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Getting Things Dumb

“Getting Things Done” is a method for organizing your to-do list, this allows you to focus on actually accomplishing the tasks.  The method has some great techniques, but they may not work for everyone.  Join in as Karla and Allen discuss how their techniques apply to Movers, Shakers, Provers, and Makers. 


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Karla Nelson:  And welcome to the People Catalysts podcast, my friend Allen Fahden. 

Allen Fahden:  Good morning or afternoon or evening depending on what time zone you’re in. 

Karla Nelson:  Yeah, no kidding. So funny how technology has changed so much that we can easily reach across the world now. I was just thinking about it, the other day I had four different phone conversations, two different continents and three different time zones. Technology is definitely changing the way we work, no doubt about it. 

Allen Fahden:  I found a way to do it faster because everything goes all the way around the world. So I figure in doing that, I’ll just talk to myself and so I walk around muttering and people look at me strangely. 

Karla Nelson:  Oh that’s awesome. Well for today we’re going to be doing a review of the book, Getting Things Done, which is the art of stress free productivity. 

Allen Fahden:  And we call it, Getting Things Dumb. Not that it’s a bad book, it’s just a good book for certain people and a bad book for others. 

Karla Nelson:  Yes, absolutely. And the book was published in 2001, the author Robert Allen, he sold 1.6 million copies of this book. It’s been translated in 30 different languages and there’s actually a really big decent following for it and they call it GTD, I think is the trademark on it. And there’s even … believe it or not, I’ve been in the LinkedIn group for probably a couple of years and it’s all around this process that we’re going to get into. And the book, really the focus is, and it’s kind of repeated, is that you can reduce your stress by identifying tasks and the outcome or the next action when it’s not clear. And so in the book, he refers to these as open loops. So essentially you have to close the loops in order to reduce the stress. And this wonderful process, I know Allen, you’re going to love this to death, is it’s a four step process. 

This is the bigger picture process because there’s actually several different ones identified in the book and this process is identifying, first step, identifying the annoying or distracting task, the most annoying or distracting tasks. To me that creates stress, but anyway. Identify it as being incomplete and then the second step is you write a sentence down about what a successful outcome would be and when you consider this task completed. And then the third step is you identify the very next thing that needs to get accomplished and then the fourth step is you write a self assessment about the emotions experienced after completing the four step process. 

Allen Fahden:  Yeah, that’s my favorite part. I went through this once and I wrote down the three emotions of, I hope these are emotions, inner screaming, death wish and unconsciousness. Now again, it’s not that these are wrong or bad, but I’m a shaker and they are wrong and bad for me and I’d like to replace it with a two step process, which is identifying your most annoying distracting task and then finding somebody who loves doing what you hate and give it to them. 

Karla Nelson:  Yes, I agree with you on that, and me as a mover and we did a lot of research with movers, shakers, provers and makers specific to this book because it was actually kind of a hard to put it in a category of … for me as a mover, I honestly would not do number one because I’m going to prioritize it. I’m not going to do the most annoying thing first, no way. If not, I will delegate it if it needs to get done, if it’s annoying or distracting. And then the sentence about a successful outcome and when it’s considered done, as a mover, you know when it’s done and you won’t take it off your list when it’s done. So we have a natural innate ability to do that. So making the task more work by writing it down, to me, would be challenging. 

But the third step, identify the next step that needs to be done, now that brilliant, as a mover, you’re going to love that, but you’re going to do it for everyone else so that everybody else has a prioritized checklist and you keep the main one. And then the self assessment about the emotions experienced, movers don’t have a dog in the fight, they just want it done. So although maybe people, I mean, there is something to be said about crossing something off a list and everyone knows that you experience an emotional response to that and it feels good, I do believe. I can’t remember, there was a neurotransmitter that is put in your brain. But to me I don’t have to write about the emotion. All I have to do is cross it off the list. And if it’s not on the list, you write it on the list and cross it off. 

And then as a prover, I think a prover would like the process, but for a maker. And to ask a maker to identify the next step is probably not, probably create a little bit of stress for them because they want to be told what to do. So it was interesting looking at these four different steps and how each core nature of work is going to respond differently. And the process in the book does identify just individuals, which I think is a big misnomer that are in a lot of these business books. That you have to be all things and do all things. And so the book has a very specific workflow for task management. And I’ll talk a little bit about that later in the podcast. Just thinking about the decision tree creates stress for me. I don’t know about you Allen. 

