Ep 32: Productivity for Teenagers

Episode Summary

David Allen, the author of “Getting Things Done”, one of the best-selling business books of all time, explains how to get teens excited and motivated about their goals and productive as they pursue those goals. If you have a “lazy” teenager, you won’t want to miss this one.

Show NotesParenting ScriptsWorkbook ExercisesInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

There are a LOT of things for teenagers to be distracted by these days. And that’s not a bad thing, as this week’s guest, David Allen, was quick to point out. It’s good because it means teens have a lot of options to choose from. But it also means productivity for teenagers is as important as ever–maybe more important.

David Allen is the author of the classic productivity book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, one of the best selling business books of all time, and a productivity consultant to some of the biggest companies on the planet.

His new book, Getting Things Done for Teens: Take Control of Your Life in a Distracting World, is part of David’s top secret plan to change the world by getting his powerful productivity methods to the next generation. To write it, he teamed up with two terrific co-authors and a few graphic designers who created cartoon characters for the book.

So David knows a lot about productivity for teenagers.

In this episode, he talks a lot about how to motivate teens and get them engaged. This isn’t about magically getting your teen excited to do something they hate, it’s about how to help them figure out what they really want to be doing.

One place to look, David says, is at what your teenager is already doing. Where are they spending their time? If you engage them about these behaviors there is likely some kind of motivation there.

Once teens are sufficiently motivated you can invite them to set goals and write them down. Then, if your teenager wants, you can check in with them about their progress on the goals in some amount of time, maybe a few months.

Then give your teen space.

One secret of productivity for teenagers is that they need space to attempt the goals on their own before you offer help.

When you check in with your teen on how their goals are progressing you can help them reflect on their progress so far and can then start to talk to them about skills that could help them be more productive in meeting their goals during the next 3 months.

How to do this, exactly, is a bit complicated but David Allen makes it seem easy with his clear, no nonsense approach in this episode, Productivity for Teenagers.

Parenting Scripts

Word-for-word examples of what to say to your teen

1. If your teen won’t talk about what they want to do in life, just look at what they’re already doing:

“Why are you doing that? What turns you on about that? What if you could do that full time? What if you could do that your whole life and you didn’t have to do anything else and you had a lot of money to be able to go play and do whatever else you want to do? How cool would that be? And how do you think you’re going to get there? Here’s some options.”

-David Allen

2.  Help your teenager find their purpose:

(Members Only)

3.  Get your teen motivated by pointing out the volume of possibilities:

(Members Only)

4.  Help your teen set some goals:

(Members Only)

5.  Check in with your teen on their goals:

(Members Only)

Workbook Exercises

Step-by-step guides for applying the ideas from this interview

1.  Crystallize Your Teen’s Goals for the Next Year:

One of the most helpful things parents can do, David told me, is to help teens get their goals out of their heads. What does your teen want to accomplish in the next year? And when do they want you to check in with them about each goal? Have a talk with your teenager and ask them what they want to do in the next year. Get them focused on a few main goals. Then ask when they want you to check with them on each of their goals. Schedule these check-ins into your phone calendar with reminders so you won’t forget.

Complete Interview Transcript

David: Lovely to be here, Andy. Thanks for the invitation.

Andy: You have such a brand built in this productivity and business market, and I think that it would be easy for you to write another book for business people. A follow up, how to be more productive, but you don’t do that. Instead, you write this book for a different demographic which is teenagers and it’s really well done. It’s clearly was a ton of time and effort put into doing this. And I wonder what made you write this book for teenagers?

David: Well, first of all, I have to give a shout out to my coauthors, Mike Williams and Mark Wallace. They really did the heavy lifting because I don’t have kids. They do. And I developed the methodology, but for 30 years plus, whilst I’ve been doing seminars and coaching with this stuff. People go, “God, I wish I’d have learned this when I was 12.” Because once you get this, you realize I could have learned this when I was 12, and I didn’t. And I didn’t. And I had to sort of fumble around as I threw myself into the fire hose of life out there and try to figure all this stuff out. But it is learnable. It’s trainable, it’s teachable.

David: And my two coauthors have actually had a good bit of experience. Mike, as a senior manager at General Electric, ran into my stuff, got all enthused with it. And then he said, “Wow, I got to share this with my kids.” And he did. He started to blog about that. And then we ran across Mark, who was a public school teacher in Minneapolis. And he ran across this methodology for himself. He said, “Oh, my God, this changed my life. But how can I not share this with my eight, nine, 10, 12-year-olds?” That he was teaching in the public schools in the elementary school.

