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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GTD’s 6 Horizons of Focus

David 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 “work” into six levels, or horizons of focus:

Runway:

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.

10,000 level (Next Actions):

This is the inventory of your projects – all the things that you have commitments to finish, that take more than one action step to complete. These “open loops” are what create most of your actions. These projects include anything from “look into having a birthday party for Susan” to “buy Acme Brick Co.” Most people have between 30 and 100 of these. If you were to fully and accurately define this list, it would undoubtedly generate many more and different actions than you currently have identified.

20,000 level (Projects):

What’s your job? Driving the creation of a lot of your projects are the four to seven major areas of responsibility that you at least implicitly are going to be held accountable to have done well, at the end of some time period, by yourself if not by someone else (e.g. boss.) With a clear and current evaluation of what those areas or responsibility are, and what you are (and are not) doing about them, there are likely new projects to be created, and old ones to be eliminated.

30,000 level (Goals and Objectives):

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? We’ve met very few people who are doing only what they were hired to do. These days, job descriptions are moving targets. 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.

40,000 level (Areas of Focus):

The goals and direction of the larger entity within which you operate heavily influence your job and your professional direction. Where is your company going to be, one to three years from now? How will that be affecting the scope and scale of your job, your department, and your division? What external factors (like technology) are influencing the changes? How is the definition and relationship with your customers going to be changing, etc.? Thinking at this level invariably surfaces some projects that need to be defined, and new action steps to move them forward.

50,000 level (Purpose/Vision):

What is the work you are here to do on the planet, with your life? This is the ultimate bigger picture discussion. Is this the job you want? Is this the lifestyle you want? Are you operating within the context of your real values, etc.? From an organizational perspective, this is the Purpose and Vision discussion. Why does it exist? No matter how organized you may get, if you are not spending enough time with your family, your health, your spiritual life, etc., you will still have “incompletes” to deal with, make decisions about, and have projects and actions about, to get completely clear.

To be honest, it took me a few years to fully appreciate the 30K, 40K and 50K levels but once I did it really gave balance and context to my overall system.  Th is especially true when I am doing my Weekly Review – it is okay to not review my 30-50K Areas of Focus every week.  How have you incorporated the Areas of Focus into your Trusted System?