Getting out of Busy Work and into Goals

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My confession: I’ve always longed for goals but could never get my head wrapped around them. Goals come easily for others but not for me. I’m a naturally laid-back fella and will go wherever the winds take me. I live for the moment. The future is still far away and I wouldn’t worry about it until it comes. I had all the time in the world to do anything I wanted when I was younger. But now I’m responsible for a lot more things. I can’t chase after squirrels and shiny objects anymore. :sparkles::chipmunk::sparkles: It’s time to start learning how to steer this ship.

Working my way up the GTD Horizons of Focus (Horizons 1 to 3)

My search for goals continues here at the Productivity Guild. I realized that I couldn’t get to goals yet until I handled the first three levels in the GTD Horizons of Focus.

  • Ground: Calendar and Next Actions
  • Horizon 1 - Projects
  • Horizon 2 - Areas of Focus and Accountability

I’ve been good at corralling my tasks into my task manager and appointments into my calendar app. A group of tasks that share a common direction becomes a project that will achieve a favorable result. An Area of Focus and Accountability is represented by my task manager’s folders setup. It groups similar projects and checklists into a structure. Common folders include:

Image from http://mindgaia.com/kaizen-success-system/

My task manager does a wonderful job of handling these lower horizons. But trying to work on the Higher Horizons feels like I’m trying to shoehorn a bull into a shoebox.

Trying to move to Horizon 3: Goals and Objectives

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I have a lot of projects, checklists, and single one-off tasks grouped into the folders that represents my Areas of Focus. I never seemed to get to “goals.” I was always stuck in the weeds and doing “Busy Work.” If I can get out of busy work and into goals, I can eventually get up to my higher Horizons of Focus:

  • Horizon 3 - One- to two-years goals and objectives. What am I going to do in the next one to two years? What do I want my life to look like two years from now?

My current next actions and projects structure felt haphazard. I had no direction, just a bunch of things to keep my busy with no clear direction. I was living in emergency scanning mode every day without thinking about whether my daily activities actually brought me closer to a goal.
My daily life creates a variety of single actions and projects that don’t have a cohesive theme. It’s just a mess of varying goals (some of them maybe weren’t mine to begin with). I had to do an audit of my current projects and get a sense of direction. I set out to work by creating a Life Goals Mind Map. Here’s a Guild post [Pro Members] that explores goal planning with Mindnode.

Here’s a simplified example of my current life after reflective time at the end of the year.

Finding Direction

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I performed an audit of my task manager’s folder and project structure. I put many projects that didn’t align with my Life Goals Mind Map into my Someday/Maybe folder for later review. I want to keep projects that will move me closer to a goal in my Areas of Focus.

Another path to finding goals was to find something that my spouse and I shared together. Is there anything we can do together to improve our lives? My wife is my life partner. We intertwined our goals and work hard at accomplishing them together.

I also share many goals with my friends and other family members. We share many good times together and enjoy a lot of the same activities. One of my other goals was to form a strong network that allowed us to share common values. It might be something like community building where we help coach our local sports teams or volunteer at a social network such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters or the local Boy Scouts and Girl Scout organizations.

A goal is a group of projects that are focused on creating a situation that benefits my situation. Some goals include improving my physical health, maintain my mental health, or improving my neighborhood conditions through better security (the neighborhood watch) or rallying around a cause (keeping the neighborhood free of litter and stray animals).

It’s OK to change goals

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I always thought that if I didn’t achieve my goals, I became a failure. But now I see differently.

I am starting to enjoy the journey towards my current goals. I learn from the experiences I am participating in. I discover more about myself and I can re-orient my direction when I feel I have gone as far as I can in my current goal. My Life Goals Mind Map will change over time. What was once important is no longer relevant. Situations change and I can drop a goal off it no longer fits my current life direction. When I used to work for a government office, my goals were set upon by my supervisor. But now that I’m a free agent, I can set my goals and dreams for the future. I have the option of taking the steering wheel and changing direction ever so slightly or dramatically. I’m no longer afraid of dropping goals and set sail towards a new destination. Enjoying the trip is part of the joy.

Breaking up the goals into manageable pieces

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Goals always felt like a big monster that seems nearly impossible to tackle easily. Breaking up my goals into one month projects gives me the opportunity to create milestones to measure my progress. If a project takes more than one month, I like to break it into two or more sub-projects. A smaller project with a narrow focus feels easier to reach instead of one colossal project with one hundred next actions.
One method I have been looking at implementing is the 12 Week Year.

I break down my goals into multiple projects. I create lead indicators (activities that produce the end result), and lag indicators (the end results) to measure my progress.
Other goal planning methods I’d like to explore includes:

Focusing on fewer goals

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I’ve become fascinated with the idea of theming my year. CGP Grey from the Cortex podcast recently discussed the idea of theming his year in this podcast:

Mike Vardy, the Productivityist, talked about theming in this Forbes article:

I can only work on a handful of goals throughout the year. Theming the year might be a way to focus on one part of my life. If I have too many balls juggling in the air, I’ll drop a lot of balls and not achieve any goals.

I have folders for my different Areas of Focus in my task manager, OmniFocus. Most of my Big Rock projects that will advance a goal are set to On Hold (Someday) status. At most, I will have two Big Rocket projects in each folder that are active. If I have five Areas of Focus, that means I will have ten active projects to work on. I think that’s a lot to handle already. In a 12 month year, I would ideally like to finish one Big Rock project a month for a total of twelve Big Rocks completed. But I can see myself actually finishing six to eight Big Rocks. I never know when emergencies might get in the way. I’ll also have to schedule one personal downtime to spend with my family for holiday travels and vacations and that will cut into. I am thinking of starting off conservatively and aim to complete at least six Big Rock projects that will achieve at least on goal in each of my different Areas of Focus. I might have to adjust it downward because I have to take into consideration all the random things that Life will lob at me - emergencies, other people’s priorities, customers, etc.

I’ll be experimenting with the idea of using goals to drive my daily, weekly, and monthly activities. Yes, I hear this statement all the time. But it’s really hard when the daily fires and urgent/not important stuff gets in the way. I’ll probably have to re-arrange my life with delegation, deferments, and just saying no to any activities that don’t contribute to my own journey.


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My ultimate goal is to move beyond Horizon 3 (goals) and move on to the higher Horizons such as my Vision and my Purpose in Life. I look forward to getting there. I’m just a fellow traveler on the Road of Life. We are all at different waypoints in Life. The Productivity Guild is a great meeting place to gather around and share our experiences together. Maybe, one day, we’ll find our Purpose in Life if you haven’t found it already. It’s been an interesting journey so far.
Now I’m curious to hear how my fellow Pro Guilders do their goals?

  • How do you deal with your goals?
  • Have you devised your own life goals and are able to move up the GTD Horizons of Focus?
  • How are you handling your daily life routines in addition to your goals?
  • Have you created your Life Mind Map? Are you using it to guide your projects/task manager?