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  • Areas of Focus = Goals = Projects

    Areas of Focus = Goals = Projects

    As I’ve been reading through this message board, I notice that people sometimes respond “That really isn’t a project, it is more of an area of focus”. In thinking about this, I have an observation to share. This may be “discovering fire” to most of you, but these thoughts are clarifying things for me.

    “Areas of Focus” really are goals (or they should be). Furthermore, a well-defined goal is really a project. All active projects should have next actions, therefore, there should ALWAYS be a next action for any active goal or “area of focus”. If not, you’re really CHOOSING to put that goal or Area of Focus to “someday/maybe”.

    Let me elaborate…

    What is a project? A project is something that has a clear outcome that requires one or more actions to complete. Some projects only require one or two next actions. Others are more complex and may have sub projects.

    What is a goal? More importantly, what is a well-defined goal? You may say you have a goal to lose weight. However, if you want to truly achieve this goal, you need to make it more specific and more measurable. Instead of “lose weight”, your real goal is to “Achieve a weight of 150 pounds” (or whatever). Right? How do you achieve this goal? You complete several small projects related to that goal, such as research eating habits and pick one you can live with or make an appointment for a physical, or join a gym. In order for a goal to be meaningful, it has to have a well-defined outcome. And it probably requires one or more actions to complete. Isn’t that the definition of a project?

    So…therefore, a goal is nothing more than a project.

    What is an area of focus? David defines it as your responsibilities or roles in life combined with your values, things such as parent, spouse, self-development, creative expression, financial management, etc. This may be more controversial, but I propose that these roles are really closer to projects too. Let me explain…

    When you say you have an “area of focus” of financial management, what does that mean? It means different things to different people. Heck, it means different things at different points in your life! 20 years ago, my financial focus was getting out of the debt my ex-husband incurred. Now that I’m living debt-free, it means making wise investments for my future. But either way, in order for me to be honoring my “area of focus”, I need to have a clear vision of what it means to me now. I need to define what is being a successful financial manager. That’s not really any different than having a clear vision of a successful outcome for a project. For example, being a successful financial manager may mean: Paying all my bills on time, Having a retirement plan for my future, Owning my own home, etc. But any one of these things is a project. In practice, it may be better to restate the “area of focus” as an affirmation such as: “I’m an effective financial manager” and define it.

    So….for an area of focus to be a part of your life, it requires a clear understanding of the outcome and probably takes one or more actions to complete—and that’s a project.

    Let me make this even more abstract 

    One of my roles is as a spouse. Therefore, one of my areas of focus is “Relationship as Spouse”. Another way to write that is “Maintain my relationship with my spouse.” Maintain. Hmmm… Is that really what I want? Possibly. At some points in my life, Improve would be a better word. Right now, I would say Maintain isn’t right either. I really want to “Deepen my relationship with my spouse” or “take it to the next level”. I propose that this is a project. Why? It would probably be smart for me to take a look at my relationship with my spouse now and consider what I mean by “taking it to the next level”. I’m not going to share my own vision here, but I have a pretty clear idea what that “next level” looks like. I’m a little less clear how I get there  But let’s say I just want to maintain my happy marriage. It would still be smart for me to consider what I mean by “happy marriage”. What is it that makes it happy? My spouse and I spend lots of time doing shared activities, we take the time to relax and enjoy each others company, we laugh, etc. So, in order to maintain my relationship, I need to make sure I’m making time for those things, that I’m planning fun activities that we enjoy. If I choose to put off all those activities and fill my life with my dogs and my work, I’m making a choice. A choice to put my marriage on the someday/maybe list. I may get away with that for a month or two, but if I make that choice for too long, I won’t have a relationship to maintain. Relationships—any relationship—requires time and commitment.

    Therefore, even a relationship is really a project. It is a project that requires a clear vision of success and one or more actions to achieve.


    Where am I going with all this?

    I can understand that I may want to keep these roles/areas of focus/goals in an area separate from my active projects, but they aren’t different than projects and they should be reviewed and I need to ask myself the questions “What is a successful outcome” and “what is the next action” for these things just like any other project if I want to avoid open loops.

