Organizing your life, 6 levels of focus with GTD

Published on August 03, 2009

I have been a GTD fan for as long as I could remember reading about it, and I had been trying hard to apply it to my life. It requires a lot of discipline and motivation to maintain the current actions list, but it does help me greatly.

But my biggest benefit from learning about GTD is probably the 6 levels of focus they introduced. It is such a thing of common sense, yet we do not use it. And if there is many aspects of GTD that one could not bring themselves to do, I would still strongly recommend this.

Basically, the 6 levels of focus are as follows:

  • Current actions
  • Current projects
  • Areas of responsibility
  • Yearly goals
  • 5 year vision
  • Life goals

As one can see, the 6 level of focus is like a planning tool (at least I treat it as a planning tool). At the highest level, we have the life goals. And then the 3-5 year goals, the yearly goals, what you are in charge of now, what you are involved now, and what you need to do now.

For a long time, I have a vaguely sense of my life goals. However, I have no idea if what I do now, or have as a goal is in support of my life goals. Or rather, in most cases, they are not. I simply decide things on almost a whim. As a result, I dropped many goals and projects from time to time.

If your current projects and goals are aligned to your life goals, you are definitely more motivated to do them.

An example might be useful, and I will use my planning as an example.

So I started out with level 6, life goals. I lay out a few goals, and it goes something like this…

  1. As a christian, my life goal is definitely to serve the Lord, in a ministry of his choice.
  2. I would like to have a family, with two kids.
  3. For career, I definitely would like to move in the way of being a software consultant.
  4. And my interest, software development, I still would like to have some product that is industry changing.

Pretty simple life goals. But with them clearly mapped out, I can plan my 5 years vision with ease.

  1. I definitely would like to complete a bible study of the New Testament. Having good knowledge and application of these would help in whatever ministry God puts me.
  2. So I guess… I should have my first kid by then! Which indirectly leads to saving up sufficiently for my first kid.
  3. Working in a big company like IBM or Oracle will definitely help in my consultant career.
  4. I ought to have a few products released as an indie developer.

Notice that most of them are still a 1-to-1 mapping. Personally, I feel that 5 years vision should be kept simple and few. 5 years are a long time. It is a vision to work towards to, and anything could happen that changes the 5 years vision too.

Moving down, we are at the 1-2 years goals. The 1-to-1 mapping restriction (for me) no longer applies. I could have multiple goals supporting a single vision.

  1. I definitely would want to finish reading the bible once.
  2. Well, marriage is needed before kids.
  3. Having an Oracle SOA certification helps in consultation.
  4. As an indie developer, I am very interested in Mac application, especially for GTD.
  5. An iPhone game would be good too.

There used to be a 6th goal, SCEA, but I already achieved that. And I see no need to add a new goal too.

Now we are at a more complicated area. Areas of Responsibility. What are these? They are basically roles you have currently. I’ll describe it in terms of myself.

  1. I am a christian.
  2. I lead a small group
  3. I have a girlfriend
  4. I use various IT devices
  5. My interest is in IT development
  6. I work as a software developer
  7. I work as a software consultant.

Sometimes, an area of responsibility might not help or contribute to the above layer, 1-2 years goal. At this point, it’s good to question… what are you doing with your life doing something that does not help in your life goal? :)

Ok, so moving down, current projects. These are usually a result of your area of responsibility. For example, a work project, or a project to upgrade your computer, or a project to organize a small group meeting.

And finally, current actions. What is the next action in a project? You maintain a list here.

The current projects and actions are the hardest part for me, but the layers above that really help organize my life. I hope it will help you too.

About Kent Lai

Kent has been involved in planning, designing, delivering, and managing large-scale enterprise solutions in the South-East Asia region since 2007.

During his free time, he loves to read up and learn about the latest digital technology, as well as think of how technology can enable business and make people's life better.

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