Monday, February 04, 2013

Body and Mind–> David Allen’s Horizons Of Focus



In this blog post, you are going to discover several important tools and techniques:

1. David Allen’s Horizon Of Focus Model

2. The Hacker’s Diet

3. Typeracer

This blog post will encourage you to think about where you are doing and the changes that you will need to make in your life to get there.

Full Text:

If you visit my personal blog, you will see that I have described the “Hacker’s Diet” before. Unlike most people, you can check in on me and see what my weight is any day.  Now this is not something that I am placing on a Facebook page to get those that don’t know me to look at me.  No, this is more of a personal statement to to that really want to know me, and who have found my personal blog.  I want you to know what I am striving for, and what I aspire to be.

The reason that I am doing this is to pose a question.

The question in this life, as you age, is “do you want to fight it or do you want to go with the flow?”  Many years ago, when I was in high school, I had my first girl friend, who was a bit of a very conservative person but also a little bit of a rebel underneath it all.  I remember having some very deep conversations with her, and the one thing that I said is that “I don’t ever want to become stagnant.” 

While my definition of what stagnant has changed dramatically over the years, the core of this statement is still alive within my heart.  As you age, you will start to find out that not going backwards requires effort.  So the point is to make sure that every day I am fighting to go forward.  This may mean that I don’t go backwards, but this is good enough.

In the same way, I want to encourage you not to become stagnant.  It is not important what you choose, but I believe that it is incredibly important that you choose.  To no longer push, to move, to go forward is a pitiful thing.  The goal to push forward is noble, and a higher calling.

I have turned the golden 50 years of age, and this has thrown me into reflection.  How much longer do I have to live?  I don’t know, but I could hope that I could do the same as my parents, which live to over 80 years of age.  However, I do not want to be a non-productive sort of person.  I want to push the envelope, and see what I can do.  I have an old piece of machinery, which is call my mind and body.  My soul is eternal, but let’s see what the other aging parts of my body can do.

I tend to think in 10 year increments, so I am committed to 10 more years of working at my current job (or unless the job leaves me) to discover what somebody in their 50s can do.  In many ways, this is something that I felt I should have thought about more when I was younger, and I am incredibly thankful that I was able to make some basic changes in my life, and I am looking forward to keep those changes going and becoming deeper and richer.

The real question is what changes do you want to make?

The challenge comes in that as you show up at work or home every day, you will find that the distractions of the work day threaten to overwhelm you with all the stuff that needs to get done. A year, 5 years, or even a decade can pass quickly, and you can fall into things rather than making things in your own direction.   Therefore, the goal, the objectives and the plans are something that you need to figure out so you can make sure that you are pointed in the right direction.

In other words, life is a series of decisions, and you need to make sure that every small decision is taking you forward and not moving you to the side, or even backward.  This is similar to people that are lost in the wilderness.  In studies where people are placed in environments where there are no clear landmarks, it has been found that these people will go in a slight curve, even when they are going straight.  This means that if they walk long enough, they will end up going in a circle.  The only way to stop this is to pick something in the distance and head toward that.  If you pick a high mountain, or goal, you no longer go in a circle.  You move forward everyday to the goal. 

The key is:  Stop walking in circles by picking a point in the distance.

One of the best ways of thinking about life, and one of the things that I said that I would like to do during my 10 years of working life, is to figure out what level you are thinking at and what level you are communicating at.  In other words, you need to pick the far off goal, then figure out how the short term goals fit into that long term goal.

A very simple methodology is David Allen’s Horizon Of Focus model.  This model is an invaluable framework for both business and personal life.  If you don’t understand that life is lived at different levels, you will miss some very important changes and insights.


As an individual or as a business, we need to think about what we are doing, and pick the goal in the distance that will keep us focused for daily tasks.  At the top level of this pyramid is the purpose and values of our life or our business.  Once you have an idea of the purpose and values that you want to hold you can figure out your vision.

Example Of 50K’ Purpose and Values:

(What Legacy Will I Leave?)

I am a provider and salt

At the top level, I only have one desire in life.  I want to prove fiscally for my family.  Secondly, I want to be able to help guide them.  I do have a different thought than many people.  Some people have a strong desire to “be the best Dad” or “teach my kids.”  I have secondary goals here, but I believe that the first and foremost requirement on a head of household is to create an atmosphere of security for his wife and children.  The worst thing that I think a kid can have is the insecurity of not know if you can take care of them, and the greatest feeling that I can do it make sure that we are fiscally safe.

I have written about this before, the key to a successful and prosperous life is basically saving more than you spend.  Your salary is not a factor unless you cannot cover the essentials and have enough to put away for the future.  Most of our problems to get to security is not a income issue.  It is a spend issue.

