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Nov. 8, 2021, 6 a.m.
How GTD Focus President Meg Edwards Uses OmniFocus

Today, we talk to Meg Edwards, President of GTD focus. GTD Focus is the only officially licensed, one-to-one GTD coaching company in the US and Canada.

Show Notes:

Andrew & Meg talk about how she became a coach and the challenges she comes across while helping others.  Meg also reveals 4 questions designed to help clarify undefined projects in your OmniFocus system.

Some other people, places, and things mentioned in this episode:

  • OmniFocus
  • GTD Focus
  • Transcript:

    Andrew J. Mason: You're listening to The Omni Show. Get to know the people and stories behind the OMNI Group's award-winning productivity apps for Mac and iOS. My name's Andrew J. Mason. And today we talk to president of GTD Focus, Meg Edwards on how she uses OmniFocus. Hey everybody. Welcome to another episode of the Omni Show. My name's Andrew J. Mason. We are so honored to have Meg Edwards, President of GTD Focus with us today. GTD Focus is actually the only exclusive partner officially licensed for one to one GTD Coaching in the US in Canada and Meg, thank you so much for joining us.

    Meg Edwards: Oh, well, thank you so much for having me.

    Andrew J. Mason: I love it if you could paint as much context here, as you can. Tell us about yourself, where do you find yourself geographically and what are you up to these days?

    Meg Edwards: So I live right outside of Portland, Maine, and it is a absolutely gorgeous fall day. I think it's going to be up in the seventies today. And I have lived up here for about 22 years, but I'm originally from Syracuse and in my family, when you get pregnant, you move to Maine so that our babies can be born in Maine. I was working in Vermont and I got pregnant and I said to Kevin, we got to move to Maine now, because we got to have our babies in Maine. And maybe in 200 years, they'll be considered Mainers because I'm a summer folk Mainer. And it's really funny because my daughter lives in New York city right now and she's like, mom, I do not want to give up my Maine license. It's my only good identity.

    Andrew J. Mason: Well, let's talk about that. How did you end up becoming a GTD coach? That's such an interesting concept where it's such a very specific life path. How did you end up on that path?

    Meg Edwards: Yeah. Well, I backed into it because I had moved to Maine, as I said, pregnant was starting my own coaching business in 1998 and was feeling pretty overwhelmed and out of control. Recently married, new baby, new home, new business, new location. And I was talking with my oldest sister, Marian Bateman at that time and talking about how overwhelmed I was. And she said, geez, David and Catherine Allen, who were very good friends of her coming to Boston to deliver a seminar. At that point, it was called Managing Action and Projects You Should Go. And I so trusted my sister that I'm like, okay, I don't know what you're talking about, but yeah, I'll go. And I took Annie at two months old to the seminar where David still talks about, I think her being the youngest participant for a two day seminar, he's now 22 years old and actually practicing GTD in her job.

    Meg Edwards: And it was a game changer for me when I went to that seminar. I mean, I think at the first break I went up to David Allen and I said, I think you have so landed on something that I've been looking for my entire life. This is what I want to do. I mean, I think you have created something that is so missing. I certainly missed it. Didn't learn any of it in school. Didn't really learn that outcome. And next action thinking and that there really was kind of a methodology that I could think through my stuff as a knowledge worker. And he had this whole framework and paradigm that seemed to be very comprehensive where before that I always just had little pieces and because I always had these little pieces, they always fell through the cracks because I could never maintain it because I didn't have "the whole piece". So then I slept my eight month old baby out to California and got trained and been doing it ever since.

    Andrew J. Mason: I personally can so identify with this. Before finding out about this methodology, it's like, okay, I want to get organized and you spend an hour or two doing little pieces of the puzzle, but not really following the step by step. And you look up at the end of that two hour organizational session thinking like, man, I did not make as much progress as I was hoping to make. And then you're presented with a step by step framework for wherever you start. You can land in clarity if you follow these steps. That's really valuable. So let's switch over and talk about how did you end up finding out about The OMNI Group?

