My reading notes for getting things done. The art of stress free productivity, David Allen and James Fallows – Part 8. The six level model for reviewing your own work. Horizon 5, life. Horizon 4, long term visions. Horizon 3, one to two year goals. Horizon 2, areas of focus and accountability. Horizon 1, current projects.

Ground, current actions. It makes sense that each of these levels should enhance and align with the ones above it. Ultimately, if the phone call you’re supposed to make clashes with your life, purpose or values, to be in sync with yourself, you won’t make it. If your job structure doesn’t match up with where you need to be a year from now, you should rethink how you framed your areas of focus and roles.

If you want to get where you’re going most efficiently, without an acceptance and an objective assessment of what’s true in the present, and feeling confident you can manage what you’ve created, it’s always difficult to cast off for new shores. In order to create productive alignment in your life, you could quite reasonably start with a clarification from the top down.

Decide why you’re on the planet. Figure out what kind of life and work and lifestyle would best allow you to fulfill that contract. What kind of job and personal relationships would support that direction. What key things would you need to put in place and make happen right now, and what could you do physically as soon as possible to kickstart each of those?

The primary reason to work from this bottom up direction is that it clears your inner decks to begin with, allowing your creative attention to focus on the more meaningful and elusive visions that you may need to challenge yourself to identify. Also, this particular method has a high degree of flexibility and freedom, and it includes a thinking and organizing practice that is universal and effective no matter what it’s focused on.

I have learned over the years that the most important thing to deal with is whatever is most on your mind. The fact that you think it shouldn’t be on your mind is irrelevant. It’s there, and it’s there for a reason. Once you handle what has your attention, it frees you up to notice what really has your attention.

Almost without exception, the executives I’ve worked with are most plagued by the management of the nitty gritty of their workaday world. Emails, meetings, travel, projects going off the rails, etc. When they begin to get all that under control, their attention invariably turns to areas of focus and interest from a higher perspective, family, career, and quality of life stuff.

While Horizon 5, Purpose and Principles, is obviously the most important context within which to set priorities. Experience has shown me that when we understand and implement all the levels of work in which we are engaged, especially the ground and Horizon 1 levels,

we gain greater freedom and resources to do the bigger work that we’re all about. Next, I recommend that you make and keep a list called Areas of Focus. You might like to separate this into professional and personal sublists, in which case you’ll want to use them both equally for consistent review. It won’t require the kind of once a week recalibration that the projects list will.

You probably have somewhere between four and seven key areas of responsibility in your work, and a similar number personally. Your job may include things like staff development, systems design, long range planning, administrative support, customer service, and marketing. Areas of focus is really just a more abstract and refined version of the triggers list we covered earlier.

There are probably some things you can identify right now that can help you get current in your own thinking about your work, and what’s important in it. Questions to ask are. What are the longer term goals and objectives in my organization? And what projects do I need to have in place related to them to fulfill my responsibilities?

What longer term goals and objectives have I set for myself? And what projects do I need to have in place to make them happen? What other significant things are happening that could affect my options about what I’m doing someday? Maybe list or in a folder called dreams and goals I might get around to at some point.

Getting projects under control. After years of working with thousands of professionals down in the trenches, I can safely say that virtually all of us could be doing more planning. more informally and more often of our projects and our lives. And if we did, it would relieve a lot of pressure on our psyches and produce an enormous amount of creative output with minimal effort.

The real need is to capture and utilize more of the creative proactive thinking we do or could do. The major reason for the lack of this kind of effective value added thinking is the dearth of easily structured and usable systems for managing the potentially infinite amount of detail that could show up as a result.

That is why my approach tends to be bottom up. If you feel out of control with your current actionable commitments, you’ll resist focused planning. An unconscious pushback occurs. As you begin to apply these methods, however, you may find that they free up room for enormous creative and constructive thinking.

If you have systems and habits ready to leverage your ideas, your productivity can expand exponentially. There are two types of projects, however, that deserve at least some sort of planning activity. One, those that still have your attention even after you’ve determined their next actions. And two, those about which potentially useful ideas and supportive detail just show up ad hoc.

The first type, the projects that you know have other things about them that must be decided on and organized, will need a more detailed approach than just identifying a next action. For these, you’ll need a more specific application of one or more of the other four phases of the natural planning model.

Purpose and principles, vision, outcome, brainstorming, and organizing. The second type, the projects for which ideas just show up ad hoc, when you’re on a beach or in a car or in a meeting, need to have an appropriate place into which these associated ideas can be captured. Then they can reside there for later use as needed.

Typical planning steps. The most common types of planning oriented actions will be your own brainstorming and organizing, setting up meetings, and gathering information. Organizing you may have some projects for which you have already collected notes and miscellaneous support materials, and you just need to sort through them and get them into a more structured form.

In this case, your next action would likely be Organize Project X Notes. Often a project begins to emerge when it’s triggered by relevant data, notes, and miscellaneous materials. And for this reason, you’ll want to create a folder for a topic as soon as you have something to put in it, if your filing system is too formal or non existent.

