BiggerPockets Podcast 117 with David Allen Transcript

Link to show: BP Podcast 117: Maximizing Productivity to Get Things Done with David Allen

Josh: This is the BiggerPockets Podcast. Show 117.

They way you get things done is define what done means, and what doing looks like and where it happens.

You’re listening to BiggerPockets Radio, simplifying real estate for investors, large and small. If you’re here looking to learn about real estate investing without all the hype, you’re in the right place.

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Josh: What’s going on everybody!? This is Josh Dorkin, host of the BiggerPockets podcast here with my cohost Brandon Turner. What’s up B?

Brandon: Hey what’s up J? How you doing?

Josh: Oh man! I’m good, I’m good. It’s a beautifully snowy winter day here in Denver and we’ve got a really kind of a cool and unique show planned today.

Brandon: We do yeah! Today is something totally different than people have heard before here on the show. We’re actually talking to somebody who is not a real estate investor, but he’s got some… Nor are they in the real estate business…

Brandon: Period.

Josh: At all.

Brandon: Yeah. Period. But he is also one of the most successful business authors in American history, at least in terms…

Josh: The guy is amazing. He’s cool. He’s funny. He’s smart. Did I say he’s smart? He’s really smart.

Brandon: Very smart.

Josh: I mean I’m talking about some kind of cognitive science and all sorts of stuff that’s fascinating. We’re going to get into that in a second. Before we do, we’ve got today’s…

Brandon and Josh: Quick tip!

Brandon: All right this week’s quick tip is… stay tuned! The new podcast from BiggerPockets is coming very soon! Hopefully next week or two. So we talked about it a few weeks ago, and it is still coming, I’m just putting the final touches on it. So stay tuned for that, you’re going to like it. And with that, let’s get to today’s sponsor.

All right, this episode was brought to you by Realty shares is a real estate crowd-funding platform that allows accredited investors to invest in pre-vetted real estate deals online. So investors can browse and invest in both residential and commercial properties that yield returns of eight to 16% annually. As a realty shares member, you can also passively invest in professionally managed real estate investments in a variety of asset-types and geographies for as little as $5,000, all from the convenience of your living room! To learn more and to get started with a free account, visit That’s

Josh: All right guys, so listen, today’s guest is David Allen. He’s the author of Getting Things Done. This book is phenomenal! The GTD (Getting Things Done) system is one that really can help you manage your life, manage your business, manage pretty much anything and everything in your existence. It’s phenomenal. We’re honored to have David as a guest, and unfortunately the show is not as long as we’d like it to be, so listen up, it’s going to be quick, but there’s going to be a whole lot of stuff and we definitely encourage you to get out there and check out his book afterwards. I’m going to pass it off to Brandon here.

Brandon: Yeah, one of the things that I did not get to ask him on the show, and I really wanted to, and we were just short on time, but was “why should somebody get into Getting Things Done?” Instead of asking him, I just…

Josh: Let me, you know let me ask the question. I mean, Brandon! You’re somebody who uses Getting Things Done. How has it changed your life? How is it affecting you?

Brandon: All right, so in order to answer this question I’m going to read straight out of Getting Things Done, the first paragraph of the book and here’s what it says.

“Welcome to a goldmine of insights and to strategies for how to have more energy, be more relaxed and get a lot more accomplished with much less effort. If you’re like me, you like getting things done, and doing them well, and yet you also want to savor life in ways that seem increasingly elusive, if not down-right impossible if you’re working too hard. This doesn’t have to be an either, or proposition. It is possible to be effectively doing while you are delightfully being in your ordinary worker day world.”

I love that! That’s why Getting Things Done. Get more done, be more happy, less stress, more productive. All those awesome things because of Getting Things Done. And it definitely has happened in my life in the last few years since I read GTD originally. Great stuff, you guys are going to love this.

Josh: And this has been recommended by a bunch of our guests on the podcast. And really this is a skill where it doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, whether you’re an investor or an agent or even if you’re not even in the business, or you know, in any business, you know. This system can really really help you manage your life.

Brandon: And get things done!

Josh: And get things done, yeah yeah! Well, with that, why don’t we bring on our honored and distinguished guest, Mr. David Allen. So, David! Welcome to the show! It’s good to have you here!

David: Yeah! Delighted to be here, guys. Yeah.

Josh: Great, great. So David Allen, you wrote the Getting Things Done, the book, Getting Things Done, which was one of the best business books I’ve ever read. I’ve talked about it numerous times. We’ve actually had numerous people on this show recommend the book, over and over and over. And this thing came out what, 14 or 15 years ago? Something like that?