    Meg Edwards: Yes. Well, I was telling you earlier, you were very kind and gave me some prep questions and so I actually yesterday text Carrie who lives also in Maine. And I said, now, when did I learn about Omni from you? And he actually texts back 2 13, 2009. And he sent a picture because at that time I was training new coaches from Daniel, who was from Brazil, came up to Maine for two weeks of training and Carrie was very open to having Daniel coach him for two day coaching. And that's when I got exposed to Omni. That's what I remember, is I was just like, wow, I really, really like what I'm seeing here. And I was thinking about what I was using. I think back then I either was back to a paper based planner, which is fine because I've set more people up with a paper based system in the last couple of years than I have in two decades.

    Meg Edwards: So there is a group of people that really having their list manager on paper, but they're also when people are looking for something more electronic, Omni for me is just right up there and I never try to impose what I use on clients, but a lot of times they're very curious about what a coach uses. I know that all of our coaches actually use different list managers and I've been using Omni ever since. And I haven't even switched and wanted to switch. And before that I was switching all the time. I was always trying to find something that met the criteria is what I needed, but I didn't even know what I needed until really Omni landed on these pieces that I was like, oh, that's what I've been looking for. So I've just been a fan really ever since then.

    Andrew J. Mason: The concept of roles or the different areas of your life that either do or don't make it into the system, it's such a personal thing and each person is different. How does that look for you? Do you have just a few slices, professional makes it into the system, but personal doesn't or is it more all encompassing for you?

    Meg Edwards: Yeah. Well, what I really like about Omni, one of the features I like about Omni is the tag section in the project section, although what I've done. And I think maybe a lot of people do is I use that project section for a whole lot more and I love being able to have folders and then nest things in between those folders and have all these folders that I can collapse. So I have a folder for what I call my horizons of focus and that's where I keep my areas of focus and responsibilities personally, professionally and my goals, vision and purpose. And then I have a folder for projects and I actually kind of divide those projects into some main areas. My personal and my professional. Now, David Allen has always just had a very flat project list. He combines both personal and professional. For me I've actually gone back and forth.

    Meg Edwards: Sometimes I separate them. Sometimes I combine them, but I love about it is I can nest it if I want to and I can open it up when I want to. And I love being able to manipulate the OmniFocus to the way that I think and make it really work for me and customize it. And I like that ability. Other folders that I have in the project view is I have a tickler. So I have each month underneath the tickler so that the beginning of every month I'll go in and say, oh, I need to order wood or I need to get the chimney cleaned or I need to call my plow guy and make sure that he's plowing this year. So I'm not left to alert for the first snowstorm. So I use it as a tickler. I can use my calendar also as a tickler, but I also like to use Omni that way.

    Meg Edwards: It's where I track my lists, my books to read, movies to watch. So I have a folder called lists. I have a folder called next time in. So next time I'm in Boston. Next time I'm in New York, next time I'm in DC. And I list all the things that I might want to do or people that I'd like to contact. So I have a folder for that. I have a folder for reference. I have a folder for someday, maybe. So I like that I can have different kinds of folders and then nest within that, whether I make it a single action or I make it a parallel project, but what I find is really powerful is that let's say that, for example, I'm renovating the kitchen right now and there's a lot of moving parts. What I love about it is that Omni gives me these two ways to prioritize.

    Meg Edwards: I can look at the tag under my next actions list and see single actions, but I also can see actions attached to the a project, but I also can toggle over and see just what I need to focus on with the kitchen, tag the next actions that I'm moving forward on untag the ones that I don't want to do or can't do, which are future actions. And for me, I think that that is just one of the best features of Omni for me. So when I'm going to do work, I can decide that I can prioritize on the project level or I can prioritize on the next action level.

    Andrew J. Mason: Your answer actually makes me think of David's making it all workbook, where he talks about maps. How important it is to have an accurate representation of the terrain that you're traveling over and that as maps get outdated, you're repelled from them more. You don't want to use them as much. And one of the things I appreciate about the flexibility of the software is the ability to surgically, if you want to, and you want to have that level of granularity and say, these are all the different areas of my life. And this is specifically what each one represents and all the way down to the next action level with multiple layers of outcome, sub-outcome, multi sub-task outcome, you can do that or if you need or want a flat list and that works for you, then that's just as fine like that flat list most accurately represents the terrain that you're traveling across. That's awesome.