Allen Fahden:  I want to chop down the decision tree. 

Karla Nelson:  That’s why I just love the second part of the book. The art of stress-free productivity. And again, it’s just not for everybody is what we’re saying, the book is great, there’s a reason why it’s the best seller and that’s why we go through them and read them. But I’ll tell you what, the more book reviews I do and we’ve done Allen, the more I realized that the books that I thought were great 15 years ago, I was completely missing the point that you need a team. And do the part of the … because I would just trudge through the work even if I hated it. But then what does that do longterm? I think that’s why people are everything but stress-free. They’re overworked. Overburdened. And they’re not allowing everybody on the team to lead at the time that they’re good, in their core nature of work, in their strength at that time to lead. 

And we just kind of chuck everybody into one pot and say, “This is how you can be productive.” This is the one step process. Exactly. Exactly. And so the two different parts that you see in the book over and over is first is the workflow, how you’re going to control this process. And then the second is your perspective. And I want to get in a little bit with this with you Allen, because David Allen in the book, I mean, and I’m not sure what your perspective is on it. So I’d like to go through each of the four natures of work and discuss that for our listeners. But this horizon aspect in going from the day to day, to your big picture, which is horizon five. So it goes from ground up to horizon five and it has these six different levels if you include ground. 

And I just think that that is so heady and that it’s a very intellectual way of applying a process. And most people, especially movers and shakers, they’re not going to enjoy it. Provers would probably love to hold makers accountable for it. So let’s talk about, I just summarized the book in a couple of minutes and how movers shakers, provers and makers then would respond. Let’s break it down, first let’s look at the four steps. We talked a little bit about it but not specific. We did movers and shakers because that’s what we are, but how they may respond. Let’s start with provers since you basically said you’re going to jump out of your skin, break it down into two steps. Then I went through the process and said as a mover, the only thing I want is step three because I prioritize it. And I definitely don’t want to talk about emotions. I just want it off the checklist. But how do you think provers might respond to that four-step? I think it’s funny when I asked our main lead prover on our team when he said. 

Allen Fahden:  Yes. Well and I have to echo that I think a prover will like this because it’s detailed and it also, key word like controlling the work plan, it’s down close to the ground and it’s perfect. One of the things that we know about provers and makers is that provers like to make the rules and makers like to obey them. So a prover can use this four step process to make a set of rules and say, “Okay, you can go through these rules now and you can get more things done and then you can be self-managed about this. Come to me if you have a problem, but I’m not going to have to bother with it every time.” And so to me, a prover will like this, but not doing this, just handing it off to the the maker. 

It reminds me of a prover that I knew who was a bookkeeper, who loved balancing checkbooks, it was so elegant and involved analysis and patience and so forth. But in order to balance the checkbooks as a bookkeeper, she had the write to checks first and hate it that. So one of the things after we talked, she realized that she could outsource what she hated, writing the checks to a maker. Now she’s happy, she gets a lot more done and so forth. So it’s a prover is always looking for kind of more rules that will be helpful to the maker who loves rules. It’s a match made in heaven. 

Karla Nelson:  Yes. Yeah. And it’s funny because when I showed this, and we’ll get into the next step here, this decision tree, that I shared about the book, our lead prover said, “Wow, a prover wrote the book for makers.” It’s true. And I think you definitely brought up the makers there in that four step process too, which essentially, I think checklists do de-stress makers in any form. Because they like to obey the rules, I think a lot of times we aren’t specific enough with makers and it creates stress for them. Because remember they’re the latest adopters. So they like checklists, they like rules, they like processes and they’re really good at applying them. 

Allen Fahden:  Absolutely. They are people for … well like where a shaker and a mover, will look at the world from 30,000 feet, up a maker will look at the world from about 50 up. And they’ll see every detail. And what they need to feel good is something that covers the details for them so they know what to do next. It’s very anxiety causing, it they have ambiguity or not to know what to do. So this certainly- 

Karla Nelson:  Shakers and movers are completely okay with ambiguity, good word, Allen. They’re fine with it, they live in that space. And I think provers, you’re right, they like to then lead makers and then this is a great tool for them. So let’s get into this tree diagram. This is not de stressful for me at all, and I keep on saying that because I’m kind of poking fun at the title of the book is, the art of, what is it, stress free productivity because I didn’t feel stress free reading the book at all. 