David: ’01, yeah.

Josh: I mean, it originally was published awhile ago, but it has this staying power that by that point, I want to get into today. Maybe before we do, we can kind of ask you, what’s your story? Where are you from? How did you get to where you are today?

David: Well I grew up in Louisiana. Went to school in Florida. Got into grad school in Berkeley. So I was in Berkeley ’68. Heady time to be there. Figured that ultimately instead of studying, people were enlightened by going on their own. So I hopped off, and went and explored God, truth and the universe, for lots of years doing all kinds of things. Got into the martial arts, wound up helping a lot of friends of mine start businesses. They had the vision, and I was the number two guy.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up, so I walked in and sort of helped them streamline, and become more effective about what they were doing and discovering some common denominators amongst the entrepreneurs and small business owners that could be improved, and then one day I just hung out in my own shingle, because I realized they actually paid people to do stuff like that. They call them consultants, and now I are one.

Then in 1981, okay, crossed my fingers and said, well how far from bankruptcy can I be, and when you work for yourself, that’s always the equation. Never been bankrupt, so. It’s been a good ride since then! Of course, I got very hungry to find out what are some great models, because I was just showing up and winging it. There have got to be some models to explore. I’ve always loved models. Without having to transform yourself as a human being, what if I operate this way, what if I think this way, do I produce a different result?

Long story, short, discovered some really powerful techniques for myself first, because I needed them. They always say teach what you need to learn the most. Well I was the most out of control unfocused guy you ever met. I needed all the help I could get, and what I wanted was to sort of improve my financial and professional circumstances, so I looked for those kinds of things. I had some great mentors and began to cobble together what then ultimately, 25 years later became GTD or Getting Things Done. I didn’t start 25 years later, it was really 25 years of putting one foot in front of the other and utilizing various different components of what was to then become a whole system for people to utilize. It always worked! Without fail. Anybody who sat down and got stuff out of their head decided sooner than later what it meant. Organized their results into effective categories. Stepped back and looked at the whole game, always had a greater sense of control and focus.

And those are the two elements of self-management. I need to have things under control to have stability and traction, and I need to be pointed in the right direction. It wasn’t rocket science in a way, but most people aren’t born actually doing those behaviors. You know, those are actually learned behaviors that you actually have to invest cognitive horsepower to actually do. They’re not a natural, or automatic thing that your brain actually does. So you have to train yourself to do it. So I just discovered what that was. I didn’t wake up one morning with a whole model. It was a long string of epiphenettes, and then I cobbled together. At a certain point, I realized, it took me 25 years to figure out that I had figured out something unique, nobody else had done it and that it was totally bulletproof. So I wrote the manual!

Josh: That’s great! And you even came up with your own word – epiphenette.

David: That’s kind of what it is. They’re tiny little a-has!

Brandon: I like it!

Josh: That’s great, I mean yeah, nothing brilliant happens over night. At least I believe in that. I mean, you know things like what you’ve created are the product of your experiences, right? You’re not just going to suddenly wake up and be a genius, you know? There’s something that kind of comes together and creates, you know these experiences that lead to the system and it’s really cool to hear. I mean, you bounce around. I was looking at your bio, and I mean the jobs you’ve held – moped salesman, magician? Fascinating!

David: Yeah! That was age 5! That was my first career. Look, I was Mr. Lazy! I was always fascinated by how can you utilize the power of something that’s invisible to actually make your visible stuff work. So that’s why I was attracted to find out, “Man, if I could just think about something and have it move, that would be really cool.” I never should have given up that game. I just got more and better sophisticated ways to sort of carry that, or ride that Trojan horse in.

Josh: That’s funny. I actually, I did a whole magic show for my whole family back when I was five or six years old. I made a table out of cardboard, you know it had little holes in. That was pretty cool. All right, moving on. So a lot of our audience are real estate investors, or entrepreneurs who are trying to build a real estate business. Whether that’s flipping, whether they want to be a landlord, want to buy a rental property whatever. But as such, those people are working two jobs at once, so to speak. They have their day job where they are stock brokers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, whatever and they’re trying to start these side businesses. So you know, before we actually get into the specifics of what Getting Things Done actually is, maybe can you talk to, do you have any good advice for people that are in that kind of state, like where they’re trying to do, trying to wear so many different hats at one time.

David: Define all the hats first. You need to make sure that you know the templates, and I use that as a plural, of all the different areas of focus and accountability that you need to manage or maintain at some level. Personally for instance, your finances, your health, your relationships, your fun, your creativity, your own career development. You know those are things you don’t finish, those are things that tend to be the areas that you need to make sure that you’re watching, so that things stay healthy and in balance in terms of the enterprise. The same is true of both your current work. You better define what those hats are, because if you’re going to leave it, you better leave it in good shape. So you better know, what are you held accountable to be doing well?