    Meg Edwards: Exactly. But everybody thinks a little bit differently. So that's what I like. If somebody wants a flat project list, that's great. If somebody wants to have a folder for projects personal or a folder for projects work, I'm fine with that. I just say open it all up so that you can see the entire project list. Because if you do too much nesting, then you can overcreate and overcommit. So as a coach, I think I help people, particularly when I'm coaching people on Omni that, did you overcomplicate it? Sometimes I see a little overcomplicating it and try to really simplify it so that it's really a very flat list. It's a neutral list. It has clear outcomes and next actions. They're focusing lists. So when I want to focus, what list do I look at as you were saying, in terms of the maps, to be able to help me focus on what I want to focus on at that time.

    Andrew J. Mason: It reminds me of this example that David always used about the black hole of capture, where you dump stuff into it, but you don't want to look at it or re-evaluate after you've put things in there. That's sometimes the trap of digital where it's like, you can put infinite amount of things inside of this folder, but if you never look at it, then you never actually make progress on it. His physical example was the middle desk drawer where people, when they're working, they keep like soy sauce packets and just all this stuff. And it's just like, just don't know if in that drawer and I'll feel like I'm actually organized, but when it comes to people who are just getting started, you're a coach. You've seen every imaginable scenario, I'm sure. There's not anything that comes your way where you're like, oh, that's surprising these days. So what would your number one or two pieces of advice be for somebody who's just getting started?

    Meg Edwards: I do think that overcomplicating it, one of the things that I tried to do, for example, if you think about the tag section, I sometimes recommend start with less and then build up, start with maybe just one next actions list. And if you find that that gets too big, then you get to decide if you want to break it off into a calls list or an anywhere list or a computer list, because it is true. The first limiting criteria is where are you? Well, nowadays we're all the phone, the computer, the home, the office, it's all in the same location. So I kind of say to people, if you just start with a next actions list, an agenda's list, a waiting for list, a some day maybe list, an errands list. That for me is almost like the simplest place to start. Because everybody can use an agendas list, a waiting for list, a some day list, a next actions list and errands.

    Meg Edwards: I mean, errands are for things when you're out and about. And the next actions list is when you're by yourself, these are next actions that you want to do. And generally, maybe less than an hour in one sitting and you don't want to be overwhelmed by your list. And these lists attract to repel you and there's nothing in between. So if you put something on your next actions list that repels you, you're not going to want to go into that next action list. And this is the piece that I think I spend the most time as a coach taking what they have put on a list and doing the further thinking of clarifying outcomes in next action. I was just working with a client yesterday who had a project about cashflow and budget and all these other things. And I'm like, well, what does done look like?

    Meg Edwards: What's the project? And it really took him some time to try to figure out what it was, you know. Are you updating it? Are you finalizing it? Are you resolving it? Are you ensuring that it's where it needs to be? And so I think one of the best things that somebody can do is on your next actions list, start with a verb. I need to call draft, write, email brainstorm. And if you do that, you're much more in a place when you look at that list to actually than make that call or send that email or brainstorm or draft. But it's a very classic example and I still bump up against it where somebody will say, well, I need to follow up with Sam. Well, how are you going to follow up with Sam? Well, I need to reach out to Sam. I'm like, okay, well, how are you going to reach out to Sam? Well, I need to contact. Well, how? You know. And then it's like, well, but I could call her email. I said, well pick one.

    Meg Edwards: I mean, it's still after 22 years, the classic example of they land on everything, but the verb. Like call her email and sometimes it's because that is just so ridiculous. Why do I have to make it so explicit? I know what reach out or contact is and yet it sits there. It sits there. So they say, oh yeah, I know what the next action is, but really and that's the incredible power of next action thinking. And then when you create your project list, it's absolutely fine to start with a keyword or an area of focus, but then put that verb in there. Are you finalizing and completing updating, resolving? Like I said, so there's, I think one of the best things that somebody can do is on their next actions list start with the next action verb and on their project list start with that project or end with that project.

