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Stay Focused: Decide What Is Important

For those of you who have been reading my blog posts for the last year, you will have noticed a reoccurring theme in a few of my posts, where I am looking at how one can become more effective in getting things done.

In my last post I introduced you to The Pomodoro Technique, in which one tries to structure their day, so that they can remain focused on completing the tasks that are most important to them.

The Pomodoro Technique is very good at helping you remain focused on tasks, however how does one decide which tasks they should actually be focusing on?  One of the ways in which I do this is by applying one of the elements from the David Allen Getting Things Done methodology, called the Horizons of Focus.

Horizons of Focus asks to look at your life from varying perspectives, starting at the ground level where you identify all the day to day tasks that have your attention, ending at the 50,000 feet level where you answer those big questions in life like “Why am I here” and “What are my values and beliefs”

Below are brief descriptions of the different Horizons of Focus

  • Runway  - Next Actions
    What tasks do you have on your radar that need to be done immediately.  e.g. reply to that email my boss sent, or buy birthday cake for my daughter’s birthday.
  • 10,000 feet – Projects
    All the things you have committed to finish that take more than one step to complete.  For example organise a birthday party for my daughter, create a new company website, fix bathroom shower.
  • 20,000 feet – Areas of Focus & Responsibility
    These are the agreements you have with yourself about your responsibilities, interests and focus areas e.g. being a parent, spouse, team manager, website content owner, keeping fit etc.  These should be reviewed monthly to ensure that the projects you working on are aligned with these roles.
  • 30,000 feet – Goals and Objectives
    What do you want to achieve in the next 12-18 months.  For example Sales volume increased by 30%, or I want to be able to run a marathon.
  • 40,000 feet – Vision
    Long term 3 to 5 year goals.  What would success look, sound or feel like that far down the road.  This is something that you should write down and review once a year to make sure.  Your Vision should always be supported by your 12-18 month goals and objectives.
  • 50,000 feet – Purpose and Principles
    What is the purpose of the life that you are living?  What are your driving principles and beliefs.

The idea is that by going through each of these elevations and really thinking about the answers given, you will in effect have a road map that can guide you through deciding what tasks you should be working at on a daily basis.

A great example of where this road map can help is on those occasions when you have two or more potential projects, but you don’t have the bandwidth to work on all of them.  I find it really useful to base my decisions on the content of my higher elevation levels.  So I ask myself, does this project help support my 12-18 month objectives and does taking this project in any way conflict with my driving principles and beliefs.

I’m keen to hear your thoughts on this approach.  Would you find this useful?  Have you come across it before?  Do you use something similar?

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The Author:

I live in Kilkenny, Ireland, and I'm married with one daughter. I was born in Derry, and came to Kilkenny via Manchester, England, and Dublin. My passion is all things Social Media, and for the last 2 years I have been working as a Social Media Evangelist for Oracle, where I have worked for the last 8 years. This role entails, promoting the use of Social Media internally for improved communication and collaboration. My other interests include sports, especially football (soccer), reading, video games, movies/tv, music and walking.

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  • Anonymous

    Cool post Frank.nEverybody should be always thinking about their long term objectives. I admit that sometimes is really difficult, especially when “opportunity” hits.nThe advantages of carrying out a technique like this is that you would constantly have that big picture very close in every decision. I’d recommend to have that as visual as possible.

  • Niall Devitt

    I like this Frank, thanks for sharing! I have a long-term set of (5-10 year) goals and have based mush of my decision making during the last two years or so on continuingu00a0to put myself in a position to achieve these longer-term objectives. Turning in down projects and potential customers has now become much easier because of this, and the projects that I work on are much more focused because. Of course, there are still times when a short-term need out weights and I need to proceed but even this have become a lot less common in the last while. Short-term thinking is in my opinion very often the reason why businesses, people and countries get themselves into difficulties and continuing to think like this virtually guarantees failure.

  • Elaine Rogers

    Long term objectives aside, by gosh what you refer to above is more than a road map Frank. It sounds like a mountaineering exercise which involves altitude as well as distance.nnBut it fits the bill, the longer term goals definitely take us to a higher level, because it means we are valuing ourselves and interested in where our future comes from, not just allowing circumstances dictate our future.nnWe have destiny, and it’s up to us to plan it out and execute those plans. But not beat ourselves up when we hit an obstacle.nnI like the concept, reminds me of different levels of goal setting using a specific coaching model. It also reminds me of Maslow and his hiearchy of needs. We can only plan for our long term futures, when we are sustained at more basic levels.

  • Timo Kiander

    u00a0Frank,nnI find this approach to be very valuable.nnHow often do you review your goals?u00a0

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comment Niall. u00a0I often hear people saying that they need to get batter at saying No. u00a0Having these long term goals is a great tool to enable you to say No with greater certainty.

  • Anonymous

    I agree Elaine it is a big undertaking and one that I’m trying to address. u00a0I’m happy with my ability to focus on what my day to day tasks are, but I need to do better at working on the long term goals. u00a0The more I look into it the more I see the need tou00a0scheduleu00a0some quiet time away from everything to clearly think out these long term goals.nnThanks for also mentioning Maslow’s hierarchy. u00a0The more I look into this area, the more I see that his model underpins many of the approaches.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Timo. u00a0My aim is to review my goals and objectives each month to make sure I am doing projects that support them. u00a0I aim to review my 3-5 year vision, once a year.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comment Fred. u00a0I like the idea of making it as visual as possible. u00a0Making things more visual is an area I need to work on. u00a0Do you have any hints/tips?