  • #2
    Hi K2Karen,

    First off, I would like to say that I've been enjoying your posts. They've definitely spurred my thinking. For me, it's sometimes helpful to apply some framework to abstract concepts. GTD is one such framework that has its own definition of goals, projects, etc. Along those lines, here's how I've adapted the framework of area of focus, goal and project to clarify my outcomes. This isn't strict GTD, but here's how I'm actually applying it in my life right now.

    Areas of Focus = Develop skills in self-defense, self-discipline and self-mastery
    Goal = Earn Black Belt by Fall 200X
    Project = Test and achieve next belt level on Saturday June 4, 2005

    Next Actions List
    @computer – Review calendar and schedule class time (hard landscape)
    @dojo – Review next belt requirements with Sensei
    @dojo – Ask Sensei for feedback regarding X technique
    @dojo – Ask Joe to be my testing partner
    @home – Clean/prep martial arts gear (laundry)
    @home – Put martial arts gear in car

    Weekly Review
    Review calendar and schedule class time
    -Thu 7pm St. Patrick's Day celebration with friends (going to miss class)
    -Fri schedule extra 1/2 hour after class with testing partner
    -- Next action@phone - call testing partner for Fri availability (confirmed)

    50,000 Foot Level/Purpose for Martial Arts Training = To be an example for my (future) children and inspire them to develop skills in self-defense, self-discipline and self-mastery.

    -m

    Comment


    • #3
      I agree with morias approach. I need some mental hierarchy to look at my life with different level of details visible. I am not lost when these levels have their names.
      So for me:
      "Family" is the "Area of Focus".
      "Maintain Happy Relationship with Spouse" is a "Goal".
      "Buy iPod mini for Spouse's birthday" is one of the "Projects" (or mini-projects) to achieve this "Goal".
      TesTeq

      Comment


      • #4
        A focus area is a 20,000 ft. perspective which simply denotes some aspect of your life requiring attention. It's not something you can check off as done like a project, which is a 10,000 ft. perspective; nor is it something you can do like an action, which is a runway perspective. Projects are outcomes you define to address your focus areas.

        So "Writing" writing would be a focus area, while "Write a novel" would be the project, and "Write page 144" would be the next action. The writing projects will change, but Writing remains the area of focus.

        Practically speaking, the difference is that 20,000 ft. inventories are typically not part of your weekly review. The bulk of the weekly review is your inventory of projects and next actions.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by K2Karen
          So…therefore, a goal is nothing more than a project.
          I respectfully disagree on several levels. First a goal may consist of many proojects and many sub-projects. All these projects and sub-projects eventually resolve down to a list of executable Next Actions. Second, a goal can have some associated goals and maybe some sub-goals. That is, goals can be hierarchical just as projects can be hierarchical.

          For example, I might have a goal to "Be optimally healthy". That might have some sub-goals such as "Improve Cardiac Fitness", "Lower Blood Pressure", "Strengthen Core Muscle Groups", etc. (I'll spare you numbers as you can insert your own target BPM and blood pressure numbers.)

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by marcclarke
            I respectfully disagree on several levels. First a goal may consist of many proojects and many sub-projects. All these projects and sub-projects eventually resolve down to a list of executable Next Actions. Second, a goal can have some associated goals and maybe some sub-goals. That is, goals can be hierarchical just as projects can be hierarchical.

            For example, I might have a goal to "Be optimally healthy". That might have some sub-goals such as "Improve Cardiac Fitness", "Lower Blood Pressure", "Strengthen Core Muscle Groups", etc. (I'll spare you numbers as you can insert your own target BPM and blood pressure numbers.)
            Marc, I think you want to draw a line between a project and a goal, but your description above doesn't really draw a distinction. For example, anywhere you typed the word "goal", I can insert the word "project" and it will still be perfectly valid.

            I think Karen is saying a goal is just a project (and vice versa) because a both goals and projects are desired "end states" that we can achieve via a series of actions. We can assign as many sub-goals/projects are we want to help us obtain clarity and organize the needed actions.

            I suggest the only practical difference between a goal and a project is one that some of us invent within our own minds so that we can separate personally meaningful projects (goals) from projects that we aren't emotionally tied to (projects).