    Meg Edwards: It can be present tense. It could be past tense. You can start with a key word, you can group them by areas of focus so that you could see all of your financial projects, your training projects, your sales projects if you'd like to do that, but you want to word it in a way that makes you want to go in there and do the work. And if it's just still a bunch of stuff, I find that it really repels people and they don't use it.

    Andrew J. Mason: Call me crazy. But I feel like that's such a powerful thing. There's a principle there where it's like we get bombarded. There's so much information coming our way. We're just stuck in unclarity. We're overwhelmed. I mean just 24/7. It's sometimes hard to shut off the fire hose of input and being able to whittle down and say, not only am I going to contact this person, but I commit that it will be an email specifically. There's a verb there, I commit that, it gives you a win, you know. In a world where you're just getting dumped on, it feels like a win is invaluable. And you're just starting to take back and carve back that space saying, Nope, I'm not going to agree you with that unclarity or confusion. What I'm going to do is carve out this space and say, I don't know when it's going to happen, but when it does, it's going to be an email. It's going to look like this. That's a win. That's powerful in my opinion.

    Meg Edwards: Well, this is also where forecast comes in because there's nothing wrong with going through your OmniFocus lists and picking the top three actions that you'd like to do that day. Your hot list, putting that today date on it. It was interesting. I had somebody that they were all read because his due date started at 8:00 AM. I was like, well, he's already, he went red. So he changed it to five o'clock, that setting changed it to 5:00 so that it didn't do that. But that forecast can be very powerful. I also see more than not when I go into forecast, I see 20 things that they want to do that day.

    Meg Edwards: And for me, that's just a sign of, they're not trusting their next actions list and being able to carve out their space and their calendar to work off of their next actions list or to move or block out time to work on a project. So I think another thing is be very judicious with how you're using forecast because more than not, I don't think I've met one Omni user that did it put too much on today. And then they just changed the day to tomorrow. And now you're just rolling and that doesn't really help so much.

    Andrew J. Mason: It's a really good point, you know. It's probably not a very inspiring start to the day to wake up and realize there's already the color red in my face. I feel that things just by waking up, so absolutely make sure there's timelines, especially the ones that have time attached to them are accurate when they're supposed to be happening in the day. It's subtle, but it makes a difference. We've covered this ground a little bit, but I would love to give you another opportunity. Is there anything specific to your system that you're like, you know what? This is unique for me. I haven't seen other people do it this way, but this is just one way than I do it.

    Meg Edwards: Hmm. I don't think I do anything that's uniquely mine. I think that when I'm working with people, they realize, oh, I didn't know that I could also use OmniFocus for this because they take the project section literally just for projects. So I don't think I'm doing anything unique. I just think that I have learned that. I always say to people, forget the word project section. This is the section where you're putting projects and goals, vision and purpose and areas of focus if you want to, and reference and ideas or someday maybe or lists, or the things that I mentioned earlier, your tickler file. And they're like, oh, I took it really literally, like this is where I can only put projects.

    Andrew J. Mason: I warned Meg beforehand. I said, Hey, listen, I may embarrass you with high praise because fun, unknown fact is that Meg actually coached me back in 2015, gave me a coaching session and walk through my OmniFocus setup. And this is the exact issue that we ran into. For me having a single point of capture for everything that came into my system, whether it was projects or reference makes like, you know you can put more than just projects in OmniFocus if you want to. And I don't know why, but that was in an unlock for me thinking, yes. Okay. Now I have this one source of truth for anything that's task related in my life. And that was a game changer for me at that time. So thank you for that.

    Andrew J. Mason: And I've also asked Meg too, if she'd be willing to give us the gift of some advice that really helped me unlock the extra projects that were hidden inside the roles and responsibilities level. So with that time, I was only doing projects that were downstream and yeah, you can use repeating tasks and repeating projects and that's good, but how do you think up a level and start to unlock where those projects are coming from? And Meg gave me a very specific set of four questions and I was wondering Meg, if you'd be willing to share that with the audience, now, this would be really helpful I think.

