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.

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

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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]


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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27 Replies to “David Allen — The Art of Getting Things Done (GTD) (#384)”

  1. Awesome, one of my favorite books of all time. Still go back to this one to get my life in order or to de-clutter my brain! Will check it out.

  2. Really well done Tim, having been a huge fan of David’s work it was wonderful to hear more about him as a person and his motivations/background.

  3. Great interview. With David’s voice and delivery saying “well Tim” it sounded very much like Wilson from Home Improvement. 🙂

  4. I got Davids Book 5 years ago and started reading it again this week and what appears- This great interview. Thanks .

  5. Thank you David for your great job. I learnt that we have the power to do great things but we must learn to master the tools. [Moderator: additional text and link removed.]

  6. Your quote from this week was the same I received from A Network For Gratefullness. You attributed it to Helen Schuechman. They said Rumi wrote it. Who’s correct?

    1. Thanks for the question. The quote is from “A Course in Miracles” (1976) by Helen Schucman, Ch. 16, The Forgiveness of Illusions, p. 338, #6.


  7. Hey, you should talk with Dr. Frank Lipman on your podcast. He’s a leader in good medicine and wrote an article titled 18 Biggest Problems of Modern Medicine. I get the feeling he has a background in engineering.

  8. As a long-time GTD believer and part-time user, I appreciate Tim’s deep and personal dive (as I have so many previous podcasts). While some of GTD’s more “corporate” clients may feel differently, after hearing about David’s “alternative” journey and belief systems, I have a whole new appreciation of David as well as the power and potential of GTD. Thank-you both.

  9. I’ve listened to a number of David Allen’s talks. Tim’s interview was BY FAR the best insight I’ve heard about David and his thoughts/life/experiences. Tim dove deep into David’s personal life, and David (to his credit) went with the ride- about David walking out on his wife, not pursuing great financial wealth, etc., etc., etc. During the last part of the interview about his personal/spiritual journey, David sounded a bit uncomfortable but was still willing to answer Tim’s questions. It was one of the most surprising, and wonderful, interviews I’ve heard in a long time. I’m guessing that David might have felt a bit shell shocked after the interview. But, with hindsight, I think that David should feel proud of it. He seemed to answer each question with candor. And Tim’s questions were delivered with honest curiosity. Well done to both of you!

  10. great interview! GTD changed my life some years ago! Also it was fascinating to hear about David’s experience in Zurich 🙂 I live close to the gymnasium and the places he mentioned are definitely some of my favourite ones!

    Big greetings and hugs from Zurich!

  11. And the best news is, the book is still reasonably priced, at least in the UK. And I’ve ordered it, too. Looking forward to it.

  12. Great interview Tim, and thank you for the paths you welcomed walking down, David.

    I love how the conversation went back to High School, and David’s first loves, to harken back to the beginning of the journey. And all the fascinating aspects of David’s path that opened up along the way. The question “what do you wish people would pay more attention to?” was elegant…

  13. Tim, as per usual, a super well done interview. I didn’t know that you knew David previously. I’ve been to many of David’s and GTD’s events, including the first GTD Summit in SFO in 2009. All amazing. You two have a lot of common interests. Feel free to email me if you would like me to share some of my GTD practices and tools, including the inevitable obstacles than can arrive whilst thus engaging.

  14. Great Interview Tim, thank you! I did not know GTD at all. Now after listening to the Audiobook i’m thrilled. I feel my productivity rising 🙂

    Best regards from Switzerland


  15. I love this guy! Had never heard of him before. What a breath of fresh air. Nothing to sell, no ax to grind. “Do it or not, I don’t care”. Really enjoyed listening to him. Thanks again Tim.

  16. I definitely need to check this GTG book as I am also having hard time managing my time. Glad that I have found this blog.

  17. This was really disappointing. Allen’s mic quality was poor, and he kept trying to crack little jokes. I could really sense Ferriss was trying hard to keep him on track. I shut it off eventually and switched to music.