David: So, he started to frame this for kids and the kids got it. And not only got it, they got it in an enthused way. And they’re not old crud’s, like you and me, got a lot of habits we probably would need to change to implement this. They go, “Oh, that’s how you do it.” So, anyway, so Mike and Mark they showed up … because I tried to wonder over all these years, how do I reach this audience? Because if we wanted to change the world, we needed to get at the kids.

Andy: Sure. The next generation is the place to start.

David: Yeah. And it’s global. And if they get this from the beginning, Oh my God, what a difference it could make. And I had already had several people in my universe who had wound up running across my stuff and my methodology, implementing it themselves, and then having kids and started to build that into how they …

David: My CTO, as a matter of fact, my chief tech guy, for many years homeschooled his five daughters. From the very beginning, his whole household was built around outcome and action and keep stuff out of your head. And what’s the next step? And using this methodology. And his kids just wrote their own tickets in terms of they were winning robotics competitions at age 12, they were running the tech side of their college when they were freshmen. Because they just said, “Oh, okay, let’s just go do this.”

David: So, I saw how powerful this was when people started to implement to that world. And I’d been searching for a long time and wondering how on earth we could start to reach this audience. Because I didn’t really know how to frame it myself. Didn’t have enough experience to be able to speak from any authority about that. But we said, “Look, we’ve got to do this.”

David: So, running across Mike and Mark and us collaborating, we said, “I guess the time is here.” And, “Let’s go ahead and do this.” The jury is still out. We wrote this book basically for both teens, as well as for caring adults. They’re not going to walk into a bookstore and pick up a book on productivity. Come on. We’ll see. But there are a whole lot of parents already that have already handed this to their kids. They just think, “Oh my God, I just talked to somebody that’s got two 18-year-old twin girls and a 20-year-old,” and he said, “I’m sending this to them because they’re still in the midst of all of this right now.”

David: And this is not step down language. An adult and read this and get adult information. Because we didn’t step down the methodology. All we did was frame it in a way where it might make more sense to somebody of a younger generation.

Andy: Well sure. And you updated, instead of everything being put on paper, it’s like, Hey, there’s great apps that you can use to make checklists and taking the idea of getting things out of your head. And you really adapted it for a digital age and a digital generation.

David: Well, not just digitally. But come on, I’ve coached some of the best and brightest, most sophisticated executives you can imagine. And they still have to train themselves to empty their briefcase after that conference. Take all the meeting notes from the boardroom and then throw that into their in-basket and make decisions about what to do about it. It’s just for a teen, they just need to empty their pack. So, that the mom isn’t discovering something three weeks later than she should have signed it to give back to them.

David: So, there’s no difference in the methodology. It’s just a little bit of a different potential application. But even not that much difference. Come on, it’s like where are you accumulating stuff that you got to empty? I still have to do that.

Andy: Constantly my inbox is … I didn’t want to think about it right now. But it strikes me that this is so important at this time because I talked to parenting experts all the time, David and they all are so adamant about teens today are being over-scheduled and overworked and way too much stuff. But then, so when I asked them, “Well, so what do we do?” The answer is to not schedule our teens as much or not ask them to do as much stuff. To, I guess, basically put them in a slower group.

Andy: But I like your solution here, which is, well, maybe they just need some tools to organize all that stuff better. And to turn it into something actionable and to not feel so overwhelmed by it.

David: And basically, build the brain and keep that inventory complete, clear, and current. And then make good moment to moment choices about what to do. So, they have time to go do social media, once they finish their homework. They have time to go do the fun things they want to do. And so, it’s not about slow down your life. Not at all.

Andy: That’s a good way to sell it.

David: No, come on. We framed it in the preface there is like, “Look, are you ready? Are you ready for the prom? Are you ready to do college applications? Are you ready for the Halloween party? Are you ready for … what? Don’t wait till the last minute. And you could have made some decisions about this early on.” And interestingly, as we talk about it in the book, at some point parents feed their kids and some point, the kids have to feed themselves. At some point, the parents dress the kids, at some point, the kids have to dress themselves.

