Interview with David Allen

Interview with David Allen: GTD – From the first book to a global movement

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I had the pleasure of doing an interview with David Allen on Skype at the Oslo GTD Gathering in December 2016. This is his perspective on the time between publishing the first book in 2001 and seeing GTD as a global movement, 15 years later.

Over the years, I have read many interviews with David Allen, the founder of the Getting Things Done methodology. The one thing no one asks about is Davids perspective on the time between publishing the first book in 2001 and seeing Getting Things Done grow to a global movement 15 years later.

I’m privileged to be one of the co-hosts for Oslo GTD Gathering, the world’s largest GTD Meetup group, with more than 700 members. I contacted David and he was more than willing to do a live interview in front of a bunch of eager GTD’ers.


My interview with David Allen

So David, can you please tell us about the journey from your first book in 2001, up until seeing Getting Things Done becoming a global movement 15, years later?

I’ll remind you all that GTD is much like the martial arts. When I was training for the black belt in karate, most of my training was in the basic moves. The same thing is true with GTD. The real application and power of this come from simply applying the basic moves.

It’s a very simple methodology, it’s not like you have to learn a new language. You just have to understand a series of practices and a series of cognitive processes.

What do you need to ask yourself about the email that you just received? What do you need to do to get that out of your in-basket and appropriately engage with whatever that meant to you?

And that’s really the essence of what the GTD methodology is; What do I need to ask myself about the things that I let come into my world that can’t be finished the moment they show up?


The cognitive scientists have now found that the maximum number of things you can handle inside your head is four – 4.


Back in 1981, I started Allen Associates without any formal training in business. I had started to see that what I learned in karate about having a clear mind so that you were prepared for people that surprised you in a dark alley, was possible to transfer into the business world.

I started to try to find out what would help me have a clear head as my world started to get more complex. Then I started to turn around and use the same techniques on other people. What I found was that the ones that worked, they worked universally.

Two years later, in 1983, I was asked by the head of HR at the Lockheed Cooperation to put together a seminar to present my findings to a wider audience. This really hit a nerve.

For the next 25 years, I was improving my model and trying to find out how I could make money from this. Over time, I figured out that what I was doing was unique. Nobody else was doing this.

What GTD has done is help people to figure how to find what is not on cruise control or autopilot and then, how do you get that on autopilot so that you can be able to focus on what’s in front of you.

Interview with David Allen
From my interview with David Allen on Skype at the Oslo GTD Gathering.


Back in 2001, when you published your first book, how far did you think that GTD would reach?

My first goal was actually just to write the manual about this in case I got run over by a bus. It took me four years to write this book, I started in 1997. By this time, I felt that I had proven that my findings were working. I knew that this was universal stuff.

My biggest client at that time was Goldman Sachs. My method just went viral inside that company. At the time, I still had my small consulting firm. I figured that the book could help build the brand.


What happened after the publication in 2001?

The book became a best-seller in the US that first year. Two years later, in 2003, the paperback edition of the book came out.

This coincided with the start of blogging. It turned out that some of the early bloggers in the tech world, like Guy Kawasaki, loved my stuff and was spreading the word about Getting Things Done.

A lot of what I have done since this is trying to figure out how do I leverage this global interest and at the same time keep the brand pristine. In some countries, we have had numerous cases of GTD pirates. The brand was starting to run out from under us.


My interest with this brand is to change the world 100 years from now, so that we live in a world of projects, not problems.


So then, about 10 years ago, we decided to try to scale this up, from being me, my book and my speaking, to being a global brand and, and at the same time keep the quality.

Then the people that built the Franklin Covey network came to us and wanted to represent us. That was the start of going global.

Now we are represented in 60 countries. Still, the fact is that GTD is marketed, not by us, but from people who get it.

(End of interview with David Allen)

Want to know more about GTD? See my GTD Focus page.


Books by David Allen

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (2015)*

Getting Things Done (2015)

“The Bible of business and personal productivity.” -Lifehack.
“A completely revised and updated edition of the blockbuster bestseller from ‘the personal productivity guru.” -Fast Company.

Since it was first published almost fifteen years ago, David Allen’s Getting Things Done has become one of the most influential business books of its era, and the ultimate book on personal organization.

Get it from Book Depository.* Free worldwide shipping.

Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life (2011)*

Making It All Work (2011)

In Making It All Work, Allen unlocks the full power of his methods across the entire span of life and work.

While Getting Things Done functioned as an essential tool kit, Making It All Work is an invaluable road map, providing both bearings to help you determine where you are in life and directions on how to get to where you want to go.

Get it from Book Depository.* Free worldwide shipping.

Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Getting Things Done (2004)*

Ready for Anything (2004)

Based on Allen s highly popular e-newsletter, Ready for Anything offers readers 52 ways to immediately clear your head for creativity, focus your attention, create structures that work, and take action to get things moving.

With wit, inspiration, and know-how, Allen shows readers how to make things happen with less effort and stress, and lots more energy, creativity, and effectiveness.

Get it from Book Depository.* Free worldwide shipping.


Disclosure: Links marked with * are affiliate links. This means that if you buy a product using this link, I may get a small commission. I would never recommend a product without trying it and liking it myself.

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