In all productivity systems there are three parts. At the simplest level are tasks. Things that need to be done to move something forward or to maintain equilibrium. Then there are projects. Projects (and goals) are groups of connected tasks designed to reach a clearly defined outcome by a specified date. And finally areas of focus and these are the things you have identified as being important to you that you want to maintain and improve. These are often related to your finances, your health and your career.
Projects and areas of focus are the foundational level stuff that you do not manage on a day-to-day basis. You really only need projects and areas of focus for planning and reviewing. You cannot do a project or an area of focus, you can only do a task related to a project or an area of focus. So on a day-to-day basis you focus on the tasks you have identified need doing to move projects, goals and areas of focus forward.
For example, if you have identified health as being an important part of your life, then a regularly recurring task telling you to exercise will be coming up in your daily task list (or you have it as an event on your calendar). Health is something you identified as being important to you.
Now, things get a bit less clear, for example, if you decide that you want to join a gym. It becomes less clear because the gym you go to is connected to your area of focus “health”, yet choosing a gym has a series of tasks and a likely deadline. So, what is it? An area of focus or a project?
In this example, choosing a gym would be a project. There is a clear outcome — find a new gym — and you are likely to have given it a deadline so the project outcome would look something like this:
“Join a new gym by the end of September”
Now, if you are using the Time Sector System, you would create a new note in your projects notebook/folder in your notes app (your project support materials). The title would be “Join a new gym by the end of September” and you would then brainstorm all the ideas you have for a new gym.
The criteria would also be important:
- what the weights room equipment level is,
- Is there a swimming pool?
- How far is it from my work/home?
- What are the opening hours?
- How much will I be prepared to pay each month?
Once you have brainstormed what you want, you can then start deciding what tasks you will need to perform to successfully complete the project based on your criteria.
- Get a list of all the gyms in my locality
- Schedule time on my calendar to go look at the gyms
- Find out cost of joining
- Complete application
When you look at that task list, you can now decide when you are going to do the tasks and if any are dependent on other tasks. For example, until you know what gyms are in your locality, you are not going to be able to go look at them. Likewise, you may decide to find out the cost of joining a gym before you start visiting them so you are not looking at gyms that are over your monthly budget.
So, the first two tasks would be copied over to your this week folder in your to-do list:
- get a list of all the gyms in my locality
- Find out cost of joining each gym
The next task on your list “schedule time on my calendar to visit gyms” can be moved over to your next week folder and two tasks can be added to your “this month” folder (decide on which gym to join and complete application)
As long as you are doing your weekly planning sessions, you will be moving the next steps into your “this week” folder when you are ready to do them so the project is moving forward towards completion.
While you are doing your research you can add relevant information to your project note. You can add links to the gyms’ websites and even create a simple comparison table. This means, when you enter the final week of September, you will have all the information you need contained in one place to complete the project.
Once the project is complete, you have joined a new gym, you can archive the project from your projects folder in your notes app.
All projects are connected to your areas of focus.
As Tiago Forte points out in this excellent blog post about the PARA (projects, areas, resources, archive) organisation structure, all projects and goals will be connected to one of your areas of focus. Work projects are connected to your career / professional development, income goals are connected to your finance area and arranging a family holiday would be connected to your family / relationships area.
For the Time Sector System, you have a sub-folder connected to your “This Week” folder called “recurring areas of focus”. This is where you put tasks you want to perform consistently so you stay on top of your areas of focus. For example, I have a recurring area of focus that comes up every Friday to take my weight and body fat percentage reading. This makes sure I remain focused on my overall physical health. I also have tasks in there related to my professional development and business growth. For me to stay on top of the important areas of my life — to have continuous growth in all areas of focus — I need to be practicing, as Jim Rohn brilliantly put it, “a few small disciplines every day”.
All parts come together
The glue that brings all this together are the two planning sessions. The daily and weekly planning.
The daily planning session is simply reviewing what you have on your calendar tomorrow, that the tasks you have assigned are still relevant and to decide what your priorities for the day will be. If you notice you have many meetings, you can reduce the number of tasks by rescheduling them for another day in the week. This planning time also gives you an opportunity to clear your inbox — the tasks you have collected throughout the day and to decide when (and if) you are going to do them.
The weekly planning session is where you review all your folders (next week, this month and next month) to see what tasks you can bring forward into the following week. You can also review your projects list to make sure all your projects are moving forward correctly and decide which ones you will focus on next week.
Your system will break down if you skip these planning sessions. If you take away one of these parts, everything will stop working. If you are not doing your tasks each day, then none of your work will get done. You will not make progress on your goals and you will miss something important. If you are not doing your daily planning session, you will quickly find yourself overwhelmed and not know what is important because after a few days everything will be screaming at you, it is important.
And if you are not doing your weekly planning sessions, your projects will soon be neglected and deadlines will be missed.
As you can see, everything is connected. Your areas of focus are the drivers of everything. This is where your projects will all come from. If a project comes from outside one of your areas, you will not have the motivation to keep pushing forward towards completion because ultimately, you will have no interest in the project.
Your work projects — projects assigned to you by your company — are of interest because they are driven by your career. Learning a new language is driven by your area of self-development, saving a specific amount of money is driven by your finance area and doing twenty minutes journaling every day is driven by your spiritual and meaning area.
And if you are not doing the daily and weekly planning, your days, weeks, months and years will be driven by the projects and goals of other people and organisations and their goals rarely, if ever, meet your goals and life objectives.
Keeping your system simple is crucial if you want to be able to maintain your system. On a day-to-day basis, the only thing that matters is your list of tasks to perform today. Your tasks for tomorrow, next week or next month are not relevant today. They only become relevant on the day you decide you want to do them. If you do you daily and weekly planning, you will only need to open your project notes and any other tool you need to perform the task, be that Word, Keynote or Google Sheets, you will not need to be going round looking for something to do because your day is planned, you know what you want to accomplish and you know that whatever is on your list for today is important because they will all be connected to one of your areas of focus.
If you want to learn more about the Time Sector System, you can read more about it here. If you want to implement the system yourself I have a comprehensive online course that will take you through the steps you need to build the system into your life.
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