Podcast Episode 4
In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about Projects, priorities and areas of focus.
Hello and welcome to episode 4 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week, we have a great question about projects, priorities and areas of focus and how to manage all the tasks that populate these parts of a productivity system. Before I hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question I would just like to ask if any of you listening to this podcast have any questions about productivity, goal planning, self-development or GTD, then head over to my website (carlpullein.com) where you will find a form to ask your question.
Okay, now let me hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question:
This week’s question comes from Jerome from France - thank you, Jerome. Jerome asks…
In the AREAS OF FOCUS project, the tasks have no end date. As a manager at work, I have some projects that have no real end date but are priorities (for example Safety Improvement, Management Skills, Team Coaching, Costs savings). Do you think these projects should be kept in my AREAS OF FOCUS project?
Wonderful question, Jerome.
Okay, I think we need to start off by defining what a project is and what an area of focus is.
A project is anything that needs two or more individual tasks completing before it is finished by or on a specific day. For example, buy a new washing machine or prepare the end of year report.
An area of focus is something that needs attention but does not have an end date. An example of such an area would be an exercise programme. maintaining an exercise programme does not (or at least should not) have an end date. Exercise is something that is ongoing indefinitely… I hope.
Now at work, an area of focus could be ongoing staff training—generally, this would not end as new staff may be joining your department all the time— or it could be safety improvements— this may be made up of a list of thing that need attention or reviewing from time to time. Another area of focus could be managing individual staff members, you may want to keep ongoing issues with staff members here.
Now a grey area occurs when within one of those areas of focus a project starts. Let’s say your director or president asks you to develop a new safety manual for your department. Now, this on its own is a project, yet it could easily fall within areas of focus under safety improvements.
So how do you distinguish between the two?
In this example, the new safety manual is a project. It is specific and it will have a deadline date. It is not an ongoing thing, it is a specific thing with a deadline. That makes it a project and I would put that on my projects list, separate from my safety improvements area of focus. I may reference my safety improvements area of focus for information, but that is the only point of contact that area of focus has on this safety manual project.
If we go back to the exercise area of focus, let say you decide next year you want to run a full course marathon in September. Now, in this case, there are a few factors to think about before you decide whether to call this a project or be part of your exercise areas of focus. If you regularly run marathons, then personally, I would count it as part of my areas of focus. However, if I am a fun runner, not normally running distances above 10K, then I may very well make this a personal project. Running 26.2 miles is a lot different than running a 10K and would be a big jump up from being a fun runner. Your training and preparation for the marathon would be very different from your usual exercise programme. That, to me, make this a project.
You see the difference here is really whether or not there is an end date. If there is an end date, then it is very likely to be a project and not an area of focus. An area of focus is simply something you want to maintain indefinitely. Of course, there may be times when an area fo focus gets dropped. That’s fine. Either delete it or move it to your someday|maybe folder.
Okay, so let’s go back to a work example. Let’s say you have an area of focus where you keep all the things you need to talk with, monitor or develop with your staff members. And, as in many companies, you have to write the annual performance reviews for your staff. Now, usually, this is done in October or November and has a deadline. For this, I would set up a project for the annual reviews themselves. I would not include this project in my areas of focus. Again, like the running a full course marathon, there is a deadline date, and it is a one-off (or a one-off in the sense it only happens once a year at a specific time). As you only do these reviews once a year and they have to be completed by a specific date. That makes it a project.
I think we often worry too much about these kinds of things. But if you have a simple framework in place, such as end dates equal project, no end date equals an area of focus then you should find these decisions are much easier.
I should point out to avoid any confusion, tasks within an area of focus can, of course, have due dates. That’s perfectly fine. But the area of focus itself, should not have an end date. If it does, then it is a project.
So how would you prioritise these different projects and areas of focus? For me, prioritisation is really goal or deadline driven. In my world, I have my regular routine work, which includes my areas of focus such as my YouTube videos, blog posts and this podcast. These are not projects because they do not have an end date. I plan to keep creating content for these well into the future. To make sure the blog posts, videos and podcasts are created each week, the tasks required to create them are scheduled for specific days and times each week. Creating an online course, however, is a project. I set a deadline and I have tasks that are required to be completed before the course can go live.
When I developed my YouTube channel or this podcast they did start out as projects. That was because to set these up, I needed to create the channel, design the headers and set up the links etc. Once everything was set up and all I had to do was create content and upload that content each week, then they were placed in my areas of focus.
So to give you an example, the videos I put up on YouTube each week are all recorded on a Saturday afternoon. These recording sessions are scheduled in my calendar each week, so there is no task in my YouTube area of focus, I don’t need to duplicate the event. The editing of those videos is also on my calendar. Again, as the editing is on my calendar, I do not need a duplicated task on my todo list. My blog posts are all written on a Monday morning between 9 AM and 11:30 AM, and I record these podcasts on a Friday afternoon. These events/tasks are all scheduled on my calendar for specific times each week. They do not go to my task list manager.
Because I treat my calendar as sacred territory and anything scheduled takes priority over everything else, I can confidently get on with my day to day work knowing I have time to work on the important things in the week.
My advice would use your calendar for prioritising the important things. Schedule time to do them. The thing is, priorities need to be done, that’s why they are priorities. So schedule a time to do them. Put them on your calendar. When you use your calendar properly, and you treat it as a priority, then you will find the stress just washes away.
Okay to sum up then.
If there is any kind of deadline or end date involved, then treat it as a project. If there is no deadline and you want to monitor or maintain something indefinitely, then that would be an area of focus.
Use your calendar to schedule important tasks by blocking off time. Remember, if you are using your calendar correctly then anything on there has priority over everything else. If you don’t treat calendared items as a priority you are going to have all sorts of problems meeting deadlines and commitments.
And that’s about it. Thank you, Jerome, for your question and thank you all for listening to this show. I hope you found it helpful in your own endeavours towards achieving relaxed productivity. Join me again next week where I will be answering more of your questions.
It just remains for me now to wish all a very very productive week.