Tag Archives: David Allen

Finding the Right Level of Focus

On NPR’s TED Radio Hour, Arctic explorer Ben Sauders was asked what he thought about during his attempt to ski solo to the North Pole. He described his mental image of himself, a small red dot of body temperature in a vast field of freezing cold blue the size of the United States, standing on few inches of ice floating over miles of black ocean – but he quickly said that he tried not to think about that very much. Mostly, he focused on two things: the menial tasks that keep him alive and the ultimate goal of getting home.

Finding the Right Level of Focus

Saunders set for himself the very ideal of a BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal. It’s more or less his method in life. As I’m writing this, Saunders and a partner are attempting to recreate (and complete) Robert Scott’s failed expedition to the South Pole. This kind of attempt requires years of planning and a tremendous vision for what’s possible. Once in the middle of the actual mission, though, Saunders adjusts his focus to those things that will keep him alive and motivate him to continue. Without the big picture planning, though, even Saunder’s world-class survival skills would mean nothing, because he wouldn’t have a route to follow or the means to return home.

Finding the right level of focus has been something I’ve struggled with. Often, when beginning my day, I’m tempted to begin attacking the details of whatever problem appears in my inbox as I’m finishing my first cup of coffee. Through difficult experience, however, I’ve learned that I need to take a step back, look at my schedule for the day and week, and quickly review my project and action lists before diving into the details of a specific problem. Continue reading Finding the Right Level of Focus

A few of my past journals

Keeping Track of What Matters: Why I Use a Journal at Work

The other day, as I was meeting with a colleague, he expressed surprise at how I was taking notes. “You keep all your business notes in a Moleskine?” It must have seemed a bit unusual – most people around here take notes on letter-size notepads, scratch paper, or, in a few cases, business planners. I’m the only one using a “fancy” journal.

It seemed strange to me, too, for a while. These notes aren’t anything really important, certainly nothing personal, so shouldn’t I just use regular old paper? I tried that for a couple of months and ran into a few problems. Sure, most of my notes weren’t that important and I would never look at them again, but what about those that were important? Where would I keep those? Further, I wound up with stacks of project and meeting notes that I needed to save for reference, but once I tore them out of the pad, they would curl up, rip, and become very annoying to file away.

I tried all sorts of things to keep these notes under control – copying the important ones into OneNote, taking pictures and importing them to Evernote, using Outlook to store important information – but I could never find a solution that met all my needs. It had to be:

  • Mindless: I wouldn’t have to think about where I was going to record something.
  • Mobile: It needed to be with me all or most of the time.
  • Reliable: It had to be there when I needed to record something AND when I needed to retrieve something.

Then I realized that I already had a great solution: my journal. I’ve used journals off-and-on since college, starting with ring-bound sketchbooks and trying several other varieties and sizes before settling on black, 5″x8″ soft-covers. I’m currently using a Moleskine, but my preferred brand is ecosystem. (Thanks, Michael Hyatt!)

Daily Work Matters

Using a journal at my current job, though, required a subtle mental shift for me. Continue reading Keeping Track of What Matters: Why I Use a Journal at Work