    Meg Edwards: Sure. What's fairly interesting is that a lot of people struggle with what is a project. And one of the things that David said is that you don't solve a problem on the level that it was created. And one of the things that David has talked about is what we call perspective, which is the horizons of focus. And there's six levels. There's the ground level, which is the tag section in your calendar. It's all the things that you have to do. It's your calendar, it's your errands. It's you're waiting for, it's people you have to talk to. And that volume can be anywhere from a 30 to 150 items on that level. And that's one place where we have to prioritize. Am I going to do this, or am I going to do this? Am I going to make this phone call, or I'm going to send this email. The next level above that is projects.

    Meg Edwards: And we define projects as anything that is going to take a couple of weeks to a couple of months to a year to complete more or less. It's going to to takes several steps that isn't self-evident and that's a project, but then the level above that is what we call areas of focus and responsibilities. It's kind of semantics. You can call it roles, responsibilities, areas of focus. And that is the bridge level that creates your projects and actions. And it's the level that also can create your goals, vision and purpose. Goals we look at are things that maybe you want to accomplish one to two years from now, vision three to five years and purpose, you know, so what's the purpose of you being on the planet to your role in the company or the purpose of the company, all those kinds of things. The areas of focus level, I think is such a rate level to flush out because you can take an area of focus.

    Meg Edwards: Without that area of focus, people have a tendency to make projects out of their areas of focus. Be a great parent. You never done with that. So where do I put it? Where do I put that I want to ensure that my kid's having fun. Where do I put that? It's not a project. It's not really a next action. Where does that go? So when I think I had my call with you, we looked at your areas of focus and responsibilities and flushed that out personally and professionally. And then I asked you these four questions that really David had created that is kind of covered in our level two seminar projects and priorities. And one of the questions is when you take an area of focus. So if I take an area of focus of my home, my home's an area of focus. My health is an area of focus, friends and family, spiritual practice, my animals, my daughter, community service, all those kinds of things, you can't check off as done.

    Meg Edwards: And I think a great exercise for these listeners is if you haven't created that level, please do. You can create a folder called areas of focus. And then in that, what I do is I created a folder called areas of focus. And this is where I manipulate OmniFocus. I set up a new parallel project and put Annie in there. And then in the notes section, I wrote all the things that have my attention with my 22 year old daughter. Then in there it's like, do I want to send her a gift package? Is she having fun? Do I want to go visit her? Do I want to have her come home for a weekend? Is she spending enough time with the grandparents? So it's trigger questions. It's kind of a checklist that I have within that area of focus.

    Meg Edwards: And then home is an area of focus. So I made that a new parallel project. And then the notes section, I list all the things about my home that have my attention. And the four questions that I ask with each area of focus is, are there any problems or issues with this area of focus? And if so, do I have a project or next action to resolve it? You can have an area of folk and there's no project. There's just a next action. Or sometimes you can have an area of focus and there's no projects or actions because it's on cruise control. So for example, with the house, the problems and issues I have was I have to get some work done on my fireplace. So I have a project now to ensure that my fireplace is in working order for the winter and I have a next action to get the chimney cleaned and have them come and redo the bricks.

    Meg Edwards: So I have a problem, an issue, and that's very powerful because one of the things that David talks about is that he wants people to stop thinking in terms of problems and issues and to start thinking about projects and actions, to be able to turn those problems and issues into projects and action. A lot of people never thought of making that into a project. And those are the things that are kind of in the back of the mind, waking people up in the middle of the night or those problems and issues. So a great thing to do is to calm all of your areas of focus and responsibilities and roles and pull out any problems and issues you have. You can also make them someday maybes. I don't want to deal with this right now, so I'm just going to make it a someday maybe.

    Meg Edwards: The next question I think I had asked you was, are there any processes or procedures that need to be put in place? I know that when COVID hit, I think a lot of parents had to put processes and procedures in place for their kids in daycare and what are we going to do with this? And what are we going to do in this situation and what are we going to do? And so there could be some projects for processes and procedures. The third question, is there any competency building projects? So for a lot of people, they have gone through GTD coaching or professional development, other things that they may do to be able to learn things. One of the things that I did when Annie was in high school and I was asking these four questions is I really wanted her to be comfortable in public speaking.

