CNLP 441: David Allen on Getting Things Done, Decluttering Your Mind and How to Get Your Brain Some Rest

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David Allen has taught leaders around the world how to be more productive and find more peace through his Getting Things Done methodology. David covers how to organize your life, declutter your mind and get your brain some rest.

He’s been called one of the world’s most influential thinkers on productivity. Getting Things Done has been published in more than 30 languages. His work has been featured in Fast Company, Fortune, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and more.

Welcome to Episode 441 of the podcast. Listen and access the show notes below or search for the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts and listen for free.

Plus, in this episode’s Ask Me Anything About Productivity segment, Carey answers Tim’s question about multitasking and productivity.

Have a question about productivity? Let Carey coach you. Leave your message here!

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Conversation Links

Getting Things Done by David Allen

Getting Things Done

Willpower by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney

The Organized Mind by Daniel J. Levitin

BrainChains by Dr Theo Compernolle MD.PhD

Let’s Talk About Getting Things Done! – Meet the Macs Podcast

How to Maximize Your Time to Get Things Done – Bossed Up Podcast

An Interview with the Author of “Getting Things Done” – Modern Elder Academy

David Allen: The Getting Things Done (GTD) the art of stress free productivity – The Art of Teaching Podcast

How To Be More Productive with David Allen – Simon Severino

How to Get the Right Things Done – Nexum Podcast

At Your Best by Carey Nieuwhof

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Insights From David

1. Your head is a crappy office, so externalize small things so you don’t have to keep information floating in your brain

Our brains are not wired to create, remember, remind, prioritize, and manage relationships between more than four things. Anything more and the quality of what we do will start to suffer. Everything from work to spending time with your kids.

To combat that, externalize what’s in your brain so it’s not taking your attention until you’re ready to handle it. David states, “if you don’t give appropriate attention to anything that has your attention, it’ll take more of your attention than it deserves.” Clearing your mind of the ambient anxiety, the sense that there’s stuff out there that you need to handle or remember, helps you access intuitive intelligence.

2. 5 steps to getting things done

David shares the outline of the 5 steps to get (the right) things done. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Capture – identify the stuff that’s got your attention that needs action
  • Clarify – what are you going to do about the things that have your attention? What is the next step to reach the outcome you desire?
  • Organize – track your reminders outside of your brain (meaning in a calendar or on a note)
  • Reflect – look at and analyze your reminders so you know what your goals are
  • Engage – put your attention and your activity onto your goals

Listen to the podcast to hear more from David about how to put these steps into action in a way that helps you accomplish what you need to.

3. “Done” doesn’t have to mean complete

According to David, “done” means, “I’ve got this off my mind because we’ve made the appropriate decisions, and I’m now appropriately engaged with all the parties involved.” Done doesn’t mean that there are no more steps to take for a project or task. It means deciding what the next step is and knowing what needs to happen next to move your project towards the finish line.

To help with this, David recommends also doing some sort of regular review of your tasks and projects so you know what’s coming up: “You’ll feel so much better and make better decisions. Your priorities will be much clearer to you and you’ll be nicer to your kids.”

Quotes from Episode 441

Your brain is good at having ideas, not holding ideas. @gtdguy Click To Tweet Empty your head and let it rest. @gtdguy Click To Tweet The keys to getting things done is, ‘What does done mean?’ And, ‘What does doing look like?’ @gtdguy Click To Tweet It's not about being busier. It's about creating room. And you don't need time, you need room. @gtdguy Click To Tweet When you're fully engaged in something, time just kind of disappears. Click To Tweet Your brain did not evolve to remember, remind, prioritize, or manage relationships between more than four things. @gtdguy Click To Tweet Your head's essentially for having ideas, and it's a terrible place for holding on to them. @gtdguy Click To Tweet Those five steps of capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage is how you get anything under control that may not be on cruise control yet. @gtdguy Click To Tweet Multitasking is no-tasking. Click To Tweet

Read or Download the Transcript for Episode 441

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Read or download a free PDF transcript of this episode here.

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Next Episode: Andy Stanley

Andy Stanley flips the mic this time on the podcast as he and Carey discuss productivity secrets, what happens to leaders under stress, and what you can do to stop other people from hijacking your priorities. Plus, Andy shares the rationale as to why leaders need to put limits in place.

Carey and Andy’s discussion springs from the launch of Carey’s new book, At Your Best: How to Get Time, Energy, and Priorities Working in Your Favor, which you can learn more about at

Subscribe for free now so you won’t miss Episode 442.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.