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Notes from The Personal Productivity Show #021 with Jason Womack (a GTD coach)

I just finished listening to The Personal Productivity Show #021 - Jason Womack, which is an interesting and far-ranging interview with my friend Jason Womack, one of David Allen's GTD seminar presenters and coaches. The direct link is here.

Following are some notes I took while listening, for those who are interested.

Background: Jason was a high school teacher, was mentored by someone from David Allen's company, learned that he was loosing time, energy, and focus because he couldn't find "what you need, when you need it." He says these words became his "holy grail:"
  • Time: he never had enough of it. job was never done
  • Energy: always high energy, but couldn't do 12 hour workdays forever
  • Focus: bright, shiny, pretty: he'll look at (distraction)
He attended Allen's MAP seminar (Managing Actions and Projects - the seminar that preceded GTD), which Jason considers the first sustainable way to manage time. Regarding what's special about GTD, He says "we teach what we need to learn the most," i.e., he really needs it ("you should see my hotel room"). He says it's the first system that could keep up with as fast as his mind goes - multiple projects, much going on in parallel - books, magazines, chatting, business cards. Because he's so active, within a few days he'll end up with 10-20 articles to read, 2-4 cards, 1 book chapter, etc. Before, his desires didn't match the time available, not due to a lack of time, or too much to do, but he didn't have a match between his agreements with what he actually produced - what he calls the "matching intention with attention" dilemma.

Des mentions his thinking on the fallacy of time management - see his comments on Now ... is GTD really about time management? - a response to my article Is GTD the "Extreme Programming" of Time Management?. His point: time can't be managed - we all have only 1440 minutes/day, and that's it. We can only manage our own actions.

Jason gives some tips for managing email distraction, which is a problem because it's available any time of day, and can make us feel productive when we're really just being busy. First, try keeping your laptop closed 10 more minutes when impulse comes to check email, and use that time to process a stack, read an article, etc. Another tip: In a wireless environment turn off the antenna (not whole day, of course). Here he quotes his teacher who always said "Experiment! Be a scientist" - which I take to mean experiment on yourself, something I enjoy doing. (You may be interested in my post A geek "gets" networking: The strange magic of connecting with others in which I describe my goal of connecting with at least three new people a week.)

Regarding the crucial GTD Weekly Review, Jason explains a common confusion: People often identify an area needing attention (mostly because it's supposed to be a "weekly review, not monthly weekly review") then want to "just email real quick," which ends up distracting them for hours. Instead he suggests making a deal with yourself: During review, don't open file, folder or any possible distraction - just literally scan what needs your attention.

On the topic of note-taking tools, Jason gives a little more detail on his "one notebook" (see his post Just how important?). His main point is use the right tool at the right time. For example, that's why he uses a PDA looking up directions to hotel, good restaurants, etc, but uses paper to record meeting notes (the PDA slows him down). The connection to GTD: Each of the five workflow phases (collect, process, organize, review, do) requires tools that are radically different.

He mentions a Wall Street Journal article (I couldn't find it) that documents that the average office worker is interrupted 250 times/day by the outside world. Additionally, they have 50,000 thoughts/day, but the kicker is almost all of them are about the SAME FEW THINGS.

Jason talks about other tools he uses when out: a) his note-taker wallet (which covers 90% of his life), and b) his iRiver MP3 player with built-in recorder (for running, biking, or swimming). Before exercising, he first does a mind sweep (to keep things out of his head), then at about the five mile mark starts recording exactly what he's thinking. He says he often doesn't recognize what he's been saying when he gets back - an unconscious part comes out!

Toward the end I like his finishing comments about how he and Jodi (his partner) think about when good things happen, e.g., when they're pleasantly surprised, or have a good day: They say "That's like us." In other words, they make these good things normal/expected, which is a kind of positive visualization (a combination of intention plus action). He claims this happens more as one gets deeper into GTD (where unconscious attention goes).

In all, great stuff. Jason's depth of understanding of GTD, along with broader insights, is always a treat. His blog is In The Life.

Reader Comments (7)

Hey Matt. Nice post, thanks for the summary.

Talking with Jason was a buzz. He's very enthusiastic, and comes across as one of life's nice guys.

We hope to get him back on the show.

January 31, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDes Paroz

Thanks, Des. Although all I did this time was summarize the work *you* guys did, so kudos!

January 31, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Hey guys,

It was honestly a delight to spend an hour with you all. AND, it's quite a treat to go back and actually hear what I said!

I'm looking forward to the next one, I think that last comment set us up to discuss some of the more subtle "pieces" to personal productivity...

January 31, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJasonWomack

Great interview, information and podcast!

I've made a new context: @Oz :)


February 3, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Hallum

Thanks, Jeff; I agree - great stuff thanks to Des, Cameron, and Jason.

February 3, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

E-mail is a huge time hog. I noticed I spend almost an hour each day answering emails, checking my inbox, sorting my contacts, when I probably don't need to spend more than 5 minutes. I just get each day a new email about some [ Boat Donation | http://www.onlinecardonation.org/boat-donations.htm ] I can attend to help some people in a distant corner of the world, when I'm the first person I should be helping by clearing up my schedule.

February 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJerry Singer

Hi Jerry. the 5 minutes needed vs. 60 minutes spent sounds familiar. Many of my clients face the problem too. In fact, I'd argue the impact is more than a loss of 55 minutes. The task switch overhead can be up to 15 minutes /per interruption/ (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/25/business/25multi.html?_r=4&adxnnl=1&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1248001246-NdyHv9c/WRNTpPJ58Tb/2A). If we assume the hour you spend each day on email is broken into five interruptions (say) then that's 75 minutes, i.e., another hour lost. [That sounds less shocking than I thought it would...] Thanks for writing.

February 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

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