    Meg Edwards: And so she won and did debate for four years in college. So I thought that that was a really important skill for her to have to build that competency. So those can be projects. And the last one is, are there any creative opportunities? And I think this one, I think a lot of people say, well, what do you mean by that? And I think it's just that. Are there any creative opportunities, maybe some people decide that they want to do something creative with their kids and take some time off and go travel. And that's a creative opportunity or people think about creative opportunities and ways to be able to make more money if they need to, or a second job or renovate part of their home so they can rent it out. I mean, those are just kind of examples of creative opportunities, but it is a wonderful way to ensure that you have a project list that really is complete by mining your areas of focus and saying, oh yeah. I don't have that as a project.

    Andrew J. Mason: Thank you for that. I so appreciate you giving our audience that gift. I want to call back attention to what you said earlier in this podcast. You mentioned you sort of backed into this role of work and I'd be so curious to know, what do you think is there that, it's obvious that you're passionate about it and it's obvious that you're good at it. What makes you say, you know what? I really think that this is what I should be doing these days.

    Meg Edwards: Well, thanks for that question. I think that a little bit more background on me. I have a masters in applied psychology and ended up not going that route and ended up after my master's degree, went in and worked at a college in admissions. And from there I moved, as I said earlier, to Maine to start a coaching business. And then I met David really like very soon after that. I love being able to work with people who are living incredibly rich lives and they're buried and I'm helping them with the skill of their job. I don't know how to do surgery. I don't know how to teach a college course. I don't know how to be a minister of a congregation, church or rabbi or an astronaut that we worked with.

    Meg Edwards: But they all have something very much in common, which is as I said, they're living these really rich, interesting lives, entrepreneurs, people that are startup companies, teachers, principals of school, artists, musicians. I mean the gamut, the gamut, there are not many professions where you cross all of these different, like I said, one day I make an inquiry call from somebody in the IT division. And then the next call is somebody who is a rabbi and the next call, a principal of a school and the next call a musician. But the common thread is that they're having a hard time staying in control of what they created. And I think David has created something that allows them to continue to live those rich lives, but in a way that they can manage it more. And I just think that I've just loved it ever since. And I'm like David, it's like I wouldn't know what to do.

    Meg Edwards: I know if this didn't work. I do know I'd go, I'd move back out to Colorado and ski, which I did in my early twenties. And I'd go back and work on a mountain. But I think that is what really drives me is people who come to us are genuinely not knowing how to get out of that place. And what I love of about GTD is how quickly they can get that relief of knowing that they can get that stuff off of their mind. They don't have to keep it on their mind. So that quote of David's, your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.

    Meg Edwards: So how do you capture, but it's hard to clarify if you don't have a trusted tool. So one of the things that I'm always working with is what is the best list manager for them so that they can trust that they can capture and clarify into that tool so that they can review and decide what they want to do and have that be their external brain in some ways, to be able to track everything so that they really can be more present and focused. And for me, that is a very rewarding profession to be able to help people get to that place.

    Andrew J. Mason: That's incredible. And I so appreciate your time with us today for this interview. How can folks find out more about you and what you're up to with GTD Focus?

    Meg Edwards: Again, thank you. Yeah. People can contact us our website is gtdfocus.com and they can learn more about our coaching services and happy to set up an inquiry call and chat with anybody and see if it's something that might benefit them to also be able to install and implement because it does work. And I think you and I are both the testimonials to it. I mean, I so desperately needed this. And I think that one of the things that we have really worked on over the last couple of decades is how to customize it. It's like when David wrote the book, getting things done, it's like he defined the game of a knowledge worker.

    Meg Edwards: Like defining the game of tennis, but it doesn't necessarily show you all the different ways to play that game. And I think coaching in some ways is really the fast track to help customize the installation and implementation and integration of the getting things done methodology. People are already doing most of it already. I mean really, as David said, none of it really new per se, it's just pulling it all together and being able to help you fill in the gaps and the pieces that might be missing. That's perfect.

    Andrew J. Mason: Thank you so much for being here today, Meg.

    Meg Edwards: Oh, well, thank you. It's been really great talking with you today. Thank you.

    Andrew J. Mason: Hey and thank all of you for listening today, too. As always, you can drop us a line at the Omni Show on Twitter. We'd love to hear from you there. You can also find out everything that's happening with The OMNI Group at omnigroup.com/blog.