In this episode of The Omni Show, we’re excited to chat with Morten Røvik, the GTD Certified Coach and Master trainer for the Nordic region. Different coaches have different approaches, and Morten’s is definitely by the book — David Allen’s "Getting Things Done" book.
Morten and Andrew explore how to avoid common system pitfalls. Morten shares his recommendations for how to pair GTD well with OmniFocus. They also chat about a unique use for tags to simplify client communication.
Some other people, places, and things mentioned in this episode:
Andrew J. Mason: You're listening to The Omni Show. Get to know the people in stories behind the Omni Group's award-winning productivity apps for Mac and iOS. My name's Andrew J. Mason. And today we find out how GTD Master Trainer, Morten Rovik, uses OmniFocus.
Hey, everybody, welcome to another episode of The Omni Show. My name is Andrew J. Mason, and today we have Morten Rovik, GTD coach and trainer for the Nordic region. And for everybody that doesn't know, Morton is a certified GTD Master Trainer, which I believe is the highest level you can get. And Morten, tell us a little bit more about where you find yourself and how you currently spend your day to day.
Morten Røvik: My name is Morten. I was born raised in Oslo. I live just north of Oslo now, a small town called Jessheim. And as you said, I am the GTD Master Trainer for the Nordic region. And this is, yes, it is just the highest title you can have in the David Allen Company Certification of Getting Things Done. I am certified GTD Master Trainer Level One. I'm a certified GTD trainer Level Two, and I'm on track of being a GTD trainer Level Three. I'm also a certified a workflow coach, and I'm also a certified virtual coach. So, there you have everything,
Andrew J. Mason: So, you can pretty much do it all.
Morten Røvik: I can do it all. My work as a master trainer entails two things to start. I will train the trainers in the Nordic region in addition to deliver training and to deliver coaching to our clients. And we are present in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland. And, we are currently 15 people in our crew. So, this is a lot of fun and we are doing what we love. We love to help people understand and mastered GTD methodologies. And, I think I have the greatest job ever invented. Most days, I am super happy when I have signed off. I've helped someone get a better life, basically.
Andrew J. Mason: Well, we know that your journey eventually intersects with The Omni Group, but for you, it intersected with GTD and David Allen first. Talk to us about how you found out about that.
Morten Røvik: Well, the world comes around and it's becoming, I don't know if this is the word, but metaverse or something, because actually in back in 2006, I listened to Merlin Mann talk about OmniFocus. He was on the OmniFocus project group for creating OmniFocus. I think at the time it was beta 0.8 or 0.9 Or something in a podcast called This Week in Tech with Leo LaPorte and his crew. And, I got very intrigued with it, getting things done, that sounds intriguing. What is this? And what is this OmniFocus thing? And, I started back in 2006, to dabble with the understanding what is getting things done. I started reading the book, actually I listened to the book first and then I read it later. And, of course, my first Mac was actually my main reason I signed up because I wanted their OmniFocus. I was a PC guy before, so in 2006, I bought a Mac mini and starting my world into Macs and with OmniFocus. Then I signed up for the beta of OmniFocus Sunday, July 1st, 2007.
Andrew J. Mason: Holy mackerel. I'm not even going to ask how you knew that specific date.
Morten Røvik: It's called search and Gmail. And when, of course I have both my license of the finished, the Russians one that was released 8 January, 2008. And this is also a search by Gmail, so that's how I know this. But since then, I've been an OmniFocus user. I tried, and all time try, different other tools. But, I always kind of returned to OmniFocus because it's gravitates to what I find is the best tool for me. And before we get into something, Andrew, I just want to tell all the listeners said, I don't care how great OmniFocus is because a fool with a tool is still a fool. I'm sorry, guys, you got to learn Getting Things Done, the methodology that will help you use OmniFocus.
Andrew J. Mason: Harsh, my goodness.
