Horizons of Focus

Horizon of focusDavid Allen uses the altitudes metaphor for describing the different levels of defining what your “work” really is. Even if we have some of the lower levels in control, there are often incomplete and unclear issues at higher levels that need to be addressed to really get it all under control and experience “mind like water.” He categorized everything in our lives into six levels, or “horizons of focus.”

Starting at the top or highest altitude is the 50,000-foot level which is the purpose you have for your life. I like to think of it as “what would you want someone to say in your eulogy at your funeral? It may not seem like it, but no matter how organized you may get, if you are not spending enough time with your family, your health, your causes, your spiritual life, etc., you will still have “incomplete” stuff to deal with, make decisions about, and have projects and actions about, to get completely clear.

Next, is the 40,000-foot level where you need to identify your vision for how you are going to achieve your life’s purpose. What it will look, sound, feel like with successful implementation. Identify your long-term outcomes and ideal scenarios.

Then, you move down to the 30,000-foot level where you identify your goals and objectives. Think about where is your job going. What will the role you’re in right now be looking like 12-18 months from now, based on your goals and on the directions of the changes at that level? You may be personally changing what you’re doing, given personal goals; and the job itself may need to look different, given the shifting nature of the work at the departmental or divisional level. Getting this level clear always creates some new projects and actions.

The 20,000-foot level is where the areas of focus that you are responsible for in the various aspects of your life. What areas are you responsible for in the bigger picture of your life? Things like your job, family, health, spiritual and friends and family can be sources of areas of focus.Thinking at this level invariably surfaces some projects that need to be defined, and new action steps required to move them forward.

Now, we move down to where the actual work gets done. The 10,000-foot level is where the multitude of projects you are committed to get identified. David Allen defines a project as any outcome that’s going to require more than one action item, in some sequence of events in order to be able to get to that outcome. Many people get “stuck” here because they bring with then a pre-conceived notion of what a project is and is not. Projects are just a list of outcomes you have committed to described in a way that starts with a verb and describes exactly when it is complete. These “open loops” are what create most of your next actions.

And finally the runway or ground level is where the vast majority of the actual next actions necessary to get stuff done happens. This is the ground floor – the huge volume of actions and information you currently have to do and to organize, including emails, calls, memos, errands, stuff to read, stuff to file, things to talk to staff about, etc. This is where you break down each project and decide what is the next action and make that your runway.

To be honest, it took me a few years to fully appreciate the 30K, 40K and 50K levels of GTD but once I did it really gave balance and context to my overall system.

How have you incorporated the Horizons of Focus into your Trusted System?

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About Michael Keithley
Digital Transformation CIO and Public Speaker. Previously, CIO at Creative Artists Agency

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