– You’re listing to Getting Things Done, the official podcast of the David Allen Company, with our feature conversation between Meg Edwards and Kelly Forester discussing horizon two, areas of focus. Welcome, everyone, to Getting Things Done, GTD for shorthand. My name’s Andrew J. Mason and this podcast is all about helping you on your journey practicing the art of stress-free productivity. Today we’re excited to tune you into an areas of focus webinar where we take the conversation even a level above your projects list. But first, our segment called One Question with David. This is where we take a question regarding GTD that we believe a lot of people are asking and then we pose it to David himself. This episode, we asked him, now that we have deeper scientific research and insight into how the brain takes in information, has it changed any of your day-to-day habits at all? Here’s David with the answer.
– Probably the biggest change is just getting myself to more frequently write more down. Especially when I’m in group context or when I’m in meeting with other people, you know, around a whiteboard or making sure I’ve got a nice, full letter-size pad that I pull out, give myself freedom to doodle, if nothing else. Jut getting more and more habitual, I guess, with externalizing my thinking. And then just looking at it and sitting back and playing with that. And it’s not a new principle and it’s certainly not a new technique for me, but I think more and more and more comfort with that, more familiarity with that. This is not so much about my brains, so much as just my potential unconsciousness, is I try to write neater. You know, my hurried notes that I’m making, like, oh, this would be a great tweet or oh, that’d be really cool. You know, the frustrating thing is to loop back around and look at it and go, what is that? You know, so write it with a little bit more of a descriptor, you know, really realizing that a lot of the thoughts are very fleeting. You know, the mind is so seductive. When you’re having a thought, it seems so self-evident that you’re sure you won’t forget it or you’re sure that, hey, I’ve got some sort of placeholder for it that I’ll bring it back and, you know, I guess that’s something I’ve learned, which is that’s not necessarily true, that you know, as it gets a little more subtle or sophisticated or quick or whatever, the fleeting thoughts as they come by, how critical it is to, you know, make sure I grab them and be willing to have even more bad ideas and even throw more stuff away. I mean, I throw away probably 80%, 90% of the notes I take. Just the 10% are really cool. So anyway, writing more, getting more habit with that, making sure more of it’s out of my head. And I think that’s particularly true with where things are going. You know, how do you support creative thinking? Once you have a clear head, what do you do with it? What are all the cool things you can do with that? And so, having great expressive instruments, whether that’s typing into the computer, it’s texting myself an email, writing on my iPad and sending myself a Gmail email that goes into my other account or just pads of paper I carry around with me.
– Excellent points. Well, like we mentioned at the beginning, today we have Meg Edwards and Kelly Forester sharing their thoughts and best practices regarding horizon two and your areas of focus. This chat is a smaller slice of a larger conversation that first showed up on GTD Connect, an online community with literally hundreds of other conversations similar to this one. Later in the episode, we’ll share how to join the community as well as receive an awesome discount when you join us over there. But for now, we know you’re going to enjoy this discussion of horizons of focus between Meg Edwards and Kelly Forester.
– What I wanna mention about Horizons of Focus, don’t think it all needs to be matchy-matchy, everything correlates to everything else, you have to have a purpose which relates to the 40,000 level, 30,000, which relates to your area of focus, which has a project, which has a next action. I wouldn’t ever try to assign somebody to have it all map that directly ’cause it probably won’t.
– Yeah one of the things here that you can see between the project and the areas of focus is that we’re real stickler on making sure their project has a verb somewhere in the subject line. So, you can put the verb before, after, you know, I always say to my clients, I don’t care where it is, just make sure that there’s a verb. And the areas of focus in some ways is a trigger list and then you folks can decide how much you wanna flesh it out. So, under health, you could have a whole list of triggers underneath health, I’ve seen it both ways. Some people just put health and they don’t need to put anything else and then some people will put a lot of information under health as a trigger. You just want to be careful not to embed any projects or actions under your areas of focus, but if they’re particular things that get triggered for your areas of focus, then you can go ahead and flesh that out, you don’t have to have verbs there.
– Yeah, and your comment about the verbs on projects, it doesn’t matter in our experience where you put the verb. You can do shave the goat or goat shaved. It doesn’t matter. It’s like, outcome is that goat is shaved. So, who cares how you list it, just do it in the way that makes sense for you, so when you look at your projects list, you go, alright I see that outcome. That guy’s getting shaved and you know what done looks like. So, experiment with it. Really, I think you’ll find there are some things that are pretty black and white with GTD and there are some things that aren’t. So go with some, we try to point out the ones that give you some differentiation there, but just go with what works for you on this, yeah.
