Areas of Focus

I have already covered daily and weekly reviews in previous pieces, but here I will talk about reviewing our areas of focus and how doing that every month can improve our personal and work lives. It is a great example of using the process to determine the outcome.

We all have things to do every day. At the same time, we must step back every once in a while to reflect and see our lives from a slightly higher level. We need to reflect on where our attention is going and how to better manage it. We need to see the forest instead of hugging the trees. Are we going in the direction we want? If not, why? What’s getting in our way? What are the challenges, and how can we overcome them? Do you have to learn a new skill or seek advice with an expert? Is it something you can do, or you need to seek help outside?

Only when you reflect/review/evaluate on a consistent basis can you have control and perspective. Know that what you’re doing at any given time is the thing you ought to be doing. This is a way of making sure you’re appropriately engaged with the right projects, spending time with the right people, and doing things overall that matter to you in the long term. In other words, we must be present.

So what is an area of focus? An area corresponds to an ongoing activity. It is not meant to be completed or checked off. When reviewing our areas of focus, the question we ask is: what do I need to maintain in my life? These could be, for example, job responsibilities, roles you have taken on in your family, or personal responsibilities like health. It includes things or standards you want to maintain. Think of them as a never-ending mixture of projects and actions.

For instance, health and fitness could be a personal area of focus for you. That could mean that you want to make sure you have enough time during the month for eating, moving, and sleeping well as a way to maintain your personal effectiveness.

There are a few reasons why we want to review our areas every month:

It helps us look at our personal and work commitments from a slightly higher level than the daily and the weekly reviews allow. Reviewing our areas gives us a birds-eye view of things that are happening in our lives. In other words, it helps us look at the big picture in terms of where we are now and where we are headed instead of merely checking off endless lists. It ensures that nothing of consequence is slipping through the cracks because of new conditions. Even if we do nothing else, just the act of looking at our areas every month will give us awareness and put us in a proactive position.

Reviewing our areas of focus ensures that we are focused on the right things in our lives in terms of relationships and results. It ensures that we have enough time for everything that is important to us and that we are doing them as much as possible for fulfillment.

Reviewing our areas helps us separate our personal and work lives. It ensures that neither of the two are at the mercy of the other and that we have enough working and playing time.

Reviewing our areas triggers potential projects and actions that we may have missed during our daily/weekly reviews had we not taken the time to review our areas. Please note that your projects and your areas don’t have to be mapped out perfectly with each other. You will likely find that some of your projects are linked with your areas while others are not, and that’s perfectly okay. Your projects don’t have to link to your areas of focus.

We review our areas of focus to better manage our projects. Sometimes we have to bump up to a level (areas) to get clarity on a lower level (projects).

Doing this review every month is great for keeping track of progress for our quarterly goals and projects.

There are only two steps involved for reviewing our areas. The first step is to determine our areas of focus (more below), and the second is to review them every month.

Why every month? I think a month is just the right amount of time needed for this kind of review. It is not as frequent as a daily or weekly review, and it is also not as far apart as a quarterly review. More importantly, it helps bridge the gap between the shorter- and longer-term reviews.

That said, we review as often as we need to. For instance, when you have a new role at work, you might find yourself looking at your work area every week. Only in time will you be able to do it less frequently (such as a month) because then it will be on “cruise control”.

Review your areas as often as you need to. When you have a gnawing sense of anxiety that there might be things that you don’t know about or that something is going to surprise you, it’s because we haven’t fully fleshed out our areas of focus.

As a best practice, I would recommend keeping an hour every month to review your areas. Try to schedule it toward the last day of the month or the closest date to the weekend before the end of the month. Then, schedule it to repeat every four weeks in your calendar.

I suggest using a mind map application to keep track of your areas of focus. You could even use a plain and simple list. Use the Explore, Evaluate, Execute process to figure out your areas. Most of us will have two primary areas, such as Work and Personal (Life) under which we house all the different roles/responsibilities in our lives.

One way to find out how to have the right number of areas of focus is to ask yourself if the areas you have attract or repel you.

A normal amount of areas is between four and seven in our personal and work lives each. Personal roles could include health and fitness, family/friends, parenting, recreation, learning, finance, travel, etc. Work areas could include different areas of your business such as value creation, clients, marketing, sales, finance, and value delivery. If you work in an organization, your role might fall under one of these areas from which you will have different roles and responsibilities. If you work in a team within an organization, everyone in your team could see your work areas (and you could see theirs) in order to better work together.

As a parent, you are responsible for your child’s areas of focus. As they get older, they take the responsibility of each of those areas over time.

As you review each area, the question you ask is if it triggers any potential projects or actions/tasks.

You might also consider using different frameworks for areas of focus, such as:

Try not to stick to a formula. It is okay if your areas change over time. They can be static or dynamic depending on your personal and work lives. Also, don’t try to force your areas into a category. For instance, if you have a sub-area (such as exercise) under health, and if that is a big part of your life, you could use exercise as an area instead of health.

As you’re starting out, you will likely have generic areas of focus such as health, work, leisure, etc. to get started. Over time you can make changes and/or add details when you know what you want to be reminded of.

You have to organize your areas in a way that makes most sense to you. Use words that attract you. If you like calling it wealth instead of finances, do that.

Pay attention to what attracts or repels you. We need to keep these maps or lists alive and vibrant.

As a best practice, you could use your areas as calendars in your calendar application. That way you could see how much time and attention you’re giving to each area. At the end of a week, you can see how/where you spent your time and make changes accordingly for the following week.

To illustrate my point, my work areas include:

  • Creative work
  • Consulting work
  • Admin work

Creative work includes sub-areas such as writing (making things), learning (doing research), and thinking. Consulting work includes sub-areas like sales, marketing, and value delivery. Admin work includes doing the work of defining work among other things. I covered this earlier in Get Work Done.

I spend about 40% of my work time doing creative work, 40% consulting, and 20% doing admin work. This helps me keep my work times focused in terms of creating value for others. Looking at my work calendar for the week helps me keep track of how much time I am spending in each of these work areas and the value created from them. This is not to suggest that you do it the same way, as I am just sharing what works for me.

I have spent some time in thinking about my work areas, and they will likely never change. That kind of clarity is possible when you start with the end in mind. When you have that kind of clarity, it eliminates a thousand decisions in the future. You know what your work entails, and you give sufficient time to it. It becomes far easier to say no to things because you know what you have said yes to.

We should review our areas of focus, both personal and work-related, every month. These are not physical actions/tasks that need to be completed. Instead, they are roles/responsibilities in our lives that are perpetual. We review this every month to make sure that we are giving enough time and attention to all the areas.

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