Morten Røvik: But, it is maybe a little harsh thing to say that you are fool with a tool if you don't know how, but it is, if you get a very nice hammer, that doesn't that doesn't make you a carpenter, does it? No. So, you need to learn how to swing the hammer to become a good carpenter. But a good carpenter would like to have a good hammer. And OmniFocus is a good hammer for the GTDer.
Andrew J. Mason: Hmm. Well said. When interviewing people about OmniFocus and their setup and their lives, I tend to like to ask them what areas they have that they manage in their life with the software. But, I get the sense that this is all encompassing for you. You manage your entire life with this tool through the vehicle of GTD.
Morten Røvik: Yeah. In all the projects I have is, of course, in OmniFocus, but I also have included what we call Areas of Focus or Areas of Responsibility there. I start with folders at the bottom, with my work and private stuff is two button folders. And that is my two, what we call, spheres. Within those, I have my different companies that I am involved in, then we get into projects depending on where that is. I've divided it like this because the projects needs a logical place inside, and I use the folders for that, and then the projects within the folders.
Basically, I'm in using OmniFocus for anything that's not in my calendar of things I need to get done. So, it's either in my calendar or is in OmniFocus. It's never both places, and for those of you are OmniFocus users, this is a good idea because it should only live one place. You don't need to confuse yourself, you're confused enough. Most people are. Can I just... Sometimes I'm very direct, I talk like I know everything. But I've been doing GTD since 2006 and I'm a certified trainer and a certified coach. I trained like 5,000 people, plus 150 coaching clients through my day. And believe me, I've seen it all. That's why I'm a little direct. I'm sorry.
Andrew J. Mason: Morten, how do you answer somebody who just says, they're the skeptic, this looks like a lot of work. I mean, this is a lot of lists that you're managing, using your life. And to me, it just looks like it's way more trouble than it's worth. How do you talk to that kind of a person?
Morten Røvik: While it's either in your lists or it's in your hand. What feel most stressful for you? You remember suddenly, I should have sent that email, I forgot. And then it was Dad's birthday and I need to buy something for him. And then my house mortgage is due, I need to renew that. The more you have going on in your life, the more you need a system outside your head. As David Allen will say "Your head is a crappy office," and he's absolutely right. Your head doesn't have infinite room for things you need to remember. It has maybe four, and you have more than four things in your head.
Something will fall out if a fifth thing will come in and that is stressful for a lot of people that you can't manage your commitments. And that's actually the definition of stress, related to tasks or commitments are the worst. So, if the number of commitments exceeds your possibility to deliver on them, that will be very stressful for you. And then you can live in that stress for a little while, but then you will, the other side of what we call the stress curve, and then it becomes negative stress. It's not engaging anymore and you get more and more tired. So, this is a sanity tool for me.
Andrew J. Mason: What advice would you have for somebody that says, Okay, I'm on board with this idea of GTD, but they look OmniFocus for the very first time, maybe they've just cracked it open. What kind of first tips do you have for somebody who's just not necessarily sure where to start?
Morten Røvik: Well, let's break it down. Basically, you have two things in OmniFocus. You have what we call a desired outcomes, which is also called projects. A lot of people are a little intimidated by the word projects, but what do you desire? What do you want to be true in this world when something is finished? That is a project, or a desired outcome. And then next you have, what steps do I need to take to fulfill this desired outcome/projects. And we call them next actions. And, if you start with just creating a project, and I would suggest that you start with a parallel project and start thinking about something like that, your father has an upcoming birthday, you would like to give him a gift, but you have no idea what that is. That my project's desired outcome is to decipher what my father wants for his birthday.
