productivity-organization-iconLet’s take a glimpse into the stream of consciousness of a typical modern-girl on Monday morning between 7:15 and 8:15 AM . . .

Crap, five minutes ’til the school bus comes . . . No way you’re wearing an Angry Birds t-shirt on school picture day – go change. Now! . . . No, I do NOT know where your book report is, what did you do with it after you printed it?! . . . Am I seriously the only person in this house that is capable of changing out an empty toilet paper roll? . . . I don’t even want to know where THAT stain came from . . . Haven’t been to the gym all week. I’m such a fatty-slacker . . . [Place Lean Cuisine on counter for mid-day sustenance] . . . How does Savannah Guthrie manage to look so stinkin’ cute every day? . . . Snag in my pantyhose. Nice. [Completely rethink wardrobe selection] . . . I’ve had about enough of mom’s guilt-trips . . . I really shouldn’t have been short with Emily last week. She probably hates me now . . . Oh yeah, Anna’s birthday is next week. I can NOT forget to send her a card . . . Ahhhghghgh, riiiight, I was supposed to fill up my car on the way home yesterday. Hope I make it to the gas station . . . there went my Starbucks run . . . oh, screw it, I’ll be fashionably late . . . 148 unread email messages (another 1,257 in the Inbox) . . . Dangit! Forgot my lunch . . . gonna have to go grab something . . . which is healthier – Chick-fil-a or Chipotle? . . .

All this craziness and the WORK day hasn’t really even STARTED yet! Sadly, this sort of thing is all to real for so many of us. Being overwhelmed, overcommitted and just plain frazzled is the new NORMAL. So much so, that we’ve conditioned ourselves to believe that if we AREN’T in a persistent state of hyper-busyness then surely something must be wrong – or we just start bracing ourselves for the you-know-what to hit the fan because we just know that karma is waiting for the absolute least convenient time to smack us with a real doozy.

And here’s what’s really messed up about it . . . if you ARE fortunate enough to somehow break the cycle and start approaching the world each day with a fairly calm and cool demeanor, certain people in your life may very well start to seem uncomfortable or antsy around you, as if to suggest you’ve morphed into some anomaly or freak of nature.

The good news is that there IS hope . . . and it’s right in front of you. Your inner-most thoughts and all of the stuff going on around you can be thought of as varying frequencies on a radio dial. The key to inner-peace is being able able to tune in to the right frequency at the right time, get what you need to get or do what you need to do, then switch-gears quickly to the next frequency. And, the methods that you use to reach this state can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be.

So, how do I BEGIN? What’s Step 1?

Excellent question! And there is no “one” right or wrong answer. There are varying schools of thought on how one should first approach a life management system. Let’s take a look at examples from a couple of the most highly-regarded experts on the subject:

Option 1 | Start By Considering the “Big Picture”

The teachings of Steven Covey suggest that the best place to start is by first identifying your life’s purpose, guiding principles and values. They will drive the decisions you make about which actions are important and/or urgent.


Option 2 | Start By Dealing with the “Nitty Gritty”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the teachings of David Allen suggest that you begin by capturing the details of everything that has your attention and processing that “stuff” into actions and projects. Once the “nitty gritty” is under control, then your thinking will elevate organically to the larger horizons of goals, vision and purpose. His thinking, and I tend to agree with it, is that it’s hard to think about your purpose in life when you have 10,000 emails staring you in the face and you’re under the gun on a huge deadline.


Option 3 | Start Somewhere in the Middle

But, if I had to recommend one BEST place to start, I would recommend starting somewhere in the middle – by identifying your Areas of Focus. Areas of Focus (or, Areas of Responsibility, or 20,000 level) is a concept of the Getting Things Done (GTD) model, although a variation of this concept exists in almost every life management / personal development / productivity teaching that exists. Steven Covey calls them “Roles” and Paul J. Meyer, founder of the Success Motivation® Institute, refers to them as “Dimensions”.

Regardless of your terminology preference, these all represent the same concept – areas of your life that are important to you. They represent all the various “hats” that you wear. In your work, your Areas of Focus are usually driven, in large part, by your job description. In your personal life, they may include such things as Family, Kids, Health, Finances, Career, Hobbies, Church, etc.

Areas of Focus are not projects.  You are never “done” with them. Most people find that they have between 10 and 15 Areas of Focus. I consider this to be the horizon that is most critical because it provides a framework for who you are, and yet it’s easily accessible and identifiable even to those who are currently in a state of overwhelm. If you’re up to your eyeballs in work and worry, you might not be able to articulate your life’s purpose, but a list of your Areas of Focus could probably be produced within 10 to 15 minutes of focus.

Areas of Focus bridge between Projects + Actions and Goals + Vision + Purpose. What do I mean by that?

  • PROJECTS + ACTIONS | Can be categorized into Areas of Focus.  A quick conversation with yourself about “How am I doing with [insert Area of Focus]?” will usually trigger a number of things that you would like to do differently or better, which become Projects and Actions for you to pursue. 
  • GOALS + VISION + PURPOSE | Can be built upon Areas of Focus.  A quick conversation with yourself about “What would my ideal [insert Area of Focus] look and feel like?” will usually trigger thoughts about what values and standards you hold to be true about that aspect of your life.


So, how about you?  What 10 to 15 areas of your life do you oversee, manage or maintain?  Take a moment to jot those down in a safe place.  For a simple list, Evernote is fantastic.  Or, if you are more of a visual person, try Popplet.  Just make a “popple” that says “Me”, then see what you’re inspired to do next!

I actually did that very thing (using Popplet), even before learning about Getting Things Done, and that was when things really started to “click” for me.  In fact, I think that my passion for personal development and productivity can be tied back to that one activity.

In the next post, I’ll share my own list of Areas of Focus.

GTD® and Getting Things Done® are registered trademarks of David Allen & Co.
Success Motivation® is a trademark of Success Motivation, Inc.

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