If anything I kept on thinking this is just going to slow everything down as a mover because you’re applying, because remember as mover you like to hand off things to the prover in implementation and then the prover comes back to you if there’s any challenges. You don’t micromanage a checklist, your best role is similar to a facilitator when you’re trying to figure out what to do, ideation and then a point guard for the prover so that they can get things done in implementation between the shaker and the prover. This is what we ran into and this is how we’re going to try to overcome it. 

And so a mover likes checklists, but they like them to hold other people accountable. It’s not necessarily, and it doesn’t mean that as a mover, you don’t have to do things on your checklist, it’s just that whoever is running the project management software, you want to mover behind that, that doesn’t mean that everybody needs to have a very, very specific detailed checklist and a process to apply the checklist. So this process in David Allen’s book is a checklist to apply to your checklist. 

I’m not joking. So there is a workflow and a logic tree that’s a decision tree. And again, this is, a prover had to make this decision tree for a maker. So essentially you walk through, and I’m not going to go through each of them, I could talk about it for and go, yes, no, yes, no, yes, no. But essentially it breaks down to collect the items, process the items, organize the items, plan the items and do the items. And this decision tree is designed for the number two and number three, clarify and organize. And you literally are walking through the decision tree saying, yes, no, yes, no, yes, no. Do you feel de stressed, Allen? 

Allen Fahden:  It makes me want to open a bottle of wine. 

Karla Nelson:  Oh, so okay. So I already- 

Allen Fahden:  And I don’t even drink. 

Karla Nelson:  Yeah, that’s funny. And so essentially this five-step bigger picture process is a part of the book, but let’s talk about this decision tree and how each, again, coordinator work may respond to that. You’ve already identified, for a shaker asking them to do this would be horrible. I think a mover could look at it and go, “Oh I think it’s a good idea for our makers, here prover use this and teach them all how to do it.” But the likelihood you’re going to get a mover to not only break down a five step process, but then take number two and number three and break that into a decision tree that’s a six step process. I just think you’ve got too many processes for your processes. 

Allen Fahden:  Yes. And shakers don’t follow processes. Squirrel, they get distracted very easily. Or the other thing they do is say, “Oh look a decision tree. I wonder if we can make an artificial decision tree, sort of like an artificial Christmas tree. Maybe people will buy that.” 

Karla Nelson:  And so I think, and you make a good point there, that as a mover, even if it were something that you would adopt, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be good at using it. When you are a doer, a mover doer not a maker, remember movers are still early adopters, is that you can’t choke the system because it will keep you from being able to move forward because you have a natural way of prioritizing and you love to prioritize everybody else’s list. You don’t even want them to prioritize it. You want to make sure that this is where we said we’re going to go and these are all the things that need to happen. These are all the people that need to make it happen. And here’s the deadline. Outside of that, I think you would just choke a mover to death. A prover, I think this is very similar to the first part of this book is a prover is going to like it, but not do it. 

Now they’re happy with teaching the makers how to do it and holding them accountable. So essentially I think we’re getting to the point that this book is made for provers for makers over and over again, no matter what piece we’re looking at. And I think the same for the maker. I don’t know. What do you think about the maker, to have the five big picture items and then move it into another six step process might be choking it for a maker too. So if it were me as a mover, I would never give a shaker more than two things to do. Go back to them and ask them because every shaker I’ve ever worked with, the bigger the shaker, the more I have to re email stuff. So it’s just easier to say, “Do one or two things and this is when I’ll talk to you next.” Than it is to expect them to be something that they’re not. 

Allen Fahden:  Yep. And then of course like everything else in this book is that some steps are made for some people and some steps are made for other people. 

Karla Nelson:  That’s good way of looking at it. Collecting everything as a mover, the process is, most people think it’s mover, it’s not. It’s the prover because and then- 

Allen Fahden:  And also along with the organizing is the prover as well. 

