How do you know if your projects list is complete?

GTD Secrets: True Confessions of a GTD Coach – Episode 3

Have you ever been stumped by the difference between a Project and an Area of Focus?

In this great 5 minute podcast, David Allen Company senior coach Meg Edwards talks about the GTD best practices for creating a Projects list. She gives tips on:

  • understanding the difference between a project vs. an area of focus
  • getting to a complete projects list vs. one that is “semi-complete”
  • why most people have a projects list that doesn’t really work
  • when to “bump up” or “bump down” in looking at your Horizons of Focus

In the podcast, she references her own Areas of Focus, which she captured in a mindmap:

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11 Responses to “How do you know if your projects list is complete?”

  1. Good podcast, thanks for clearning up the difference between the two. I am new to GTD so I am only just getting to grips with projects and areas of focus.

  2. Jason says:

    Very nice. I hadn’t realized there was such a thing as an “Area of Focus”. In my conceptualization, this was a grouping of projects with something in common, and they took the form of a folder in OmniFocus. It’s nice to make this new conceptual connections, especially with my mindsweep workflow.

  3. Kelly says:

    Hi Jason,

    Areas of Focus are key to GTD’s “Horizons of Focus.” I would highly recommend getting the GTD book, or at least reading an article on this important piece of the GTD model, like this one:

    It will make the whole priorities piece of GTD “click” when you understand Horizons of Focus.

    – Kelly

  4. GTD Times Team says:

    A GTD’er named Dan wrote to us after listening to the podcast and asked:

    I’m definitely not the proud owner of a complete project list, but I have a next action to think through my current roles. I drew a strong parallel between what you call areas of focus and what I call roles in my life (husband, son, brother, employee, homeowner, human being (hygiene, etc.), banker (personal finance, etc.). Just another way to skin the same cat, I think, but thought the perspective might help someone out there. I’m also interested in seeing the sample of your project/areas of focus list.

    Meg Edwards replied:

    Yes, areas of focus can also be called roles and responsibilities and so forth. I always encourage my clients to use the language which bests works for them. I use areas of focus because it also includes any roles that I have.

    Here are some of my projects given my areas of focus. Sometimes I start my projects with a key word or area of focus but you don’t have to do it this way.

    Annie- Finalize Annie’s summer schedule
    Health- Ensure Crossfit training program is on cruise control- 3 days on, one day off
    Morningside- Ensure house is rented for 5 weeks this summer
    Home- Paint guest bedroom floor
    WC- Complete WC with John S.
    TC- Complete TC with Mike Z.
    Training- Complete Webinar on Outlook add-in.

    Hope that helps and would love to hear when you have a complete project list.

  5. This is so helpful! Thank you…

  6. Mariano says:

    Great Pod Meg! For me the penny dropped when I realized that my areas of focus are those that will help me achieve my life vision. After working and identifying what I want to achieve in my life, I can start going down and break it in smaller pieces or areas that will help me achieving my vision. I also push myself to think of projects as actions, they start with a verb and I can achieve them or somebody next to me or my circle of influence.
    Finally, if I see that a project is not achieving 100% I go back to the question, what is in there for me? Maybe that action wasn’t relevant or my reality has changed and that project is not relevant anymore.

  7. Mariano says:

    One final comment, for learning about your areas of focus there is a great book that I read many years ago which helped me focusing on what I want to achieve: Your Best Year Yet!: Ten Questions for Making the Next Twelve Months Your Most Successful Ever

    Enjoy it!

  8. Jason S says:

    Great podcast. That gave me an Aha! moment. I had a few Areas of Focus in my Projects and Someday/Maybe lists. I have two questions…

    1) Where should I track my Areas of Focus? I’m using Outlook Tasks as my lists manager. Should I also use it for my Areas of Focus?

    2) Should I identify/list a Project and/or Next Action for each Area of Focus?


  9. Meg Edwards says:

    Hi Mariano:

    Thanks for sharing how you used your areas of focus to support you with getting more clarity with your vision.


    To answer your question about where to keep your areas of focus list if you use outlook I have coached clients to either create a new category called areas of focus in tasks or to put areas of focus in the notes section. If you put a “z” in front of areas of focus when you create the category it will drop below your someday maybe list.

    To answer your second question about whether to identify/list a Project and/or Next Action for each Area of Focus I would say that review each area of focus and ask yourself do you possible have a project or next action for this area of focus? Remember, you can have a next action to a area of focus and not have a project. The example I gave was my dad is an area of focus and I had a next action to help him with the boats but I didn’t have a project for him.

    Thanks again for your questions!


  10. John Thompson says:

    I just listened to the podcast. Thanks for that. Making the linkages between projects and areas of focus was very helpful.

  11. Marli says:

    Thanks Meg. I have just started to implement GTD, and had quite a little list of projects going that I now renamed Areas of Interest. The projects are flowing nicely underneath as a result. I am also in Southern Maine..great place to live!

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