As for me being “salt,” this is very simple.  I desire to make everything that I am involved with be a little more interesting and a little more favorable.  I do not need to be the main dish.  I do need to make the main dish taste better.

Example of 40,000’ Vision (Where Are You Going?):

(What Am I Known As?)

I am a sought after provider of value-add to the industry and a clear shepherd to the people I work with

So then we pop down to the the “vision” part of our Horizons of Focus.  My role is somebody that is a good business mind, with good business contacts, with good business strengths, and the ability to make money for a company.  Because I can make money for a company, I will be rewarded in turn.  After I get done in the business world, I would like to coach or teach about the business world.  If I am considered as having the right mind, and title, I will be able to accomplish this.  Unfortunately, what I have discovered as I have gotten older is that what somebody does versus what somebody is has a wide gap.  When you are at the very bottom level of any pyramid, there is a little more fairness.  Once you get into the middle management layer, it becomes an item of luck and also fairness.  I have been promoted when I didn’t desire it, and I have been not promoted when I didn’t deserve it.

So the insight in this world is:

  • You need to have skills
  • You need others to see and value those skills

So, to get to my desired vision, I need to do two things:

  • Enhance my skills so I am really producing
  • Enhance how other people see me

At the same time, I want the family that I lead or the people that I guide understand that I am watching over the flock.  This means that I am taking care of each one, watching out for each one, and protecting each one.  If you are part of my social circle, I am going to make sure that I am thinking and worrying about you.

I do, however, get to pick who is in the flock.

An Example Of 30,000’ Goal Level (Where Is Your Job Going?):

(What do I Want To Get Done In The Next Two to Five years?)

Generally, when you look at your goal level, David Allen tells us that we should look out over the next one to two years.  I think that this is too short as I reach 50 years of age.  When you turn 50, you start to realize that you can’t do much in one to two years.  You need a longer time to move in this direction.  For me, you need enough time to really establish whatever you want to do.  As I have posted earlier, KA Ericcson has pointed out that you need around 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything.  This means that if you work at something 8 hours a day in a deliberate fashion, you will become an expert in five years.  Thus in my mind, you really want around 5 years as the maximum, because your goals may be “to become an expert,” and you need to realize that it will take you 5 years to get there.

More than this, I also believe that in some areas, you will never become all that you want to be, and you might actually go backward unless you have it as a goal to go forward.  So, I mark off certain areas that I know must always go forward.

So, with that preamble, here is my list of 30,000’ goals for myself. 

  1. Be healthy in body and mind
  2. Have strong relationships with people I need to have relationship with
  3. Manage people below me well
  4. Lead those around me
  5. Have skills that I’ve honed
  6. Be knowledgeable about our industry
  7. Be highly productive and efficient
  8. Have a good reputation and reveal my abilities to others

Example Of 20,000’ Focus And Responsibilities (What Is Your Job?):

(What Are The Major Areas That I am Focusing On Under The Goals)

Now that we have he goals, then we need to start saying “here’s is the areas that I want to focus in.”  For me, that means that we start to dig into each of the goals, and start to dig a little deeper into each area.  In many ways, the blog way of writing about this is not clear.  Instead, a good outlining tool is much better.  Really, for this to make perfect sense, each goal should then have areas of focus and responsibilities tucked under it nicely.  So, I will list each goal, then I will place some of the focus and responsibilities areas underneath each one.

1. Be healthy in body and mind

This is the first goal, but now the question if how to do this.  I do this through the following:

  • a. Take my vitamins
  • b. Eat some key foods
  • c. Run on a regular basis
  • d. Golf on a regular basis
  • e. Stay at a healthy weight
  • f. Get a proper night’s sleep
  • g. Have an appropriate amount of integrative stress

Each one of these areas could take a very long blog post, and while I may do this someday, I will not do it today.  I will only say that I live a very complicated life, and I keep my sanity by rigorously executing a routine that I have done for many years.  I have established a habit, and not consciously thinking through how to do the above every day.

Even though I will not do a full blog post, let me simply write about getting a “proper night’s sleep.”

Many people that I know do not have this as a goal.  However, sleep impacts all aspects of life, and not just being “tired.”  Without proper sleep, you won’t live as long, you won’t produce as much, and you won’t be mentally healthy.  Moving from bad habits to good habits on sleep is life changing and may impact your life dramatically.  There is an old proverb by Ben Franklin that describes how a battle was lost because somebody did not secure a horseshoe correctly.  Sometimes lack of taking care of the small things can have devastating effects on our lives.  Yet, it is easy to not get up to the high level and convince ourselves that a bad night sleep is “just for a little while,” and what happens in history is that “the little whiles” never stop, and the good night sleep never begins.

