Your greatest asset is your ability to transfer and manage information. It’s the foundation for everything you do. In order to make this happen, time, attention, and energy come into alignment.


Up until now, we’ve engaged in this largely intuitively -- following trial and error -- but too often we waste time, lose attention, burn energy -- and squander our best asset.


These energies are precious and fleeting.


At a point when the pressures on our time, attention, and energy have never been more intense, we help you learn how and when to snap them into alignment for your best advantage. Because your best is our mission.



Thirty years of research in cognitive diversity, in the processing and communications patterns of top-performing individuals, and in 21st century behavioral science, lead us to the touch points for how we capture information.


Even just a few years ago, we thought of attention as a singular skill and our attention span as a single phenomenon. What's emerged is we all have reflexive responses to the information flowing at us from our surroundings. What's more, each of has an individual constellation of reflexive responses. Our attention is not a single thing. We have multiple attention processes.


One of the Victorian age’s greatest thinkers, Alfred North Whitehead, observed a phenomenon in himself and his contemporary, Bertrand Russell. Russell was a master at reducing complexity down to basic elemental structures, while Whitehead tended to excel at reconciling disparate and even seemingly contradictory facts. Whitehead, with his customary wit, referred to his style of thinking as “muddle-headed” while he described Russell’s as “simple-minded.”


At this point in the 21st century, we have a reasonably durable understanding there are two dominant ways of processing knowledge, or cognition, within our brains. Cognitive scientist, Rand Spiro, has identified two ways our brains build knowledge. We learn some information through discrete serial processes, in the manner of a digital processor, while our brains build the rest of our knowledge through multiple, irregular, and simultaneous overlaps of elements. In short, the research shows our brains have elements of Russell’s “simple-minded” sequential style, at the same time, manifesting some of Whitehead’s “muddle headed” or associative style.


For this purpose, we call Whitehead’s muddle-headed thinking as associative preferent and Russell’s simple-minded thinking as sequential preferent.

Cognitive vs Emotional


The tools for self-understanding developed prior to the 21st century mixed the cognitive -- how we think about things -- with the emotional, how we feel about things. Even scholastic examinations and aptitude tests, designed to assess cognition, were conducted under time pressure and under conditions not conducive to relaxation and contemplation; thereby, putting the examined under emotional stress.


Why we thought people training to be historians, poets, botanists, and paleontologists, should be selected by their ability to display their skills and knowledge to artificial deadlines seems obtuse at best, and, perhaps because of that obtuseness, resistant to change. We seem to value moving fast and breaking things over consideration in its broadest meaning.


By this point, we are able to separate how we think about things (attention, focus, energy, clarity) from how we feel about them (irritated, excited, happy, motivated, depressed).




In addition to developing measures for our cognitive responses separate from our emotional responses, The Focus Survey gets underneath learning and aptitude to a place most analogous to our handedness. You can tell me you’re right-handed, left-handed, or ambidextrous but that doesn’t tell me how well you play the piano. However, if I were your coach in that domain, it’d be the first thing we’d establish to drive training forward.


Our aptitude comes from a different place. That’s why a right handed professional athlete will make a play with her left hand that I couldn’t make with my right. She’s a professional athlete on both sides, and I am one in neither. Nonetheless, we use both sides to walk and to carry things with both hands. And by interest or injury, we can develop the capability of our off side. It will take more attention and energy with the result is more cognitively taxing, but within reach, shall we say.


In short, our neuropreferences don’t necessarily determine destiny. Many of us do the cognitive equivalent of juggling chainsaws in spite of unbalanced neuropreferences.




In 1998, Francis Sopper, consulting with Robert Lefton, Ph.D., CEO of Psychological Associates, headed up the preparation of learning-performance materials for the commercial market. The resulting cognitive preference survey underwent further revision in 2000, following evaluation by Carnegie Mellon researcher Suguru Ishizaki, Ph.D.MIT MediaLab.


Since 1999, OpenBook Learning, now a partner with The David Allen Company as GTD®Focus, has examined thousands of comprehensive diagnostic, aptitude, and achievement testing results, school and college entrance examination outcomes, psychological and educational evaluations, and other performance data.


GTD® Focus has applied this research with individuals trying to achieve best thinking. This includes heads of multinational organizations, leaders in business, the military, sports, education, design, and entertainment.


The work is always under review as new data emerges from published research in neuroscience together with OpenBook’s engagement with high-performing individuals.


The Focus Survey is 53 straightforward questions designed to capture your reflexive response to information. Completing the survey reveals your strength of response to information from seven neuro-physical processes.

Cognitive Preferences


You have five separate reflexive responses for each of your communications processors; what we call listener, observer, mover, reader, and talker.


Listener measures our reflexive activation for meaningful sound. Our environment is full of sound. We process only a portion of that into awareness. For humans, most of that meaningful sound is human speech, although we have music, fire alarms, babies crying, faucets dripping, and, for many engineers, among others, machinery sound.


Observer measures our activation for meaningful visual information. As humans, we have two languages: our verbal language of words and texts; alongside all the ways we humans convey meaning symbolically: our body language, cultural symbols, style and fashion, and all the complex languages of art, architecture, and design through which we communicate among each other. This system allows us to recognize two kinds of visual information: essential and representational.