Karla Nelson:  Yup. And that’s the prover and the mover working back and forth. The planning is the mover and then the actual do piece is the maker. 

Allen Fahden:  The maker. So asking a maker to reflect and plan is like asking a shaker to focus. 

Karla Nelson:  Yeah. Good point. 

Allen Fahden:  Planning and reflecting is unfocusing, getting into the big picture. Late adopters, not their nature. 

Karla Nelson:  Yeah. And again, this is a great book, I think, for provers and makers, but it definitely focuses on, as you said earlier, one size fits all and it really identifies that you need to focus on what you aren’t good at and train the weakness versus the strength. Because even in the first step, when it says identify the most annoying or distracting task, that’s not going to make you love what you do. And I think that’s when people get not only stressed out, but they get disengaged. Here we go. The buzzwords, we can’t stand, employee engagement. 

Allen Fahden:  Well I like to think of it like … this whole thing of … this came about a few years ago, it was like do the tasks you hate first, then your day’s going to get a whole lot better. And what they don’t understand about that is number one, it will take you much longer to do the tasks that you don’t like and therefore it’ll take you so long perhaps you may spend your whole day on it and never get to the ones that you like. Never get it done. Ask me to do a brain surgery first because I don’t like brain surgery so much and you know how well that’s going to end. 

Karla Nelson:  Exactly. And your quality of work goes way down and the numbers are 90 10 so if 50% of your day is what you don’t like and 50% of your day is what you like, then 90% of your day is absorbed with what you don’t like. I mean, that doesn’t sound like a recipe for … it’s why 70% of people hate their jobs. 

Allen Fahden:  Yeah. Because you’re slow at it and you don’t do it very well. 

Karla Nelson:  Yeah. And nobody likes what you’re not good at. And we already have the horrible habit of focusing on what people aren’t good at. 

Allen Fahden:  And here’s the reward too, if you do what you’re not good at, maybe you struggled through it, maybe by three o’clock you get it done, you give it somebody and they say, “This isn’t right. What were you thinking?” So then you get berated for it and then you have to go back and do it over. Walk of shame. 

Karla Nelson:  Yes, I agree. I agree. So let’s talk a little bit about this horizon thing that I brought up earlier. Because I think … and this is exactly backwards from what we just did, the book first things first and read through that rich read. And this basically, in Robert Allen’s horizons here, it has a method that says if you take care of the day, it frees your mind up so that then you can move from your day to current projects and then areas of accountability, then out to your one or two year goals and then your longterm visions and then your life. What do you think about that? I got my own opinion about that. 

Allen Fahden:  Well, for me that it’s backwards because I’m not going to focus on my current actions. I always say if I’ve got one or two things left to do, I’m feeling pretty good that I do and that frees me up to get to say horizon five. I play in horizon three, four and five because I’m an early adopter and we’re all into the long term or the bigger picture. So this is all backwards. This is again like doing what you hate first because there are way too many current actions because every idea creates a thousand tasks. So I’m going to have a checklist that fills up the room. 

Karla Nelson:  You mentioned a really good thing, as a shaker when they come up with the idea in their mind, they’re really challenged with putting the approximate time on any project. I would say that provers are the best, movers, they typically are more optimistic in getting things accomplished and shakers, they just thought of the idea and boom, it’s done and it’s easy. So I think that when you look at this, every area of focus, it’s almost like you need an entire team to help each other. Because you look at a maker, well yeah, they want their day to be very clear and it would be stressful for them not to leave with their desk cleaned and all their checklists done. And then you look at a prover, I think they can get into the current project, area of focus and accountability probably a little bit better. 

But for movers and shakers, it’s almost like when a ship goes out to sea, you got to figure out where the heck you’re going. Because I think that that creates stress, not so much of horizon five life. I think we could all do a better job sitting down and writing. In the book, first things first, that’s exactly what it said is, figure out where your rudders pointing and don’t do all the stuff that doesn’t point in that direction. And so I think that based off of the four core natures of work, you’re probably going to lean towards one or more or two of these. But it almost covers all four natures, core natures of work when you look at them. And that means that I’m going to be horrible at writing today specifically every action that needs to happen on every project. But for a maker, that might be exactly what they need to be able to de stress their minds so that they can focus on there one year goal. 