The point is that you need to pull up to a very high level to figure out the small things that have big impacts and the big things that will have no impact.

2. Have strong relationships with the people that I need to have a relationship with

To have a relationship, you need to have some basis of a relationship.  There are three ways of crafting a relationship:  meet together, eat together, or play golf together.  Again, this is a very long blog post, and I will not cover it here.

3. Manage the people below me well

I have been rather poor about this area of the years simply because I have been so busy attacking other areas that I neglected this.  However, I have been recently dedicating more to this area.  I have been using a simple framework with my people, which I cannot recommend highly enough:  How To Be a Star At Work.

Being A Star At Work is a very simple book, and very easy to understand.  However, if taken to heart, it can have a profound way on how we communicate to the people that work under us, or it can heavily impact the way that we are seen by others.

4. Lead Those Around Me

There are many different schools of leadership.  However, in my mind all leadership boils now to 2 simple ideas:

  • a. A leader has insight
  • b. A leader can talk others into things

I like to say that insight only yields somebody that is an architect.  A person that can talk others into their viewpoint is a sales person.  A leader is where insight and salesmanship meet.

5. Have Skills That I’ve Honed

True skills are things that you can do that other people cannot do.  Skill is not opinions.  Skill is not showing up.  Skill is something that you can do that is clearly better than somebody else.  When you have a skill, most people will say “wow, that person has a skill.”

An example of a skill that I wanted a number of years ago was the ability to deal with pivot tables in Excel.  If you know how to manage a pivot table, you can take any set of numbers and data and be able to pull out trends, figures, and facts that other people cannot pull out.  Getting Pivot table skills has been invaluable for me.

Another skill that I have been trying to hone of late is my typing skills.  If you are a fast typist, you will have the ability to create things and create outputs faster and better than a person that cannot type.  If you are typing under 50 Words per Minute (WPM), then shame on you.  Anybody should have the basic capability of typing quickly.  For me, I recently figured out that I wanted to up the level on this skill.  So, I recently started to work on my typing speed every night on a site called Typeracer.  If you look at the chart below, you’ll see the progress that I’ve been making over the last 6-8 weeks.


The line above is plotting the WPM speed to a series of quotes that go from 30 to 60 seconds long.  The black line represents the 50 score moving area.  If you read the chart from left to right, you can see that when I first started, I was typing righ around 65 words per minute.  After 400-500 races, I took a jump up to around 74-75.

While it may look like I have been stuck for quite a while, in reality, I have been making forward progress.  Early in my typing, I was spending time practicing on practice mode, and only typing after being warmed up.  In contrast, for the last 500 races or so, I have simply been jumping in and racing.  I also have had more than a few nights practicing although I have been very tired this month.  My goal is to be a ble to typing fast no matter how tired I am.  Considering that I am now at 70+ WPM, I think I am doing okay.

As we move on down the list, we start to look into the areas that we want to focus on and be responsible for.  In some sense, I had already combined focus and responsibilities into the goals section above.  You can think of the focus and responsibilities as sub-bullets on of the goals section.  However, we can start digging a little bit deeper into each area and call out the specifics of the goals.

I am also working on my golf skills.  While I had taking up golf back in 2004, I had played regularly for about 3 years, got to a place where I broke 100 on an easy course, and then I shelved my work here.  However, in 2010, I decided that having golf skills would be good because my son said that he wanted to play high school golf. 


Since that time, I have played a lot of rounds, and you can see these rounds in the chart above.  You can see as I went into the 2012 year, I started to get a lot of rounds below 100, and I broke 90 for the first time.  What isn’t shown on this chart is as I started to get better, I took all the easy to hit clubs out of the bag to make it tougher.  Why?  Because the people that I play with were simply getting too far behind. 

However, by moving to a more difficult set of clubs, I got worse, and therefore, I got closer.  While golf has this great thing called a “handicap,” it is not so easy using this to play with people that have no handicap.  So, I am much better than the score shows, but my main goal was to be at the right level.  This means that while I have a golf skill, I really want to use golf for my relationships.

6. Be knowledgeable about our industry

Be Known For Excellence In Following Areas:

  • 30,000 Ft Business Person
  • 30,000 Ft Technologist

In some areas, I have already put in my time.  Not that I don’t need to keep it updated, but I have spent many years in the business area.  I have enough experience here, so that this is not an area that I need to radically improve on.  So, once you have ever gotten to a certain level of competence, you can maintain that level with some reasonable amount of work.  I believe that I have some very deep insight into business models, capabilities, and ways to win. 