– I can’t even begin to reinforce this, you guys, because I’ll see a project list that will say budget, assistant, Fiji, files, marathon, kitchen. I mean, I see that more than not. But there’s just something about slowing down and this is where David says you gotta slow down to speed up, that I think for some reason, people really don’t take the time to just write that sentence out. You can put assistant, you know that you wanna hire assistant, but if you’ve got volume on your project list, if you see budget, assistant, Fiji, files, marathon, kitchen, in the end, it’s not gonna do you any good to have that kind of a trigger list. The trigger list can be on your areas of focus, but not your project list. So, I highly, highly recommend that you folks go back to your project lists and really try to name them the way that you see Kelly naming them here. And it will be night and day. You’ll all the sudden say, wow, what a huge difference. I didn’t realize what a difference it was just fleshing it out a little bit more.
– Yeah and there is something to that verb on your outcomes, your projects and there’s a whole piece in GTD about focus, if you’ve seen that in the book, it’s a terrific part because it really does, what you focus on you’re seeing done and it’s amazing what the power of our focus is to help bring you data information and move you into action, to help you see done. Oh, assistant hired, reference filing done, you’re seeing what done looks like and you’re lining up whatever part of you can line up to do that, so there’s some power in that. Meg, can you talk about your areas of focus here? Do you want me to just flash the personal first, so you can talk about that or flash them-
– Sure. Yeah, I think that this kind of just shows you how between Kelly’s and mine, they’re different ways to be able to do this. So actually, I think Kelly grabbed this from a mind map that I did and under hobbies, when you opened up hobbies, then you saw skiing and sailing and tennis and hiking and those kinds of things. So, I actually kind of list out more specifically the hobbies that I’m tracking, the property that I have. I gave an example when I was married, my husband and I didn’t have the animals on either one of our areas of focus and we had a dog who needed special food and we kept running out of this dog food and it really wasn’t good for Sam. And I realized when I was doing a review on my areas of focus that neither of us had really owned the dog food, buying special dog food and I added it to my areas of focus list with Sam and the next thing, Sam always had the dog food. And I give that kind of dumb and dorky example in terms of, I call this areas of focus because it’s more than just my job responsibilities. It’s all those things that I’m focusing on. And every month, I review these and I say, OK, so, how are my hobbies? Are they on cruise control? Am I really focusing on what I wanna be focusing on? And does that bring forth any projects or actions? Property, know that I have some property and what’s going on with those pieces of property? And again, does that bring forth any projects and actions? Are they on cruise control? Am I maintaining the way, are they meeting my standards? And just down the list you go. And I just do that because that is what actually keeps my project list. This is my bridge list, I think the areas of focus list is your bridge list to the higher levels of goals, vision, and purpose and the lower levels of projects and actions. This is, for me, my stability list. I absolutely love this areas of focus list because this is what, frankly, keeps my sanity. And when things get out of kilter, I go to this list to make sure that I’m really, kind of, on track with my purpose and in alignment. So, that’s my personal. Professionally-
– And Meg, how often do you review these? Someone’s asking, they don’t really get how you use the areas of focus. Are they just reminders for us to review periodically? Are there goals associated with them?
– We recommend, generally speaking, you wanna look at this as often as you need to. You know how sometimes folks will say to us, you know, they kinda have this gnawing sense of anxiety that something’s gonna come up and bite them? And I think it’s because they don’t have fully fleshed out their areas of focus. So, once a month, I actually have it in my calendar as a reoccurring event, I don’t necessarily recommend that everybody do it this way, but once a month, I make about a half-hour to 45 minute appointment with myself to review my areas of focus. And what I do, is I literally just, for example, July, well August is kind of coming up pretty soon, so I’m gonna be doing it the first week of August. So, if I was doing this in real time, I’d be saying, OK, hobbies, what’s going on with me with my hobbies? And what that would probably trigger for real, is that skiing, I need to probably get my ski pass for this season. So that actually triggers an action, but not a project. Now, I just thought about that right now and I wouldn’t have thought about that, maybe I would have thought about it, maybe I’m not or maybe you can have other systems for it. But that’s my trigger to say, OK, it’s time to get my ski pass. Anything going on with sailing or hiking or and then I’m thinking, well, geez, you know, I think the Fall’s coming up, maybe I wanna take a weekend and take Annie and go hike. So, that just popped up out of my head. So, do you see? It’s one of those things where stuff just kinda shows up that might not have showed up by looking at this list.