David: So, there’s a whole progression along the developmental stage of a young person that at different stages, they have to take on more accountability, more responsibility to manage themselves, and then build their own structures about how do they manage that. It’s just, there’s a whole lot of, given what you said, and what’s true is that the stress of opportunity out there and the stress of ubiquity, constantly on constant things like bright bubbles that can attract you, distract you, that it becomes that much more important that you have a structure that you start to manage your life probably at a much earlier age than many of us thought we actually had to do that.

Andy: Sure. It’s like attention, I think, is becoming such a limited resource. There are so many things vying for our attention and the people who make these marketers and apps are getting really good at getting our attention. So, I think we have to be even better at shining the spotlight of our attention, where it needs to be at the moment.

David: Exactly.

Andy: So, your method to getting things done, for decades, has been something that people turn to and talk about. And one of the most frequently cited productivity tools, I think that I know of. So, for people who are familiar, and even for people who are given this new book that you have, what is the basics of GTD?

David: Yeah. Well basics, and I’ll give you the 20-second version, is anything-

Andy: That’s what we need.

David: Anything that has your attention potentially? Wow, I’ve got the Halloween party coming up. I need to wonder who to ask to the prom. My motorcycle needs something fixed on it. Anything that has got your attention, you can’t finish the moment you think of it. You better capture that somewhere. That’s stage one, step one. You need to capture it, get it out of your head, park that placeholder somewhere in a place you trust. And then sooner than later, look at that again and then ask yourself, “How do I clarify what I need to do about it, if anything? What’s the next action. What do I need to do about this thing I need to do on my bike or my cycle or my scooter? What’s the next step?”

David: So, that’s the clarify step what’s the next step? Is that a phone call to make, is that a website to serve? Is that just stop by the shop and drop it off or something? Blah, blah, blah. What’s next? Right. So, there’s the step two, which is clarify. Step three is organize. If you can’t finish it in the moment, where do I put a reminder of that so I can see a reminder that that’s something I’ve decided I need or might want to do when I’m in a context to do it? I might go out for errands, if I’m going out to tool around for the next two hours, what are the things I need to do? Well, I need to buy socks or I need to stop by and pick up a present for X, Y, and Z. And Oh yeah, I need to drop by the scooter shop and see whether I need to make an appointment or not.

David: So, that’s the organized step. I need to put a reminder somewhere that I’ll see it like an errands list or something. And step four, means make sure when you go out and look at your errands list, reflect, you need to wait a minute. Let me look at his inventory of things I might need, would, could, should, ought to do. And then step five is then make some good conscious choice about what you do and what you don’t do so that it comes from a place of trust. Not one of “Gee, I hope this is what I need to do.” Or just simply making decisions by whatever the latest and loudest thing is banging around in your head.

Andy: Right. Taking a little more control.

David: So, that’s the essence of really a whole lot of the basics, the fundamentals, the blocking and tackling, if you will, of getting things done.

Andy: So, we capture the stuff. And then we clarify, which was figuring out the next actionable step to take. Which I think is so important because it’s a lot of times we get overwhelmed by all the things like you’re saying, “Oh, man, and now there’s nothing wrong with the bike and the scooter. And now the prom’s coming up and I got to figure that out. And now the …” And you refer to them as open loops. It’s like all these things, these items that are unresolved.

David: It’s all the woulds, coulds, shoulds, need to, ought to, should, yadda, yadda, yadda. And most people don’t realize-

Andy: [inaudible] add up?

David: Well, there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, God, what a great time to be alive that you have all those options, as opposed to just feed yourself to stay alive. These are first world problems. But the truth is they could still be very problematic and can create a whole lot of internal stress. And the stress for teenagers is certainly increasing, at least based upon the statistics we’ve seen.

David: So, I mean, somebody can unlike you in your social media and that can color your world, gray, their whole world. So, the fact is, I mean, again, a first world problem, but they’re still problems. There’s still things you need to deal with and address or can and engage with them appropriately.

David: So, yeah, it’s capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage. Which are the five stages of how you get your kitchen under control. It’s how you get your desk under control. It’s how you get your homework under control. It’s how you get anything under control. As well as your consciousness.

David: But kids can learn this. How young does a kid need to be to say, “Hey, what’s your wild success idea about the party or for Halloween or Christmas?” “Oh, you want a Christmas tree? Fabulous, isn’t that cool? What do we need to do? We don’t have a Christmas tree. What do you think is the next step?” How young do you think somebody is that could actually answer that question? Try three, try four.