And then for your own business, you better define what those hats are? What do you need to make sure you do well, so that that enterprise starts to get off in a healthy, balanced way? Staff development, finances, admin, or whatever and you’re going to where all of those hats to begin with, but it’s a good idea to define what they are. Because when you’re wearing your finance hat, that’s very different than when you’re wearing your party/PR hat. You have to shift gears very fast. Orientation tools, and you know entrepreneurs and small entrepreneurs and start-ups, they need that as much as, I mean everybody needs it, but those are the biggest pain points, when you’re in a transition and you’re trying to do start-up stuff, you need to be able to keep your orientation map. It’s kind of like you need to start out in a boat you haven’t been in before. You better go down and grab all the maps down in the map room and get them up there and have the ones that you need to see when you need to see them, and when you hit something you better pull the right map out and say “What did I just hit? And where do I need to be?” Keeping yourself oriented, that’s going to be the biggest challenge.

Josh: Hey David, so you know, to me it seems like, you know we talk to a lot of these real estate investors, you know on our show, you see them on our website. One of the things that I seem to notice with them, and I think you probably can say whether or not this happens across the board with everybody in most businesses, but it seems like people don’t put everything down, right? And that’s kind of the basis of what you’re talking about. You know, get your life in order by putting your life on paper, essentially. You know, put it down. Plan it. Map it. Don’t keep anything in your brain. Don’t run your business and your financial life and your other lives in your head. Run them on a sheet of paper and make sure that you can kind of have something that you could go back to and refer to and glance at, and that will keep you kind of as you said, orientated?

David: Well, the cognitive scientists now, in the last 20 years, have basically validated this whole methodology, call it the “external brain.” It’s like putting your keys in the same place so your brain doesn’t have to keep track of where your keys are. That’s building an external brain. Letting life be able to remind you at the right time, as opposed to your head! Your head is a crappy office. It is! You’ll be driven by the latest and loudest and I’ve never seen an exception to that.

Josh: Interesting, interesting.

Brandon: You know one of the things that stood out to me when I read Getting Things Done originally back probably six years ago now, or whatever, the kind of like, best, I don’t know, in my mind, summary of what I learned was you mentioned in the book, I think it was somewhere in there, and I’m going to do a terrible job of paraphrasing this, but you said something like you’re trying to make your brain remember to get milk when you’re actually at the store in front of the milk.

That’s something that just eats up so much of that brain power continually, right? By taking that part out and letting that external brain be able to manage that part for you, and when I read that I thought, that makes so much sense! That’s why I get so stressed, that’s why I’m. I don’t know I used to joke like my mind was like a small glass of water, right? You put a little bit of something in there, and something else will come out, because I can only take so much. Is that kind of the essential of GTD for you, or maybe you could just summarize, what is Getting Things Done for people?

David: Well, I mean you said it really well. I mean, there are more subtle and sublime components of it as well. The way you get things done is define what done means and what doing looks like and where it happens. Those, by the way, that’s a mouthful. What is done? Especially if you’re trying to get into the real estate business, what does done mean? What is that new property? Well done means what? You get to mark this as done when what means true? When the apartment complex is on cruise control? When will you know that? When you’re trying to sell a house? When is this done? When you truly sell it or when you get to the point where you decide to sell it, or keep it? And these are subtle things, but again, keeping track of what you’re work is can be more subtle than it might seem obvious.

But you’re right, it truly is those kinds of things, you just need to build an external brain. But what’s in that brain in terms of the content, that’s another story. You need to make sure that you have a map, that you have a good map with all the data on it. Like a project list. A list of all of those more than one step things that you’re committed to finish or complete within the next year. Very few people have that map and it’s the most important one to have if you’re going to keep some sort of operational control in your life. So, easily said, keep this stuff out of your head, but it’s a life long lifestyle process in terms of how do you manage the flow of life’s work, which is really what GTD is about. Building an ecosystem, if you will, that manages no matter what happens, and no matter what surprise or change happens, you have an ankle tether on your surfboard.

Josh: How do you define that? You know so, I’m looking at you know buying you know some 16-unit apartment building and how would I go ahead as a listener, right? And define, you know what is done on that project going to be for me? Is it like you said, is it getting renters and having a manager and having it be stable? Is it the end all be all 30 years later, is that done, when I’ve gotten rid of it? Do I need to really set my goals and say hey, this is what completion means on any of these things, and these are the alternatives to completion and kind of keep coming back to those alternatives until something is truly, truly done.