You’ll probably miss many opportunities to generate a project focus sufficiently early. How do I apply all this in my world? At the very least, right now or as soon as possible, take those few of your projects that you have the most attention on or interest in right now and do some thinking, collecting, and organizing on them, using whatever tools seem most appropriate.

Focus on each, one at a time, top to bottom. As you do, ask yourself, what about this do I want to know, capture, or remember? You may just want to mind map some thoughts on a piece of paper, make a file, and toss the paper into it. You may come up with some simple bullet point headings to attach as a note in your digital mobile organizer.

Or you could create a word processing document and start an outline on it. How do you prevent broken agreements with yourself? If the negative feelings come from broken agreements, you have three options for dealing with them and eliminating the negative consequences. Don’t make the agreement, complete the agreement, renegotiate the agreement.

One of the best things about this whole method is that when you really take on the responsibility to capture and track what’s on your mind, you’ll think twice about making commitments internally that you don’t really need or want to make. Renegotiate the agreement. Suppose I told you I would meet you Thursday at 4pm, but after I made the appointment, my world changed.

Now, given my new priorities, I decide I’m not going to meet you Thursday at 4. But instead of simply not showing up, what had I better do, to maintain the integrity of the relationship? Correct. Call and change the agreement. A renegotiated agreement is not a broken one. Do you understand yet, why getting all your stuff out of your head and in front of you makes you feel better?

Because you automatically renegotiate your agreements with yourself when you look at them, think about them, and either act on them that very moment or say, no, not now. Here’s the problem. It’s impossible to renegotiate agreements with yourself that you can’t remember you made. The fact that you can’t remember an agreement you made with yourself doesn’t mean that you’re not holding yourself liable for it.

Ask any psychologist how much of a sense of past and future that part of your psyche has, the part that was storing the list you dumped. Zero. It’s all present tense in there. When will you know how much you have left in your head to capture? Only when there’s nothing left. This doesn’t mean that your mind will be empty.

If you’re conscious, your mind will always be focusing on something. But if it’s focusing on only one thing at a time, without distraction, you’ll be in your zone. I suggest that you use your mind to think about things, rather than think of them. Organizations must create a culture in which it is acceptable that everyone has more to do than he or she can do, and in which it is sage to renegotiate agreements about what everyone is not doing.

The critical issue will be to facilitate a constant renegotiation process with all involved, so they feel okay about what they’re not doing. That’s real knowledge work, at a more sophisticated level. But there’s little hope of getting there without having bulletproof capture systems in play. I envision a world in which no meeting or discussion will end, and no interactions cease, without a clear indication of whether or not some action is needed.

Intelligent, dumbing down. Shifting your focus to something that your mind perceives as a doable task will create a real increase in positive energy, direction, and motivation. If you have truly captured all the things that have your attention during the mindsweep, go through the list again now and decide on the single very next action to take on every one of them.

Notice what happens to your energy. Everything on your lists and in your stacks is either attractive or repulsive to you. There’s no neutral ground when it comes to your stuff. Often it’s simply the next action decision that makes the difference between the two extremes. Thinking and deciding require energy.

So, when do you think most people really make a lot of their next action decisions about their stuff? When it shows up, or when it blows up. Which do you think is the more efficient way to move through life? Deciding next actions on your projects as soon as they appear on your radar screen. Clarity. Too many discussions end with only a vague sense that people know what they have decided, and are going to do.

But without a clear conclusion that there is a next action, much less what it is and who’s got it, more often than not a lot of stuff gets left up in the air. Accountability. The dark side of collaborative cultures is the allergy they foster to holding anyone responsible for having the ball. We’re all in this together is a worthy sentiment, but seldom a reality in the hard nosed day to day world of work.

If you haven’t, test it out. Take a small risk and ask, So, what’s the next action on this? At the end of each discussion point in your next staff meeting, or in your next family conversation around the dinner table. Empowerment. Perhaps the greatest benefit of adopting the next action approach is that it dramatically increases your ability to make things happen, with a concomitant rise in your self esteem and constructive outlook.

Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible. St. Francis of Assisi, is there too much complaining in your culture? The next time someone moans about something, try asking, so what’s the next action? The action question forces the issue. If it can be changed, there’s some action that will change it.

If it can’t, it must be considered part of the landscape to be incorporated in strategy and tactics. Of course, those attracted to implementing getting things done are usually already on a self development path, and don’t assume that they’ll be doing the same things a year from now that they’re doing now, anyway.

But they love the fact that this method gets them there faster and more easily. The bottom line is it makes you more conscious, more focused, and more capable of implementing the changes and results you want, whatever they are. Create a way to spend more time with my daughter is as specific a project as any, and equally demanding of a next action to be determined.

As Steven Snyder, an expert in whole brain learning and a friend of mine, put it, there are only two problems in life. One, you know what you want, and you don’t know how to get it. And or two, you don’t know what you want. If that’s true, and I think it is, then there are only two solutions. Make it up. Make it happen.

Mortgage Peeps – Follow us on Facebook (below or #DuaneKayeWTMS) or Twitter (@MakesYouSmarter) for daily rate lock updates.