Andy: Find a place that has Christmas trees.

David: Yeah. Or yeah, I don’t know. Well, how could we find out? Well, let’s go look at that. Let’s go see where they … da, da, da, da.

Andy: Google it.

David: Yeah. So, this was written essentially for teens and people who care about teens. There are a lot of preteens that we’ve already done some early returns on this, that they get it. And it’s also, it’s a Trojan horse. Parents who’ve read this wanted to hand it to the kids, go, “God, I needed to read this and do this first before I give it to my kids.” Because it’s reminding them about their own best practice behaviors. And if you want to model it for your kids, you better.

Andy: I think that a lot of parenting is disguised self-development. And it’s this phase of life where we have to relearn everything so that we can be really good at it so we can teach it to our kids.

David: Well said. Well, you don’t learn anything until you teach it. Yeah. But that’s fabulous. And the good news about that is, Hey, you got something you want your kids to know. I remember this, I don’t know if it’s a myth, but it’s a common story about Gandhi. Some parent brought her kid to Gandhi in India and said, “Wow, this kid is eating too much sugar. Please tell him to stop eating sugar.” And Gandhi didn’t say anything. He said, “Come back in two weeks.” So, she came back in two weeks and he said, “It’s not a good idea to eat sugar. You should probably stop.” And she said, “Why didn’t you tell him that two weeks ago?” He said, “I was eating sugar.” Good story.

David: So, one of the best ways to train your kids with these methodologies is to demonstrate it, model it, do it yourself, and then have a way to translate it. I think that’s what we did in the book was give parents or teachers or counselors or clergy, whoever’s might be reading this who might be interested in educating and communicating best practices to kids, a way to translate these best practices into things that are meaningful to them.

Andy: Yeah. There’s a vocabulary to talk about all of this. You’ve created this framework and it strikes me that it goes deeper than simply organization, because after you get through the five steps, there’s a whole second part of the book where you get into these different levels of goals that you can have for areas of focus for your life. And the bottom is like just the actions and projects and the stuff that you’re working on. But as you move up the pyramid a little bit towards the top, you see your area of focus, your goals, your vision. And then at the very top is your purpose.

Andy: And it strikes me that it’s like, yeah, well, once you start capturing all this stuff and clarifying it and organizing it, then at a certain point you have to start making decisions about, “Well, I got too much stuff that I can’t really maybe do all of it. So, what do I need to prioritize? Or what do I want to spend my time on?”

David: Well, not only that, Andy, but come on, a lot of parents right now are worried about how much time kids are getting sucked into social media, Facebook, WhatsApp, and all that other stuff. And they say, “Well, David, what’s the solution to that?” And I say, “How excited are your kids about learning to ride a horse or program software or being a pilot? And how’s the summer going, by the way? And what could they learn to do?”

David: See, they’re not going to get away from all that other stuff, unless there’s something else more exciting. What else will be more exciting? Well, that’s where the horizons might come in for, “Hey, what do you want to do with your life? How cool could it be? What do you want to do? Well, why are you spending two hours on Facebook, when you could be surfing cool places to learn how to ride horses or online courses you could be taking to learn how to write code so you can make a gazillion dollars in Silicon Valley.” Come on. How many things?

David: So, it’s like, you’re not going to stop somebody from doing stuff by telling them not to do it. You just need to redirect.

Andy: You attract them towards something else.

David: It’s not about discipline. It’s about direction. How do I want to direct my consciousness? Where do I want to direct it? So, a lot of the high horizon stuff, it sounds pretty sophisticated, but hey, it doesn’t have to go any further than, “Hey kids. Whoa. What really floats your boat? A year from now, what would you like to be doing? Would you like to know how to do? How important is that to you?” And then coach people towards some of those horizons and then bring those down to projects and next action. So, that they’re not just sitting there twiddling their thumbs saying, “Yeah, that’s a nice idea, but I don’t know how to get there.” Well, great. What’s the next step?

David: So, what we did was, and what this methodology does, it ties the execution of stuff. How do you actually get things done? And I’m sorry, but that’s the title of the book, The way you get things done. What does done mean? Wow, I know how to ride a horse. What does doing look like, Oh, gee, I need to call my aunt Suzy because I think she rides horses and let me ask her what she suggests I ought to do. That’s all you need to do.