David: A very simple distinction that helps a lot is “Are you sure that you’re going to sell it? Are you sure that you’re going to set it up?” You always need to give yourself a game you can win. And if you’re not sure, because there’s still more data, there’s still more things to explore, there’s still more possibilities that may show up that may make it not something that happens, then I have a shorthand called R&D, research and development. That’s my shorthand for “look into,” so I’m looking into the possibility of this relationship and then once I get to some place called, I’ve got closure on this called there’s no way on god’s green earth this is worth the money, I quit, I get to mark that off as a successfully done project, because I didn’t make the project to buy it.

The project was to get to the point to make a go or a no-go situation. A lot of people don’t make that subtle distinction. You won’t call it a project unless you say “it’s going to happen.” Like, I’ve got all kinds of projects and I don’t know if they’re going to happen or not, but I still need to define for myself what am I committed to finish or complete or get to as an end game? It’s terrible to play. Go play soccer without a goal. And I know people can just go kick the ball around, but it’s no fun really, unless you’ve got a goal down there. All you need is a goal, and the next play.

So, project, and then the next action. That’s really all that the game is about. I say, all the game is about, but almost nobody makes those decisions when things first show up in their world. They make it when things first blow up in their world. So most people are waiting to make those kinds of distinctions when the heat or pressure forces you to. That decision comes from the limbic, or reptilian part of your brain instead of the executive part. So you aren’t going to be that smart if you don’t make these decisions at the front.

Josh: Well, let’s get into the five steps of the GTD system. I believe the first is capture? Am I correct?

David: Yeah, you need to identify what’s not on cruise control. In other words, what’s got my attention right now? Oh, bank, credit line, oh we’ve got to buy a dog, or we’re looking into buying a dog for the kids. Whatever’s not on cruise control you need to capture, collect or identify. That’s the first step. Just grab it from out of your head and around your environment and get a dump list, basically. So you create, do a mind sweep, as we call it. Get your head emptied to begin with.

Josh: Are you talking about physically, take out a piece of paper and do that? Or is this more technological in nature?

David: No, do that! I mean look around. There’s, whatever’s on your desk or around your environment. If you guys look around your environment right now, well what doesn’t belong there permanently? Anything that’s not supply or reference materials?

Josh: Me!

David: Haha! Yeah. That’s what’s in process. So, identify what’s in process, so Josh if it’s just you, it’s called fulfilled destiny as human spirit on the planet. You’ve got a project, and you’ve got something incomplete there, understood, you know? Actually when we coach people desk side with this stuff, that’s the first thing that we do is look around your environment and say, what does that tell us, that’s not on cruise control. Something’s in process, something’s incomplete, something’s in motion. Some pieces of paper would represent that. Flashlights with dead batteries in them. Post-it’s stuck on your screens. You know, all of that.

There’s nothing wrong with that, those are just place holders for stuff that you need to decide or do something about, right? We just gather all the physical triggers for that, the icons for that to begin with and then get what else that is in your head that is not in the pile, because we put all of that stuff back into your in basket. First of all, we get you an in basket. It’s amazing how many people don’t have one, and actually you all will have an in basket. If you don’t have a physical one, then your life is your in basket, so you just need to make it smaller.

Brandon: When I first did GTD, Getting Things Done. I made that list, that brain jump and I spent a good two hours on it probably and I think I had like 300 things written down on that list. I mean, it was multiple pages of just stuff that was in here. I can’t tell you the sense of relief when it’s all on paper. I mean it wasn’t organized yet, but just getting it out of my head and knowing that I was working on that, it was both overwhelming and amazing.

David: It creates a combination of grief and relief.

Josh: Catharsis.

David: Yeah, well what you’re looking at is a lot of agreements with yourself untapped, and that’s what pisses you off and creates frustration and stress, is not keeping agreements with yourself. But then the reason you get relief right away is that you get it out of your head and you go, “Hmm, that’s okay that I’m not doing that,” you just renegotiated that agreement. Now it’s no longer a broken agreement.

But in your head, your head has no sense of past or future, that’s why it thinks that you should have been doing all of those all the time until you got it out of your head, just a strange way that part of this work. So you’re actually just a mechanical process. But you’re right, what you can’t do is sit there and try to organize or prioritize to begin with. You won’t have the freedom to get it all out. And by the way Brandon, that’s a typical amount. Usually it takes about one to six hours to get all that inventory, and 300 that’s on the smaller side.

Josh: You’re a small man Brandon.