As a Technologist, I am not bad.  I do need to spend more time here, but this is something that I naturally gravitate to, and I am not worried about naturally moving in this direction.

7. Be highly Productive and Efficient

We live in the golden age.  An average person has access to more options, technology, and life improving capabilities than ever before.  There is only one reason why we are in such a good time: We get more output with less input.  We are getting more productive and efficient.

If I can do the work of multiple people, then I am going to get more done.  At the end of the day, you get measured by two things:

How much time you put in

How much results you get out

Unfortunately, which we’ll address in the next section, we work in the era of knowledge work.  This means that we deal with an intangible output.  When you deal with an intangible output, you cannot easily measure output.  I have seen over and over and over again, management confuse the two things.

To quote Drucker:

The single greatest challenge facing managers in the developed countries of the world is to raise the productivity of knowledge and service workers.

8. Have a good reputation and reveal my abilities to others

My ability to enhance how other people see me is related to the following:

  1. I need to understand the organizational structure above me.
  2. I need to understand what the people above me find as important
  3. Then I have to make myself available to be able to move myself into a role that both increases my responsibility and title, and is recognized by the rest of the organization as being impactful
  4. I need to give off the impression that I am the right person and my abilities are revealed

#2 is very interesting because there is only two things that happen in business:

  1. You are the guy that figures out what needs to be done (you plan)
  2. You are the guy that gets the stuff done (you execute and report)

The best of all worlds, you have individuals that do both.  The important thing is to realize that these are two separate phases. 

The first phase in #2 is all about decision making.  I have been working through some of the work of Michael Driver out of USC, and some of his co-worker, Ken Brousseau, in a book called “The Dynamic Decision Maker,” which I think is a good buy for only $4 on Amazon Kindle. I will cover this in a separate post, but because so much of the business life is “the guy that figures out what needs to be done” as you get to the top level, it is worth understanding the research of people that have looked just at this process.  You may find the book just a bit dry, but it is well worth working through.

The second phase in #2 is all about how I follow through with my group management abilities.

#4 is another interesting one because the human mind is so deceptive in the way that it picks up on signals.  One of the things that recently was revealed to me by someone was a comment about the way that I dress.  To make a long story short, I dress in the area that I work, which is with a bunch of engineers.  The person that was making the judgment was somebody that worked in marketing. 

Interestingly, I had made the choice not to dress more sophisticatedly when I moved to engineering from marketing.  I purposefully changed my dress code.  However, this dressing change influenced somebody and their thoughts of me.  So, I decided to fix this by dressing both ways:  both upwards and downwards depending on the day.

However, this simple fact that most people struggle with judging by the book cover and not the book is something we will address as we go down the list.  Perception is often reality.

Example Of 10,000’ Projects:

What is a project?  A project is nothing other than something that you want to get done that is made up of a series of actions.  If it is one thing, it is an action.  If it is more than one action, you have yourself a project.

Projects and focus areas go together very, very easily.  More than this, you notice that to talk about focus areas effectively, I have actually inserted some of my projects into my focus areas descriptions.  The challenge, as you do this, focus areas can obviously lead you into projects.  The opposite is often true due to the way that you may stumble into projects, and then only later realize that the project that you picked up happened to support one of your focus areas. 

For example, when I talked about being sound mind and sound body, I talked about running.  I consider the goals as a higher level goal, and not one that you should be thinking about carefully measure.  The project, however, is something that should be measured.  In the case of run, my running project for 2013 is to run 500 miles.  This means that I have an action, 4 days a week, to run 3.17 miles, which is the local loop that I run in the morning.

Projects are very crisp.  You know when you hit the end of the project and you know when you are in the middle of the project.  I have a similar project for golf.  I want to walk 500 miles, which means that I need to walk my local golf course roughly 63 times.  However, in golf, we have a project that supports a variety of goals.  In my case, my golfing serves three goals in one project.

  • I use golf for my relationships:  Both work and my sons
  • I use golf for my activities: I burn calories that keeps my weight low
  • I use golf for my skills: If I am better than my peers it makes an impression

Example of Runway:

An action for today is to add to my typeracer score.  My action is to log into and race.

This is no more or no less than for me to spend some amount of time today doing races.  I may go for 15 minutes or 30 minutes.  However, sometime today, I need to do my races.


R Anthony said...

Just wanted to express appreciation for this. Your clear breakdowns from higher to lower levels finally crystalized it for me. Thanks again for your work on this. -RJ

R Anthony said...

Just wanted to express appreciation for this. Your clear breakdowns from higher to lower levels finally crystalized it for me. Thanks again for your work on this. -RJ