David: And it’s really not so much about working any harder. It’s about getting appropriately engaged with your commitments and your life. An appropriate engagement doesn’t mean you need to finish these things. You need to be in the driver’s seat about how you’re engaging with them.

Andy: I like that. So, these are all conversations that you could have with a teenager to help them clarify what their purpose and their vision is. These higher levels on the pyramid.

David: Exactly. And not as a forced thing to do. And I think we tried to write it. I don’t know, you could tell me, Andy, whether it worked or not. We tried to write this so this is not a, you have to manual and you have to go do all this stuff. This is like, hey, test some of these things out, try them out. Here’s a thing you might want to just experiment with and see if it rings your bell.

Andy: It definitely comes across because you guys even do something which I, as a researcher think is really cool, that you actually invite people to try it out. Hey, try it for a week, doing it this way and try it for a week, doing it that way. And then do whichever one feels better to you or works better in your life. I like that approach. And I think that more people need to do that.

Andy: I think, especially during the teenage years and early 20s, it’s a time of life for experimentation because you’re asking your teenager, “Well, what would you like to be doing in a year?” They definitely need a lot of experiences to be able to make those kinds of decisions. I guess a lot of times teenagers can be pretty … “I don’t know. Whatever.”

Andy: So, when you’re trying to ask them like, “Oh, well, what would you like to be doing in a year?” “I don’t know. Just [inaudible 00:00:18:39].” What if they’re not really giving you much to work with or really short answers or little shrug of the shoulder kind of things like that. Would you say it’s just maybe not a good time to have this talk and you should circle back later or is there something that you could do to get them to think about it more?

David: What would you do with a kid who goes, “Der, I don’t know?” I’d just look at what they’re doing and ask them why they’re doing that. What do you like? What turns them on about that? What if you could do that full-time? What if you could do that your whole life, you didn’t have to do anything else and you had a lot of money to be able to go play and do other things you want to do. How cool would that be? Well, how do you think you’re going to get there? And here’s some options.

David: So, come on, how many kids have wound up buying their parents the mansion because the kid just went, “Screw you. I’m going to go do what I feel like doing,” and made a gazillion dollars. So, who’s to say? Especially these days because of how interesting and strange the world is about how many things people can find to do that are potentially valuable.

Andy: Yeah. That you might not even know exist right now.

David: Oh, come on. I grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana in the 50s and early 60s. And if you had any intelligence at all, the options about things to do were about five. That’s all. Consultant. What’s that? And then how to spell it. A actor, well maybe, but only other people could do that. How about graphic designer? What? What are you talking about?

David: So, it is, again, a great time to be alive if you’re willing to take a positive step forward and start to explore that. Start to explore what are all the possibilities and options. And what rings my bell right now. And you’re going to change your mind anyway, once you get started. You just need to get started.

Andy: I like that.

David: So, if somebody is going, “Der, I don’t care.” I just find, what is it that would get them started on anything? They’re playing video games, design a video game.

Andy: Yeah, totally.

Andy: So, if you found anything in this interview, helpful, go ahead and check out a GTDforteens.com. It’s a website where David and his colleagues have created all kinds of helpful resources that go along with this book. And podcasts and articles and stuff, where he provides additional resources and breaks down some of the topics from the book. That’s GTDforteens.com.

About David Allen

According to Wikipedia, David is a productivity consultant best known for creating the time management method “Getting Things Done”.

David has written four books. His first book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, is one of the best selling business books of all time. It describes his world-famous productivity program, “GTD”. His second book, Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life, is a collection of newsletter articles he has written. His third book, Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life, is a follow-up to his first book.

His fourth book, Getting Things Done for Teens: Take Control of Your Life in a Distracting World, is part of David’s top secret plan to change the world by getting his powerful productivity methods to the next generation.

David started developing his approach in the 1980s when he was awarded a contract to design a program for executives and managers at Lockheed.

His career path has included jobs as a magician, waiter, karate teacher, landscaper, vitamin distributor, glass-blowing lathe operator, travel agent, gas station manager, U-Haul dealer, moped salesman, restaurant cook, personal growth trainer, manager of a lawn service company, and manager of a travel agency.

He lives in Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

Find David on TwitterFacebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.