And the next action then would be tied to this project. And they will be, for instance, called Sis to ask her what she thinks. And that is the basic of Getting Things Done. You have desired outcomes and next actions. The next actions can be then assigned to a tag, in OmniFocus is called Tags, and the Getting Things methodology is called Contexts. And, that's the only gripe I have with the OmniFocus team is that they changed the Tags, from the Context to Tags, because then you have a lot of people just adding tags to things, but I will not to go there. Now you've heard it, OmniFocus team, I'm sure you heard it before. But the tags can then be used, and I suggest the following use for Tags. A lot of people, if you want to start easy, a tag should either be a place you need to be, physical place you need to be, or a tool you need to do the task, to do the next action.
So, somewhere you need to be, it could be at your office, at home, at the cabin, at the beach, at my father's place, my mother's place. I don't know. Or, I need my PC, I need my Mac, I need my iPad, on the phone, et cetera. And if you keep it simple like that, then the idea is that when you decide to do something, you will then assign that to a project, if there is a project. If it's just what we call a single action, that could be at miscellaneous under some project called Miscellaneous or Single Actions. And then you will put it where you will actually perform that task, where you will do that task, do the next action. And we are very adamant asking you to describe the next actions that is under the task is as a physical, visible action, somebody can see you do, that you can do in one sitting and where you have everything you need.
And, I know that's a lengthy thing. So, I will break it down a couple of times so that you can understand this because I hope people get this because it's an important part of the Getting Things Done methodology is that it's a physical, visible action. What does that mean? Well, remember when I heard David say that, I started thinking, Okay, how can somebody see me do this? I started asking me, Can somebody see me? So, thinking is not a task, brainstorming in my own brain is not a task. But if I make a mind map of my thoughts, my brainstorming becomes a mind map. And then the mind mapping idea, it's a physical, visible, next action, somebody can see me do it.
And then the next question is, can I do it in one sitting? If it is done in one sitting, it's okay, that sitting can be five minutes or three hours, I don't care. One sitting where you sit down to do that. If not ask yourself, Can I break it down so to becomes one sitting? So, let's say you have three ideas, A, B, and C, and it could be brainstorm Idea A and that's one sitting. And then you need to have everything you need. So, do you have a mind mapping tool? Do you have a pencil? Do you have paper? Do you have everything you need to do before you get started? The classical is that, Ah, I need to send a meeting invitation, the next section Meeting Invitation. And then when you look at that, your brain will subconsciously tell you, Ah, but you don't have the email address of this other person.
So, now I will give you procrastination. So, because you can't finish this, but I will not tell you why. So, think it true. You have to think enough to understand what a physical, visible, next action done in one sitting and where you have everything you need, how that looks. And, then you record that. And that might sound like a lot, but it makes a huge difference when you've broken your next actions down into real next action, just not like Dad or David would use cat food or something. And that might be actually the first thing you do because getting things done is five steps. The first step is just capture, capture everything that has your attention that you might want to do something about. And you will capture that on your phone or your iPad or your Mac, you can speed dial that, long tapping, or you have some keyboard shortcuts on your Mac to put something into the quick shortcut.
Now, once we call where you just open a field to fill it, and you can write that there and then just save and then you'll come back and then you will think about this. You will clarify, and then organize this. You will clarify, what's the next action? What's the project? And then put that into your OmniFocus, that has actually three separate stages. And the first one, capture, is very important. You can actually also use reminders with Siri to capture and directly into the OmniFocus inbox, which is a very clever way of getting things in there. Get her to transcribe it for you and put it in your inbox.
Siri, put on my OmniFocus list call Father and, wala, inbox call Father. So, that's what I was said. It's concentrate on the desired outcomes and next actions for trying to understand that concept. And, do read the book or attend a seminar or ask for a coaching or look at the bunch of YouTube videos. We have them, The Getting Things Done podcasts from the GTD Nordic for me and my colleague, Lars, in Denmark. We do a highly reviewed podcast on getting things done, where you go into depth into all the nitty grittiness of getting things done.