Brandon: I’m a giant man! I just have a small brain, different.

David: And you probably didn’t open every drawer and every closet.

Brandon: Probably not.

Josh: He’s got some sealed closets.

Brandon: I’m working on that.

Josh: What’s the next step? Clarify, yeah?

David: Now that you’ve got all of that stuff out of your head, if I were to coach you desk side you would have written not one list, you would have written each one of those items on a separate piece of paper, so that they’d all be separate particles now, sitting in your in-tray, because then we’re going to deal with them one at a time.

And it comes out, and it does not go back into your in-tray, and we’re going to get your in-tray empty. Because now we’re going to put that process through the drill of each one of those items you need to now to start to clarify and make some executive decisions about it. If you wrote down mom, or bank, or doctor, that’s usually a to do list looks like, all right, gee, mom, you probably have one. Why did you write it down? Oh! It’s her birthday coming up. What are you going to do? Oh I don't know.

Most people feel crappy about their list because they’re still being reminded of decisions and thinking that have not been finished yet about what you need to do, so that’s why you need to move this to the next stage, otherwise you just become a compulsive list maker and this stuff still doesn’t get out of your head. You have to identify the stuff and then put it into the process and grind it through.

Brandon: Is this when the next actionable step comes into play?

David: Correct. First thing is, is it an actionable item? Yes or no. And if not, you get a lot of non-actionable stuff coming into your email or otherwise, then you toss it, tickle it or file it for reference. Those are what you do with those. But the actionable stuff, that’s where the key question is, okay, what’s the very next action on this, and if that one action won’t finish whatever this is about, what’s the project? So those become the really critical zeros and ones. The thought process is outcome and action.

Okay, what’s the outcome you’re committed too? If more than one step is needed, and that’s where, “oh, I need to repair this watch.” Great! You’ve got a project! What’s the next step? “Oh, I have to take it to the jeweler.” Great! Now you’ve got an errand. And that’s about how long it takes once you get good at this to make these decisions, but those decisions don’t show up by themselves.

Brandon: You know when I read the book if I had to pick one of the most influential parts of Getting Things Done, I mean hands down it was the idea of the next action step. I don’t know why nobody explained to me that, growing up, why that was not like a thing taught in high school. But when that got in brain and I understood it, my world exploded, because everything I do now, and Josh can testify to this, right? Like I say that all the time, “ok well what’s the next…”

Josh: He’s very annoying.

Brandon: What is the next…

David: I know it, but it’s a pain in the butt.

Brandon: I know it is right! Because otherwise, okay, well what’s your goal in life. I want to flip a house, that’s what people say well “I want to flip a house.” Okay, what is the next actionable step to do that? Well, I’m going to flip a house. No, that is not an actionable next step. What is the next actionable step? It might be picking up a book to go read it. It might be getting in your car and driving around. Maybe you could get more specific than that, it might be to go get your keys to get in your car to go drive around, I don’t know how detailed you think people should get. But that concept, I mean, one of the most influential things of my life. I’ll publically say things like that.

David: Me too! And I didn’t make that up. I was trained by a mentor of mine who taught me that, who had uncovered that technique working with executives, they were so frustrating that they’d get hung up on stuff, and he finally got frustrated with them, they wouldn’t decide about something, and he just started picking stuff up and he would say what’s the very next action on this? And he watched magic happen. He built that into a whole process, part of a process of organizational change, but when I worked with Dean, and I credit him in the book, you know that was such a powerful thing to learn. I wasn’t, we’re not born doing it.

Josh: Makes sense, makes sense. Well, from there, we’ve got the next actionable step. You know we’ve got this big fat list of all these things, and we’ve got the next actionable step, but we’ve got all this other junk too, now what do we need to do?

David: Once you’ve made the decision about what stuff means, you just park it where those things go. If it’s for reference, you put it where reference is. If it’s trash, you trash it. If it’s stuff that I can’t decide yet, I’ll decide in two weeks, you need to park it some place and in two weeks you’ll see it. Now if it’s an action step… First of all, if you can take the action step in two minutes or less, do it right then, instead of organizing. That’s the two-minute rule.

Brandon: I love that.

Josh: Yeah that’s great.

David: That’s worth it’s weight in gold. If people listening to this and that’s the only thing you get out of this, if you haven’t built a tablet already, it’s worth listening to me for 10 hours. No, I mean, come one, it will add an extra six months to your life, for the two-minute rule.