– Mmhmm. And lots of people are saying, oh wow, I wish I saw the detail underneath those. I actually don’t write details. I don’t. To me it’s enough to say volunteer work or fun and creativity. I don’t say what fun and creativity would specifically look like. So, if that’s helpful for you, certainly do it and flesh out whatever you need to do. And I think David Allen would just say, don’t force yourself into some kind of formula here or, we like to have several coaches on these webinars so you’re seeing different perspectives. There are different ways to do this, so the intention is you’re capturing those things you’re maintaining, you’re overseeing in your personal and professional life and you’re giving them the proper attention they need and you don’t feel like anything’s not getting handled in the way you want it to be handled. Lots of people have five to seven, you could have more, you could have less. So, go for the intention here, not necessarily the form. In fact, on the form, you might find that, for a while, I did these as a mind map. I found that they were easier to look at for me in a mind map. Now I have them in a list, I have a category in Lotus Notes called Roles and I list them all under there as each individual role, which you’ll see. So, that works really well for me. So, you could kind of list them wherever you want, put them on a post-it note on your keyboard if that really is gonna work for you or put them in a lovely journal somewhere. You have some flexibility here, they’re not as much like the projects and actions list, that you really need to have a pretty quick handle on and be able to get your hands on quickly ’cause you’re working with them so often. I do find as well, I don’t know if you do this, Meg, in my roles are defined by some key areas in the company that I, we call them circles, so I have some key circles that I work in, so I do find it helpful to link my projects to the area of focus that it represents for my work stuff. I don’t do that for personal. I don’t say fun-dash-go to Tahiti. I do find it helpful for works and yeah. Do you link yours that way, Meg?
– I do just what you do, Kelly. Some I link and some I don’t, depending on the volume. For example, I have a lot of clients and so they all get grouped together under, you know, clients, whether it’s a virtual work-flow coaching client or a work-flow coaching client and so I like to see those all together. And then other things, like you were saying, I don’t need to have it grouped together. So, I like to have my financial projects grouped together because I have a lot of volume on that area of focus right now because I’m really working on my finances. I think that one of the things that is so fascinating and the reason why I love the conversation about projects and areas of focus is I had just completed a coaching with a woman where for two days, we were able to grab all her actions and projects. And, you know, obviously really loved it and was rocking and rolling and in my follow-up call with her yesterday, I bumped her up to the areas of focus and we created her areas of focus. And she only had three major areas of focus. And she used Outlook and she could sort by subject. So, her project list was alphabetical and I had her start each one of those projects with her areas of focus. And so, she grouped them together and all of the sudden, her project list was now a focusing list. David doesn’t do this. He doesn’t link his projects to areas of focus, although I think now that he’s electronic on that he now can do that where I think he starts with some of his projects with a key word or an area of focus. I just invite all of you to play around with it. If you’re paper-based, actually, my lists are on paper now, so, I have to kind of finagle it a little bit to link my areas of focus to project. But if you’re electronic and it sorts by subject, it actually is very easy to do this. I would really invite you to play around with linking your areas of focus to projects. And see what works and what doesn’t work. About 95% of my clients, our clients, like to link projects and areas of focus, it’s what finally makes the project list make sense. Give it a try and see how it works.
– Yeah, it’s terrific advice. And I find, too, it’s helpful to have that view of which of my projects are relating to the areas of focus, so I see what’s top-heavy. If I am thinking my job is one big thing or a lot of people are thinking it’s one big area, but I realize another area has the bulk of projects that are taking my resources, there’s something to look at there. So, it can be really helpful information if you wanna dive into that kinda detail.
– And it’s a lot easier to renegotiate it, where you can see I’m really top-heavy here, so I need to maybe put some of these projects on hold.
– Or someday maybe to make room for these other areas of focus that really need some of these projects’ attention. It’s such an easier way of doing it than trying to figure it out in your head.
– Yep. And Leslie was asking, how are areas of focus different than responsibility or roles? They’re the same thing. We’re really just using different phrases here. Pretty much the same level, it’s all 20,000 level. Alright. Let me show you mine. So, personal, you’ll see I have actually fewer listed than Meg. These are the ones that just work for me. Health and fitness, wealth, family and friends, spiritual focus, fun and creativity, and service work. Those are the ones that I’m looking at. And, let’s see, there are six of those. Really works for me, those are the groups. I have some projects underneath all of those. Actually, no I don’t, I take it back. I do not have any active projects right now under something like wealth and that’s OK. But the good news is I’m sharing this list with my husband. He might have a project on that, in fact I know he does under wealth and our retirement account. So, it’s OK for me, I have an area of focus, but I’ve delegated any kind of project related to it to someone else. But it’s still an area of focus for me. Yeah, someone saying, wealth is more positive than finances, I feel the same way. I was a little bit like, it just felt like reading Forbes magazine when I used to have just finances. It didn’t feel very, woo! So, really, what was the outcome I was looking for around that? And wealth sounded like a fun word around that.
– But that’s a great point because I think it’s so important that these attract you. And so you’ve got to really pay attention. That’s why we’re just, we’re putting it out there. I probably now am gonna change mine to wealth, too, so. I was looking at it and thought, I think I’m gonna change that. But this is the thing. Kelly and I have had these lists for years and years and years and years. We still tweak them. You wanna keep them alive and vibrant. These lists and these focusing lists are not meant to just create and then go numb to. So, please, please pay attention to what attracts or repels you, just like the finances versus wealth. You gotta call it what’s gonna make sense to you, so it’s of value to you.