Andrew J. Mason: The biggest thing I love about this is that the emphasis isn't necessarily on a software related behavior, as much as it is on clarity, the practice of clarity. I, myself, kind of map out as a crazy maker visionary, which, if you're not familiar with the term, for everybody out there, it's just thousands and thousands of new ideas. We could do this, we could do that. But this wake, if you're not careful or disciplined about it, of unfinished thinking behind you and the tendency is to blame the system. You put all of these unclear things into the system and you're like, Ah, my system is unclear. It's scaling that un-clarity. And so, I love that you put the emphasis on being clear.
Morten Røvik: Yeah, you have to, or you will go again. And another advice that I would like to put there, there's a lot of people who are capturing, becomes kind of like a sport. I will capture anything going on my brains, I think of cats. I will capture cats, you know? Okay. Why would you capture cats? No, I don't know. I just thought of them. No. It's like when David would say that when your mind is just chewing grass on the field, which it does every now and then, don't record that unless there is something you think, Ah, I might want to do something about, maybe I want a cat one day and then I could go on a someday maybe list. I seen it all and I've been there. I've been over capturing anything that might sound relevant.
And I also over captured into OmniFocus links for articles I would like to read, you have 200 things on it. You will never read that. Get a life, get a grip. This is all software tools, and included OmniFocus, can become what David Allen would call productivity porn. Where you will be more interested in fiddling with your system than doing the work. So, if you ever find yourself color, coding your calendar in excess and have a lot of folders under your email. I have folders also, but I'm very adamant cleaning them. I have a very active relationship to them and you should have to. Anything that has to do with getting more stuff done, clean up and throw out, the crud. You must give yourself to capture whatever your brain perceive as relevant, potential information you might want to do something about, but if you don't clean that out on a regular basis, clean out the inbox, it will be a crud collection place.
Andrew J. Mason: I believe we're really laying out some wisdom for that beginning user, but also kind of going back in time, when, when you think about your journey, getting to where you are, specifically with the software, did you ever have any ideas for implementation where you're like, this is going to be amazing, I think this is going to really change my system for the better. And then, with time and perspective, it's, I don't know if that was a great idea.
Morten Røvik: Don't get me started, Andrew. I use an analogy that getting things done is a road with a line in the middle. And you would like to walk that line, but believe me, I've stumbled to the side of the road and both sides of the roads and fall into the ditches and rolling around in the mud on both sides, and that's part of the learning process. But, what I didn't have, when I started, was somebody. There's a lot of very good voices about getting things done today, and I would highly recommend people go for the certified stuff that David Allen Company and their associates publish because it's... I don't like to talk ill about others, but some person have misunderstood getting things done and then try to make their own spin on getting things done. And this is a methodology that's holistic and can encapsulate your whole, life if you wanted to do so.
And it's really, really important that you try to stay with a clear edges. You have to not get lost in this. And one of the things that I got lost in was that I mixed my old Morton with the new GDT Morton, which means that I took my old practices and the kind of thing, I will use this, but I will take this from Getting Things Done. For instance, I didn't do my weekly review, I didn't understand why I would do a weekly review, which is the fourth of the five steps of getting things done. Why would I do a review? And I couldn't understand why my list becomes so long. I have a really long someday maybe list. Someday, maybe, 90, 100 different things there. And, that's because I never went back.
So, the reason for having a system is don't use it as a dumpster. Because, I think, that that's one of my first problems, I use it as a dumpster. I put everything in there and it started to smell and when your lists start smelling and they are repelling you and are not attracting you, then you should have a good look and throw the smelly stuff out. Because if you do this correctly, just let me paint a picture of how that can feel, is that you feel that you have an exact overview of everything you've committed to do something about, work and personal. If you're an active person, like I'm sure you am, I am, I have a lot of things going on, I'm juggling a lot of balls at the same time.