Mover measures the neurostimulus we derive from engaging our gross and fine motor systems, that is, the engagement of our skeletal muscles. Moving around improves brain function in all the obvious mechanical ways: improved circulation, increased metabolism, more oxygen to the brain. At the same time, being in motion also improves brain function in a number of ways cognitive scientists are only beginning to be understood.


Reader represents the neurostimulus we derive from the neurological process of decoding text. There is a distinction in the way our brains activate for text. For many of us, engaging our brains in the complex task of recognizing and processing coded text into meaning activates our brain's pleasure response. For others of us, our brain's pleasure response comes from the content rather than the process. The higher we are on the reader scale, the more added pleasure we get -- just from solving the decoding puzzle --apart from the pleasure derived from the content.


Talker measures the neurostimulus generated by the muscles we use to speak. In order to do something as simple as saying, “Hello,” we throw into complex and well-timed orientation muscles from the base of our diaphragm through our chest, throat, mouth, and lips. When we move this muscle system, the stimulus allows us to think more clearly, store in memory more durably, and retrieve more reliably.


What is attention?


We’re flooded with information. Even when we sleep, we have attention. Attention occurs when we activate for a piece of the information that’s constantly flowing around us from our environment or flowing inside us within our own minds. It’s the human condition. We can be alone in the desert at night and those silent stars are flooding us with information. We catch some information and most flows right on by.


We have different processes that each are looking for information and catching what’s interesting, useful, and actionable. Since these processes are competing with each other, what arrives as attention is pretty random. After information arrives, we still have to think about it in order for it to be useful.


We also are able to activate and hold our attention and focus for differing periods of time with each of our communications processors: Listener, Mover, Reader, Observer, and Talker.


Active Attention Some of us have processes that barely rest at all during our waking hours. We have processes that behave like radars: always on and alert the smallest stimuli. A neuroprocessor in an alert state makes the information taken in by that processor more obvious, can make it seem more important, and will make the information harder to ignore.


Selective Attention Some of our processes go into deeper resting states than others. When one of our processes is at rest, it takes a higher degree of stimulation to rouse it from a resting state, and it may take a higher degree of importance to keep it in activation. It will be more discriminating about what it activates for, and will find the stimulus easier to ignore.


Balanced Attention Some of us display what we call cognitive ambidextrousness, in that we have no preference for either selective or active within a process. All of us can shift focus from active to selective and back again, but, for most, moving from our dominant process to our off process requires more attention and energy. Those with balanced attention don’t pay the energetic cost of shifting from one to another.


While we think we are in conscious control of our attention and focus, and often can purposely focus and attend, most of our lives are driven by the differing states of activation or rest to which our neuroprocessors naturally drift.

The process


On any given day, we can marshal our energy and run from the Plains of Marathon to Athens, but it’s costly. We burn out, and can’t do this day to day to day. To get to our best, we need to manage and deploy our cognitive resources as we would any other costly resource. There’s no one-size-fits-all. There are general principles, but the focus is on the distinctiveness of each of us.


  1. Identify your own processors at work and find your natural cognitive limit for each with the Focus Survey.

  2. Allow us to create a customized plan. We help you balance your cognitive capacity as you shift your focus consciously among processes and the functions they perform.

  3. Lastly, we help you achieve and execute the plan together so that you can perform atyour best by aligning your time, attention, and energy.



Delivery: Individual / teams / groups/ organizations


Attention and Energy: Control the drivers that cause some things to catch and miss your attention and raise or lower your energy.


Powered Communications: Improve interpersonal effectiveness and deliver information so it catches others attention and activates their thinking.


Time Engagement: Don’t kill it, waste it, or spend it. Unpack the multi-dimensional nature of your experience of time so you can engage it.


Effective Leadership: Intuition is no longer enough. Leverage advanced cognitive science to access the right information, rule out options faster, and motivate more specifically.


Effective Mentoring: When your best is essential across all the arenas of your life, your only real asset is your idiosyncratic neuro-physical engagement with the universe. Begin a guided practice of consciously activating your alignment of your time, attention, and energy to your highest purposes.


Getting Things Done: GTD® focus is the headquarters for David Allen’s one-to-one Coaching in the United States and Canada. Getting Things Done coaching will disrupt your comfort zone and challenge you to think in new ways.



What makes our methodology different


The framework is a historic breakthrough because The Focus Survey measures the energetic cost of activating your time, attention, and energy.. This measurement is distinct to you, which gives us a path to working with how you engage the world so that we can help you achieve your best thinking and working.


Don’t take our word for it


“It’s been life changing.”

Louis Kim, VP at Hewlett Packard


“Discovering what’s really under the hood of your car can make a world of difference in how you drive and utilize its power. OpenBook’s Focus Survey does the same thing for the mind, producing awareness for creating the best strategies for our own thinking and working. It has been a brilliant resource for me personally, as well as for hundreds of our clients"

David Allen, Author and originator of Getting Things Done


"This is the only assessment I have used in my career that provides instant clarity. Unlike many other performance tools we have used in the military, it provides real-time insights into our behaviors and thinking--as well as easy steps we can employ immediately.”

General Jon Michel


“Understanding my cognitive preferences made my time on the International Space Station more effective and meaningful.”

Cady Coleman, Astronaut


Vermont, USA

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©2019 GTD® Focus.  GTD® and Getting Things Done® are registered trademarks of the David Allen Company, used with permission by GTD® Focus