– Yep and these are pretty dynamic, especially in our company. Things are moving pretty quickly, so I’ll find that my professional areas of focus here, which someone had said, is this kind of like a job description? Very much so. And these are very dynamic, they change pretty often for me, which could be every couple of weeks I’m adding or removing things. So these map specifically to everything the company, everybody in our company can see what each other’s work areas of focus are. Someone’s saying, Kelly, you have about 14 areas of focus or do you consider it only two, professional and personal? I have 14. I consider I have 14, Michael. And it could be 16 tomorrow or 12 tomorrow. So, professional and personal are just really a way to delineate them, just in terms of how you’re thinking is. But I consider that I have 14 areas of focus.
– Yeah and somebody asked about, could running be an area of focus not just health? Of course. This is again where you wanna customize it where it makes sense to you. You know, if running is such a big part of your life and you want it as its own separate areas of focus, go for it. There really are no rights or wrongs here. Again, it’s a trigger list and I think that it’s gonna be a work in progress for everybody to figure out what they want on this list, what they don’t want on this list, the languaging of it. But it’s very important to have this list and to separate it from your other horizons of focus lists.
– Someone’s saying, where do you put mastering GTD? For me, it’s implicit in instructor. To be an instructor, you have to be a master at GTD. So, I have an ongoing practice. I’m a student of this as much as anyone else, really. I know I teach it, Meg and I both teach it, but for me, I consider myself on the learning end as often as I can, so that really comes with my instructor role, for me personally. Are there any, Meg, I’ll have you answer this one. Are there any common warning signs that areas of focus are incomplete or too complete, meaning too many. How would you answer Leon’s question?
– I would go back to that, does it attract or repel you? You know, I hate to be redundant here, but it’s so highly individualized. What I see works with one person’s areas of focus lists wouldn’t work for somebody else’s areas of focus list. Too much detail can overwhelm somebody and they lose the focus. Not enough detail, they can miss things. So, my areas of focus and the details of it got added basically because I missed the boat on some things and then I added it so that I would be reminded of it. And that’s how I kind of organically created this. This is just gonna give you the jump-start to create it, but I invite you to review this at least once a month. In the beginning, I looked at my areas of focus list every week and then I could look at it every other week and every two weeks and now it’s enough for me to look at it every month. But there was a point about two months ago when some changes happened with my job description that I was looking at it weekly. So again, what do I need to do to get this off of my mind and just to feel like I’m moving on all the parts that I need to? There’s just enough volume in my life that I need to have that list then just keep it in my mind. The other thing that I wanna just point out for you parents with these areas of focus lists is that you pretty much own all of your children’s areas of focus. And so, I have a 12-year-old daughter, Annie, where pretty much, I still own all of her areas of focus, her health, her school, her friends, her finances, her wealth, all of that. And as she gets older, she’s gonna start creating her own areas of focus lists and those pieces are gonna be delegated to Annie, so that as she leaves the nest, she’s gonna be really in charge of her own areas of focus. So, that’s just a little tip to parents that you might want to think about.
– Great advice, Meg. And again, David typically recommends you look at this about quarterly, but look at it as often as you need to. As Meg said, if your job is changing, you find that the things are shifting around, look at it as often as you need to. It’s all guidelines. So, quarterly would be, you know, a good guideline or even once a month, but you might find they change more often than that or they don’t change nearly that much at all. So, you know, your call, really. You could have a trigger in your weekly review, time to review areas of focus, question mark. And if it’s not time, you review it again next time or you defer it. Or have it perhaps as a calendar trigger for you. Now, based on that, did that trigger any projects or actions that need to be captured in your system? Any conversations to have, that’s typical, wouldn’t you say, Meg? Where people do this and realize, oh, I realize I need to have a conversation with my spouse, my boss, my colleague, my client, et cetera.
– Exactly, because to get clarity in the level, sometimes you have to bump up a level, get clarity there, and then come back down to the level below to get the clarity. So, that’s why we’re talking about your areas of focus and projects simultaneously, so you have clarity and alignment in both levels.
– And if they’re not, then you can see a path towards getting them back into alignment.
– Such good thoughts. If you’re a parent, that one insight about inheriting your child’s area of focus from Meg, that is gold for you. Now, like we mentioned at the beginning, to hear the rest of this interview as well as to be the first to hear others, why not join us over at GTD Connect? Plus, you get to save some money when you sign up. You can redeem the coupon code podcast over at gettingthingsdone.com/podcast and clicking on GTD Connect. That’s it for this episode. And until next time, I’m Andrew J. Mason asking you, now that you’ve listened to this podcast, what’s your next action?