And instead of lost dropping balls, you can have them safely captured in your system and you will get to what you need to get to when you need to get to it. But, if the system is filled up with a lot of crap, you don't clean it out, it's not good because first of all, you will not be attracted to your list, but you will spend a lot of time finding the right stuff to do. Let's say that you have a PC tag and everything is on the PC tag and you have 200 items there and you look. What do I need to do next? And if half of them are crud, things that could be thrown out or cleaned out, then you use a lot of your mental cycles looking at that and spending energy on something you will never do something about. That is not efficient. So, keep it clean, clean up, do your weekly review. It's an order.
Andrew J. Mason: Are there any aspects to your system that you would say are pretty unique to yourself in that, Okay, yeah, the GTD behaviors are pretty standard. But this is new GTD Morten's take on something that you might not see another OmniFocus implementation elsewhere.
Morten Røvik: I don't know, it's tweaked to my needs. I have some perspectives like to see, and I have some templates, scripting temp, what'd you call it, popular template placeholder script that I use for if we do a lot of seminars. I have a coaching, have a lot of things that I need to repeat, so I use the them create a checklist for everything I need to do before I do coaching. I need to send them this email, I have to send them this question and then I have a waiting for. And the only thing I need to do in the template part area is just to change whatever my beautiful computer asks me to do, because I'm an fire that scripted will ask me, what's the client name? What's the company? What dates have you agreed upon? What kind of coaching is this? And boom, it has a new project created.
That is very time-saving. Yes. And I also use extensively TextExpander, in addition to OmniFocus. For those of you are on a Mac, you might know TextExpander. And I used that, for instance, if I want to just say I sent a reminder email and the date and the time. When I have a followup client, I'll just say I called them or I'd send an email, and it's very easy inside OmniFocus then to get whatever I need in the notes field. Since I'm involved in different businesses, I talk to people extensively on Zoom, we are recording this, we see a chapter on soon today. And, for my partners in business, I have agendas for them and that's in the sidebar. I have Esbin, Lars, Martin, Pieter and Yoka, and I can see them.
I can very easily, if they call me, I can just switch the contacts to that prospect. I'll see, what do I need to brace with them? What do I need to talk to them about? What is my FYIs for them? And that's very easy, and I think maybe I'm doing something not all people does. And for those of you who are GTDers, you might want to learn this. I'm using the agendas for people under Agendas. I have nested the people I talk to often, and then I have Needs to be Raised as a tag. And I have a Follow-up as a tag and I have a FYI as a tag. So, when I opened my agenda for one of my people, I will have, for instance, I have Lars and Esbin, I need to raise this with them. But, when I talk to Esbin, I will just raised this, not what Lars has. And then, follow up for Esbin and FYI for Esbin. Then, it becomes very easy to see I've done something, and I can just change that tag To Be Raised to Follow up, and then some Let's follow-up instead. Just change the wording a little and, wala, everything is under control again.
Andrew J. Mason: Okay. All right. That's interesting. So, a little bit of a CRM, customer relationship manager, inside of OmniFocus for you.
Morten Røvik: Yeah. Yeah. Well, it's more like PRM partner relation. And, I use another perspective called Done Today, because at the end of every day, I would like to go back and instead of, Did I get something done today? I want the perspective just show me everything I completed today. And, that's always gratifying at the end of the day and say, Okay, now I did that and that. But, that also might trigger, Oh, but you forgot this or you had to record that. Both the reward and reminder of things I haven't done yet or don't might have slipped throughout the day.
Andrew J. Mason: Hmm. That's really wise. So it's not just a backpat, there's this perspective where at the end of the day you look at it and you're, Aw, man, that's great to know I've accomplished these things. But, there's also this slice that says, Oh, that triggered. I forgot to do this, even though I check those things off, I didn't capture something related to that.
Morten Røvik: Exactly.
Andrew J. Mason: It is obvious that you're passionate about this. Talk to me about why. Why are you passionate about coaching and helping other people through learning better way to be productive?