Now if it takes longer than two minutes to do it, then you need to ask yourself, can I give this to somebody else to do, and that’s to delegate stuff. But if you can, ideally do it right then, and then what you need to then organize is something on a list called “Waiting For,” or what am I waiting on to come back for something I’ve delegated. And then you’ll need to organize that reminder and trigger. But if it’s something that takes longer than two-minutes and you have to do the action, that’s what you then need to organize into some reminder of lists of actions you need to take. Phone calls you need to make, errands you need to run, stuff to talk to your life partner about, stuff to talk to your banker about, things you need to buy at the hardware store, stuff you need to do at your computer.

And that’s then, you know most people have over 150 of those next actions. Getting those organized in some coherent place so you see them when you need to see them, and back to your point Josh, so I don’t have to think of the milk, when I’m right where the milk is.

Josh: That was Brandon.

David: Oh, Brandon sorry.

Josh: That’s okay.

David: One of you guys. You need to park that stuff out there, so that then becomes a lot of the major content of your external brain, and then those become, for the most part just lists, but you can keep stuff in a folder, you can keep stuff in a digital list, you can keep it in a paper-based planner, any of that works, as long as you’ve already got all the right content. As well as a list of all the projects that are driving many of those actions. So that’s the organize piece, is just parking those things where they belong. It’s not rocket science, it’s like “duh!” I don’t want to have to keep rethinking about what to do or I’ve decided that, I just need to pick up a list and use that as an orientation map about what to do.

Josh: I think Brandon was the one who brought this to me at some point. The two-minute rule, he took and he’s like “Josh, you know what, I’m going to start applying this to food.” And we talked about, this was a couple of years ago. And ever since he told me about that, I started applying it. It’s amazing, because you go to a restaurant, you sit there, you’ve got a menu of all these items and you literally sit and perseverate about it and say “What am I going to do?” You could look at a menu for 20 minutes. Pick something, decide, and do it. I mean, that two-minute thing is so powerful. And you apply it to every other part of your life, and it’s amazing.

David: Actually one of the reasons that it’s so amazing is that it actually starts to implicitly train you to think what’s the next action. It actually starts to put you in the driver’s seat, and give you training in the executive thinking function. So there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Brandon: Love it.

Josh: Well we covered, capture, clarify and organize. Fourth we’ve got, I think reflect, is that right?

David: Yeah, well even if you’ve got everything out of your head, and decided all the stuff you need to do about it, parked it in the right places, if you don’t look at it will all crawl back up in your head anyway!

The paradox is you actually have to use your mind, to shut your mind up. In other words, you actually have to look at this stuff and say “Okay, that will wait, that will wait, oh that won’t,” and then in order to be able to have your mind be quieted about all the stuff you’re not doing, you better keep reviewing everything you’re not doing on some consistent enough basis to feel okay about what you are doing and what you’re not doing. And that doesn’t happen by itself. You actually have to then engage in a reflection process, in a review process. I need to step back and take a look at the bigger picture. Let me all the 16 phone calls I need to make, instead of being driven just by the one I remember to make.

Brandon: One of the things you talk about is that stress is caused when you don’t trust the system, that you don’t trust what you’ve set up. So you can get through the first three steps of here, but if you don’t trust it and have a system for reflecting on that, then your just going to be just as stressed, because then your brain is constantly worried about not accomplishing those things.

David: Sure, well you need to see the inventory of what’s in there and you need to keep that inventory current. That’s why as you guys know, the core key success factor for getting in control and focused is the weekly review. For the most people listening to this, that’s probably the thing they’re doing the least, and the thing they need to do the most if they’re going to surf on top of this confusing, ever-changing, surprising world that they’re trying to create. That means that once a week, you better close the door, and for two hours pull up your rear guard. Sit down and get your list current. Clarify what’s shown up in the last little while. Get your head empty again, get all of the stuff current. I mean, life happens much to fast for all of us to stay totally pristine and clean all the time, but you better not let it go too long. I don’t take a shower 24 hours a day, but I don’t let it go longer than a day.

Brandon: Yeah, every Sunday night is my weekly review. I do it every Sunday and it totally makes my entire week, and everything in my life easier. That Sunday night review is just fantastic. I love it.

David: I mean, yeah! Good for you!

Josh: It requires, it’s a commitment. I think a lot of people are going to stop and say “Hey I really need to be committed. I have to got to sit for like an hour and go through everything I did?” Does it work?

David: Yeah! Does it work not to?

Josh: No!

Brandon: Of course not!

David: I mean, nothing’s free dude. It’s a lot cheaper than you think. It will be the best hour or two hours you spend that week.

Brandon: I agree!

Josh: I agree, I agree.

David: Anybody got favorite sports teams out there?

Brandon: The Seahawks. Mets.