Allen Fahden:  People are different. 

Karla Nelson:  Exactly. And I think that’s the biggest challenge I have with this book, it really is made by provers for makers. And it really doesn’t pull in the team aspect of doing this because in business, I mean obviously in life nobody can say, “Oh this is what … or heck every, how many people have coaches that basically spend time with people so that they can see what their one to two year longterm visions are. Why? Because they’re not good at it. Like me, I’m a six month to a year person. That’s just where my focus is and it can never get done fast enough. Well, I don’t think that’s the same for a shaker, a prover and a maker, especially in a business situation. I just think that if you were in a room and you’re working through ideation implementation, then you should cover this stuff and it’s a different part of your team that’s going to naturally be able to write those goals or come up with needs to be done in a process, in a step-by-step checklist. 

Allen Fahden:  For example, if we use the who do model, then what we would probably do is get everybody’s bigger horizons three, four and five, life, longterm visions, one to two year goals handled by a who do method where you could immediately presence from the provers what could go wrong and then have the shakers come up with ideas to solve the problems so that everybody’s pretty well aligned with where they’re going. Now one of them is personal things that we could do. You can do that for everyone, but also as far as the team goals or as far as the company’s goals, then that would help ground horizon one and horizon two where it’s more current and day to day. Because then you’d at least be focused on where you need to go. And a who do method would get you there way faster because everybody’s going to disagree. 

Karla Nelson:  Exactly. And what causes the stress for the maker? What is it? What needs to be done today and what is going to mess up my world? Verses a shaker is like, the longterm vision, we need to develop this and do this and this is where we’re going to go. And the dissonance between the two is significant. 

Allen Fahden:  Enormous. 

Karla Nelson:  So I think that that is one thing and if you didn’t have all pieces of the team from ground to horizon five, I think it’d be mediocre at best just because of people are different. We respond to each these levels differently. And I think it’s a misnomer to state that if you figure out your day, you’re going to be able to focus all the way on your life goals. I just don’t agree with the author on that. And the last thing I want to talk about here, Allen is the author Robert Allen talks about how he created the book, which again this is 2001, we’re 2019 now. And he did do a revision of the book. Is that, it was technology, agnostic or neutral and that was because software changes so much. 

But it’s hilarious. I actually went to the getting things done website and they identify the products that you could use with this process. So I identified it to discuss on the podcast because I think it’s really important simply because everybody uses technology, everybody’s applying it in every different way and to have a system that’s technology agnostic, I think, and maybe that’s just a part of the times 2001. It is a good idea to manually do something before you develop technology. But I also think that it’s again, a misnomer to state that any process you do, it has to be created and adopted in technology these days because the likelihood you’re in the same room with everybody that you’re working on a project is not common these days. Or even just like for instance, this podcast, we’ve got people in so many different time zones. 

If we didn’t have our collaborative tool for the project management, well you have to use something and I think that piece and it’s actually going to … we talked about this book in, well about the technology for quite some time, Allen, and that’s why we’re going to identify a better book that you can actually look at in my opinion, as far as the team aspect, I think you too as well, which is about scrum and that methodology and being agile because it’s probably, it’s the opposite of this book. This book to me is made by provers for makers. The scrum is going to juxtapose that so that you can have a methodology and what we’re going to do and implement it and then also create a process of repeating it. Just like our buddy Warren Buffett, I love his quote. “I hate innovation.” 

What do we hear all the time? How many times have we been in innovation meetings and teams and all we hear … the number one thing I read just a couple of days ago after doing the book review was that the number one thing that every company needs to do in the next five years to be successful is to utilize technology and be agile about it. So I think that’s a really good … and I think it was, it wasn’t Gallup. What’s that? The McKinsey report. It was just data and information that I happened to run across. But I’m excited. Allen, will you meet me to discuss scrum? I’m not 100% sure which book. I ended up reading three of them because they were so good that it is the method that is closest to the who do method. And believe it or not, it was created 20 years ago. So they’re a 20 year overnight success. 

Allen Fahden:  That’s right. 

Karla Nelson:  Awesome. So join us for that. And in the meantime, you could head over to our website at the People Catalysts and that is plural, .com so until next time, Allen, thank you very much my friend. 

Allen Fahden:  Thank you. 

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