Morten Røvik: At the end of the day, what gives me the most gratification is when I understand that I changed my human beings life to the better today. And we do that one coaching at a time. This is why I get up in the morning. This is the most gratifying thing in the world. And when I understand a human being gets hope, yes, I can master my email, I have a handle on this now, or I can see my life perspective, I can see my horizons of focus. I can see why am I on the planet. Getting Things Done has two aspects, if you may, the control part where you get the five steps of getting things done, capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage. And then you have the horizons of focus where you're trying to map your purpose, your values, and your principles, your mission, your vision, and your goals.
And then, you get down it to the areas of responsibility and focus and then back at projects and the next actions. And it's all connected. And when you get these two axis's connected and people really understand that they can use GTD as a life management system, the big coin drops. You get a lot of the small coins drops, or you go, Oh, yeah, now, I understand, Hey. Yes. And they understand that they are getting better lives at this, but when the big coin drops that's when really I'm satisfied and I can go and kiss my wife and said, I get did a good job today.
Andrew J. Mason: Well, I could not think of a better note to end on. And I'm super grateful for you spending your time with us, we're honored that you're here. If folks are interested in finding out more about you or what you're up to, what are some of the ways that they can do that?
Morten Røvik: Well, we have our English speaking podcasts that I just mentioned Getting Things Done by GTD Nordics, do GTD Nordic in one word and GTDNordic. You'll find us in any podcast app you desire. My colleague and I go through everything about getting things done. We are on our second year now, and we've, I think we've 130,000 downloads and we are super happy about this because we are a very small niche podcast. Connect with me there and send us emails, podcasts@GTD nordic.tk for questions you might want us to raise. And, I want to point out that if you listened to the podcast, go in the chronological order, back to the episode number one, and listen to that and the five next because the one What's In It For Me for GTD.
And then then five steps in that 25 minutes and why this all these five steps and all about, and then you can cherry pick on the other episodes because I think that will help you. If you're going to use OmniFocus, do that, please, listen to that and then download OmniFocus, if you haven't done that yet. And you can connect with me on LinkedIn, Morten Rovik on LinkedIn, M-O-R-T-E-N R-O-V-I-K, and I'm sure you will put something in the show notes with links. And I have a YouTube channel where my colleague and I do English speaking GTD live coaching confess every one month, we do that. We give one hour where we will do announce on Facebook, when we do this, where you can ask us questions on the fly, or we can invite you into the studio. We have a little virtual studio where we can invite people too. I think that's it. Those two. And gtdNoric.com if you want to know about what we do for people in the Nordic region and gettingthingsdone.com for if you're in the United States and Canada, I hope to see you there sometime. Get in touch, people.
Andrew J. Mason: Thank you so much for being a guest with us today, Morten. It's been amazing having you here.
Morten Røvik: Yeah, and I'm honored to be here. Can I just have a little tidbit at the end?
Andrew J. Mason: Sure.
Morten Røvik: I didn't tell you this, but back in 2008, I started something called Oslo GTD Gathering. The Oslo GTD Gathering, Oslo is, of course, the capital of Norway, for those of you who are not very geographically literate. And Norway's in north Europe. So, okay. Geography lesson over. But, the Oslo GDT Gathering was formed in 2008 and we did one meeting where we actually had The Omni Group as a sponsor. So, that was the first time I emailed Ken Case. So hi, Ken, hope you're doing well. I met him also at the GTD summit in 2019. So, it's really good to say hi to him and some of the team he brought to there. So,
Andrew J. Mason: Well, I can't edit that out.
Morten Røvik: So, thank you, Omni Group, for making OmniFocus. It is a very rich toolbox for the serious GDTer, that's for sure. But a fool that a tool is still a fool, guys. So, first five episodes, six episodes, of the podcast will help you.
Andrew J. Mason: That's awesome, Morten, thank you so much.
Morten Røvik: Thank you.
Andrew J. Mason: Hey, and thank all of you for listening today, as well. Hey, we're curious. Are you enjoying these shows? Are you enjoying learning how other people are using Omni software and products to get things done? 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 email@example.com/blog.