Josh: So I’ve got the Knicks, I’ve got the Mets. They all suck.

David: I don’t care whether they suck or they’re winners, how much of their work week do you think they spend planning for their work?

Brandon: Oh! Good point.

Josh: That is a good point.

David: So if you spent seven hours of your day reviewing and reflecting, that last hour is going to be hot!

Brandon: Yeah, I love that.

David: And if you don’t spend anytime, you’re going to fumble around and be driven by the latest and loudest. You decide.

Brandon: I love it.

Josh: A lot of us just kind of go through the day based on our inbox, and that’s a bitch.

David: I mean, that we all can do that too. The idea is that we don’t want to be too anal about this, but the smaller your back log of unprocessed stuff, the more that you can take surprise interruptions, not as interruptions, but as new input. But if you’ve got 3,000 unprocessed emails, anything is going to feel like a bitch that lands in your world. If it’s clean, you know my inbox, every 24 to 48 hours is pretty much zeroed out, all over. Which means that when new stuff comes in I’m not disturbed by that, disturbing my world, I can evaluate it against all the other stuff that I’ve got to do and make smarter decisions about whether to do it or to place hold it. So, keeping your backlog as zeroed out as possible makes life a lot easier.

Josh: Makes sense, makes sense. Hey really quick, guys this is show 117 of the BiggerPockets podcast. Definitely get out there and check out our show notes at Let’s get to the last step, which I believe is engage, yes?

David: Yep, the last step is, okay, now where do you point your attention and your resources based upon all of that. So the best practice at the stage five is to have done the best practices of the first four stages - captured, clarified, organized and reviewed everything so that when you decide to take a nap, or have a beer or call the bank, that’s an intuitive judgment call that you trust as opposed to “I hope this is the thing to do.” That’s really where you want to get to.

Josh: So how does somebody avoid the shiny object syndrome? Wanting to suddenly, you know every time something new and exciting kind of pops into their head like jump and do that, you know, and not put that at the top of the list?

David: Do all this stuff and then snack on email as fun.

Brandon: Hmm. I like it.

Josh: I don’t ever feel…

David: Don’t stop! There’s nothing wrong with, come on! That’s how I created my life was banging around following bright baubles. I just needed to make sure I did enough of the basic stuff so that, you know it’s kind of hard to make the distinction between following a bright bauble that’s a good intuitive hit, versus following a bright bauble as a way to avoid something else I should be doing. How well do you know yourself?

Josh: That makes sense. That makes sense. And we have that all the time at our company. I mean Brandon and I everyday come up with like 25 new ideas

Brandon: Yeah!

Josh: And we then immediately go through them and say, “Oh you know what, we’ve got a later list, we’ve got a possible list and we’ve got all these things that we throw them in there, and you know you get to them or you don’t but they’re out of your head and you’re done.

David: You know you’re most creative when you have the space to make a mess. The problem is, if you’re in a mess, you can’t make one! That’s why, when I’m not doing anything else, I’m cleaning up, because I’m getting ready for the next surprise that I can’t see and I want to have the freedom to make a mess when it shows up and deal with whatever I need to deal with in that way.

Brandon: I love it, I love it.

Josh: Yeah! It’s great.

Brandon: Now, before we wrap up, my last kind of question is, for all the things we talked about today, what would you say is probably the most important that people should leave this conversation with? What do you want people to know if you could just sum everything up?

David: That a revised version of GTD brought up to 2015 is launching March 17 in the US.

Brandon: Really?! Awesome!

David: That’s what they should know.

Brandon: Nice plug!

David: Yeah! And basically, you know, all it’s going to do, is you’re going to hear the Greek chorus, “Your head is for having ideas, not for holding them.”

Brandon: I love it. And that’s about the time that this is coming out, this podcast, so that’s good timing! Cool! Good deal.

Josh: To the World Famous?

Brandon: All right, moving on to the world famous…

Famous four!

Brandon: So these questions we ask every guest, and we tweaked them a little bit for you, the first question. Normally we ask, what are your favorite real estate books, but since you’re not, I don’t think anyway, you’re not a real estate investor right?

David: No.

Brandon: So I tweaked it a little bit.

Josh: You should be, by the way! I mean this is the BiggerPockets podcast, you might pick up a thing or two.

Brandon: But we’re going to tweak this a little bit to go, I’m going to say, what is your favorite business or productivity book besides your own? Do you have any book recommendations you would like people to read?

David: I have two brand new ones, because they’re hot on my mind and they have a lot to do with what we’ve been talking about. They’re both aggregations of cognitive science research that have shown up, and they’re both great manuals for your brain and how it works and how it doesn’t work. The first one is called The Organized Mind, by Dan Levitin.

