopped beating myself up and that’s quite positive. It doesn’t mean that those things don’t get done, but it just means that I don’t have this sense that everything important in my life should all be focused on at the same time, which is, of course, I know if not a conscious thought, then probably a subconscious thought that an awful lot of people have, some subconscious sense, that a lot of people have is, “There are all of these things that have piled up in my life, and I should be doing them all right now.” And so I think, again, whether your standards are, “I wanna set the world on fire,” and, “I wanna, found the next greatest company, from a corporate point of view, or from an organizational point of view, make something happen,” great. And also for those folks who just wanna see their kids at bedtime every evening. We’ve got something… The methodology certainly have something to help folks who make those kinds of life choices, and really, anything in between.
24:35 RP: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. And we’ve seen it, we’ve experienced it, and we’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback as well. I think this is probably a good place to wrap up, and just say if you do have thoughts, questions, anything that this has sparked or provoked or prompted or suggestions for future episodes, things that you might want us to cover, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. Drop us an email, we’re always happy to hear from you. Meanwhile, from Todd, from me, thanks for tuning in to this. Go and, hopefully, get real, be kind to yourself, and use GTD wherever you find yourself to just be more productive and hopefully more happy. Do that, and we’ll see you next time.