David Allen — The Art of Getting Things Done (GTD) (#384)

“Your head’s for having ideas, not for holding them.”
— David Allen

David Allen (@gtdguy) is one of the world’s most influential thinkers on productivity, and his 35 years of experience as a management consultant and executive coach have earned him the titles of “personal productivity guru” by Fast Company, one of America’s top five executive coaches by Forbes, and among The American Management Association’s top 10 business leaders.

David’s bestselling book, the groundbreaking Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, has been published in thirty languages, and the “GTD” methodology it describes has become a global phenomenon, being taught by training companies in 60 countries. David, his company, and his partners are dedicated to teaching people how to stay relaxed and productive in our fast-paced world.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, StitcherCastbox, or on your favorite podcast platform.

David Allen — The Art of Getting Things Done (GTD) (#384)


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Want to hear another episode with someone who’s an expert in making the most of the hours in the day? — Listen to my latest conversation with Josh Waitzkin, in which we discuss cramming two months of learning into each day, harnessing unconscious learning, resonant frequency, HRV training, and much more. (Stream below or right-click here to download):

#375: Josh Waitzkin — How to Cram 2 Months of Learning into 1 Day


QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.



  • Connect with David Allen:

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  • As David once told Chase Jarvis: “Your mind is made for having ideas, not for holding ideas.” What did he mean by this? [06:55]
  • What are the first questions and exercises David presents when he begins coaching high-functioning but overwhelmed people? [10:05]
  • What are the consequences of breaking an agreement with yourself, why are you most likely to break such an agreement, and what are your options for recovering from a broken agreement? [12:45]
  • David’s best tips for renegotiating an agreement when the need arises. [16:05]
  • Where does David keep his backlog? [19:13]
  • What are the pros and cons of keeping track of information in digital versus analog format? [20:47]
  • As a teenager, what did David want to be when he grew up? [22:34]
  • What did David’s college and career path look like, and how did it steer him toward understanding models for navigating life’s complexities? [27:21]
  • If you can remember being in Berkeley in 1968, you probably weren’t there. But here’s what David can piece together from this time and the long list of careers that followed — leading to the formation of the principles detailed in GTD. [29:16]
  • What mentors does David credit as being instrumental in his creation of GTD? [34:38]
  • What are next action decisions, and how do they differ from what people generally put on their to-do lists? [37:27]
  • The capture list, the two-minute rule, and emptying the in-basket. [41:04]
  • Top-down versus bottom-up systems and understanding the hierarchy of priorities. [42:08]
  • What led to the Allens’ relocation to Amsterdam, and what quality of life improvements have he and his wife noticed since moving there? [47:58]
  • How long did it take for the Allens to go from thinking about the possibility of moving from Ojai to Amsterdam to actually going through with it? [52:15]
  • What does David consider his most fruitful — though seemingly counterintuitive — life decision? [55:07]
  • One of David’s mentors in Berkeley claimed to have extra-sensory abilities. Did David ever experience evidence of this in person? [1:00:28]
  • David shares a particularly difficult period of time in his life, what led to it, and what happened in its aftermath. [1:02:16]
  • What does the word “spiritual” mean to David? [1:07:18]
  • What does David’s meditation practice look like these days — and what does he recommend for someone who wants to start meditating? [1:08:20]
  • What was David’s biggest takeaway from the time he spent in a mental institution? [1:09:10]
  • Does David ever feel overwhelmed or unfocused? If so, how does he deal with it? [1:10:43]
  • Are there any new beliefs, behaviors, or habits that have materially improved David’s life in the last handful of years? [1:11:54]
  • Books (aside from his own) that David has gifted or recommended most to others. [1:13:28]
  • What are David’s bedtime and morning routines, and how much sleep does he get every night? [1:14:33]
  • Is there anything about GTD David wishes more adherents would heed? Does anything important get commonly missed? [1:16:27]
  • What are the steps of the GTD weekly review? Does David recommend doing it at any particular day or time? [1:18:28]
  • Are there certain categories of things to which David simply says “No” as a default? [1:21:06]
  • How does David filter unpleasant people out of his life? [1:22:46]
  • Why GTD is intended as a force for freedom and creativity, not a yawnworthy paean to rigid structure — as Brad Keywell, Howard Stern, Will Smith, and Robert Downey, Jr. can testify. [1:23:49]
  • Is the GTD weekly review inherently a solo process, or can it involve someone’s group, staff, or family? [1:28:46]
  • What does David use to organize his email? [1:29:30]
  • Does David use any particular app or program for pulling material like articles or references from the Web? [1:31:01]
  • Are there any quotes by which David tries to live his life? [1:32:29]
  • What would David’s billboard say? [1:33:08]
  • Does David still have hope that people will do something with the space created by GTD to answer life’s bigger questions? [1:33:43]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:36:27]