The second one is called Brain Chains, two words, chains as in chains around your brain that are keeping you from being optimally productive. And that’s by Theo Compernolle. They are fabulous! They are going to get you to say, “Oh! External brain, no kidding.” There’s a gazillion books I could have picked but those are hot right now on my brain and I’m recommending them to anybody who has ears to hear. You can get them both on Amazon and all those kinds of places.

Josh: And we’ll link to both of those in our show notes.

Brandon: Which of course you can get at

Josh: What about hobbies? What do you do for fun?

David: I do ikebana flower arranging. And what I most like to do for fun is walk with my wonderful wife Katherine and my gorgeous little Cavalier King Charles spaniel around Amsterdam doing nothing. And just enjoying the charm of the magical city. You know, good food and wine. We’re foodies, I love that stuff. And yeah, those are it.

Brandon: Cool!

Josh: That’s great. And really quick, why did you end up relocating to Amsterdam?

David: We fell in love with the city. It’s the San Francisco of Europe. It’s kind of edgy and it’s really fun and just intuition. And we needed, wanted kind of a lifestyle change, and get out of US intensity in terms of our perspectives. So, somewhere in Europe, it could have been pretty much anywhere, but we’d been to the city two or three times and absolutely loved it, so we’re still loving it. We’ve been here 10 months and we’re still loving it. It’s a fabulous place.

Brandon: Very cool! So what do you believe sets apart successful people whether it’s entrepreneurs, investors, business owners from those who give up, fail, or can never seem to get started?

David: People who relax and go inside to listen to the still, small voice of who they really are and do the best they can to keep listening to that and paying attention to it.

Brandon: I like it. That’s great.

Josh: Yeah. Yeah.

Brandon: Josh, you want to end it?

Josh: Yeah! And where can people find you? I’m sure you’ve got a website, I know you’ve got the book, we plugged that, but where can they find you?


Josh: Fabulous. Fabulous. All right David, well listen, thank you so much! This has been really, really interesting. And to everybody listening, we definitely recommend you go and pick up a copy of Getting Things Done, it’s definitely a great book and there’s all sorts of really cool systems that people have, you know built – software and all sorts of stuff, just to try and help you run your life through this Getting Things Done system, and there’s different ways to do it and we recommend you guys get out and explore it. But, David, thank you so much for being on the show! We really really do appreciate it!

David: Hey Joshua and Brandon! My pleasure, it was fun!

Brandon: All right thanks!

Josh: Take care!

All right guys, this is show 117 of the BiggerPockets podcast. Definitely make sure to check out the show notes at And alos you can find links there to iTunes where you can rate and review the show. We definitely would appreciate if you did that for us. Guys that was David Allen. I don’t know about you, but I’m about to start making lists. I’ve got lots of lists, but I’m about to make more! I just want to do it!

Brandon: Go to your brain dump! I mean that’s the next actionable step, right?

Josh: There you go!

Brandon: Go to your brain dump!

Josh: Go to your brain dump.

Brandon: It really is a, I was not just like blowing smoke, you know it really like changed my life was doing that list just like writing everything down. There’s like this peace that you get. “I’m actually taking care of this stuff.” And he explained why that is, because you’re renegotiating with yourself, and I will get these things done and here’s a system and a process to get these things done. I love it.

Josh: Well, I mean think about it. The average person is thinking about like “Hey I’ve got that doctor’s appointment. Hey it’s that person’s birthday. Hey, I’ve got 72 things that I’ve got to do. I’ve got my job, I’ve got my real estate business, how do I organize this?” You can’t just keep it all in your head. You have to get it, you really really do. This whole system is a great way to do that. Again, big thanks to Mr. Allen for coming on the show.

Brandon: Like he said, the book is now out, when this show comes out, this book is officially re-launched in America right now, the 2015 updated version, so I will be picking up a copy of that. We’re recording this beforehand, but it will be out by the time this recording is out. And I’m excited to read the new and expanded, updated version, so pick up a copy of that. We will have a link to it in the show notes, which you can get at

Josh: Yes, yes, yes. And as for you guys! The next actionable step? Go and make a list, make a brain dump and then at the top of that brain dump should say something like “Jump on BiggerPockets!” And share what you thought about this episode on the show notes at, we would love to hear what you guys thought! With that, thanks so much for listening! We definitely appreciate it, and we hope you enjoyed and we look forward to talking to you next week on the BiggerPockets podcast. I’m Josh Dorkin, signing off.

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