            C

            Comment


            • #7
              Since I started this thread, I feel I should jump in and say I've had a bit of a change of heart.

              I've been setting up my GTD implementation using the Outlook Add-In. I decided not to differentiate between goals and projects and to restate my "roles" as "goals", such as "Be a Good Mom" or whatever.

              Yuk.

              The problem was that reviewing my projects was overwhelming. No human could possibly manage all that.

              If fact, I've actually swung the other way a bit.

              I also felt overwhelmed by the number of "subprojects" defined in my Outlook Add-In configuration. Looking at any one task, it became confusing to select which project or subproject this task belonged to.

              So...I only included MAJOR projects in my project list, but with some notes on each project about the subprojects.

              There's some cool tools in the Outlook add-in that automate the selection of next tasks, so for some of those sub-projects, I just quickly brainstormed the sequence of tasks and created what I'm calling a "Task Group"--really a well-defined subproject.

              Now, two of my projects are "Achieve my Written Goals" and "Honor my Roles". When I'm reviewing my projects, this triggers me to go back and review my goals and areas of focus and make sure I have appropriate projects defined (nf needed) or just some tasks that may need to be done.

              So...I guess I am separating goals and areas of focus from my projects lists, but just enough so I don't get overwhelmed.

              Comment


              • #8
                "the" projects list

                So...I guess I am separating goals and areas of focus from my projects lists, but just enough so I don't get overwhelmed.
                You've touched on something that I'm just beginning to understand and come to terms with myself. In fact, doing a weekly review last week while in London, I realized that my project list "at this point in time" has more date-stamped objectives than not. I think this is the first time since beginning implementation that I've experienced this.

                So many times - and for many of the people I consult - the projects list is an open inventory of shorter-term hopes and goals. Of course, in business we'd call them strategies and objectives...

                In reviewing the next few weeks, I realized that some of my projects indeed will get no focus (therefore they are now on the someday/maybe list). And, a project that showed up surprised me. I realized it's time to meet with my consultants (coaches, friends and mentors) to re-view were my attention is going these days.

                By the way, David wrote a nice piece on the Areas of Focus and Someday/Maybe perspectives over here:

                http://www.davidco.com/faq.php?detai...y=1#question10

                Comment


                • #9
                  reviewing projects

                  K2--I think you got overwhelmed (as I have have) at reviewing a long list of projects not necessarily because there were so many but because they lacked an easily searchable and meaningful order. I have found it helpful to organize projects lists by areas of focus and responsibility. First, I had them in categories in TO DO on plain vanilla Palm, some of the categories being Self, Family-Friends-Community, Professional, Financial, House, Professional. I found I had between 5 and 25 projects in each and alhtough I could get my projects on my lists, I could not readily locate a specific project TO DO because TO DO sorts by due date and priority. So, I have gradually moved projects to MEMO because it sorts by letter (or number, or various symbols like #, !). Now, each project has a title that begins with an abbreviation that represents the area of focus it relates to followed by a one word "title" and a description of my desired outcome, and then a couple of next actions. Putting in a couple of actions is not exactly GTD but it helps me because I can see what I thought through ("do the thinking up front). Some examples are: SELF-Weight (reach ideal by July 31 and maintain): write in daily cardio times on calendar with a back up, put on pants with belt, create plan to eat only at the table. SELF-India (develop knowledge of the geography)rder book, put up map, make list of rivers, PROF-Client xxletter drafted and faxed by3/21:locate file, review with sticky notes in hand. I hope this helps.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    That is the info I need.. This is a great forum!


                    cook.b@mchsi.com

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Perhaps a better way...

                      I've deviated from the GTD canon as defined in David's books and CDs in that my implementation defines Focus/Roles as my 30,000 ft view and One to Two Year Goals as my 20,000 ft view (David reverses this).

                      This allows me to

                      Define Areas of Focus and/or Roles necessary to support each item in my 3-5 yr vision.
                      Define Goals within each Area of Focus or Role
                      Define Projects to support each Goal
                      Define Next Actions to support each Procject.


                      Before I made this simple switch I struggled to abstract out the relationship between levels.

                      Comment

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