Over the past ten years, I’ve learned to Put Values First and simultaneously Put Myself First.  My third of “ten lessons from ten years in business” is to Recognize and Prioritize Two Distinct Levels of Focus.

I work day to day from a combination of to-do lists and a calendar that together keep me focused.  In the midst of a busy workday, I want to know where my time is best spent.  If something is on my calendar, it’s there for a reason.  And rather than muddle through my inbox aimlessly, responding to other people’s priorities first, I try hard to focus instead on the to-do list of priorities that I’ve pre-determined as critical to my success.

I’ve long been a productivity nut. It started when I read Getting Things Done by David Allen and attended one of his workshops.  I don’t use the term “life changing” often but this counted as one of those moments.  Since that moment ~14 years ago I’ve developed a detailed system of habits that help me focus – on the right things, minimizing distractions in the moment, hacks for better capturing ideas in the car, etc.

In other words, I’ve invested time in ensuring I make best use of my time day to day.

Unfortunately, it’s really easy to feel busy, check a lot of things off your daily to-do list, and still not accomplish your goals.

You can think of this as the distinction between micro-focus and macro-focus.  You may be getting a lot done, but are those tasks leading you towards your larger goals?  Are the things you’re getting done focused on a larger goal that really drives your success and happiness?

Verne Harnish offers a nice intersection of micro and macro focus with his “one of five” daily prioritization system.  The way I’ve interpreted his strategy is this way: Create a to-do list for today made up of only your top five priorities but be intentional about putting your most important priority at the top of the list.  Then do that first.

Whatever you put as your “one of five” is ideally most directly tied to achieving your macro success but is also probably a bit intimidating, something you might otherwise procrastinate on.  But I get priorities two through five today, combined, won’t as directly help you achieve success and happiness as that one of five will.

To help me stay macro focused, I develop annual and quarterly goals for the business as well as annual and quarterly goals for myself personally and for our family.  I use David Allen’s “Projects” system to track a wide variety of current initiatives in a separate list and review that weekly for next steps.  That weekly Projects list is itself focused on those quarterly and annual goals.  I do have longer-term (three to five year) goals as well, but my most productive macro focus mechanisms look 3-12 months ahead.

Staying focused on a daily basis is critical.  I have to focus intentionally throughout the day vs reacting to what comes at me.  But in order to choose the right daily focus areas, I must have determined the right macro focus areas in advance.  And knowing those macro focus areas can help you triage and sometimes actually re-direct focus to something inbound that aligns with those longer-term focus areas and goals.

I don’t know anybody (myself included) that is perfect at executing this all of the time.  But perfection isn’t the goal. If you could improve your day-to-day focus by just a few percentage points, and make a similar percentage of those daily tasks more focused on your macro goals, I expect it would over time have a massive impact on your momentum and achievement of your higher-level objectives.

Only you can define what success and happiness means for you.  But you won’t find either in simply crossing off tasks each day.

So, in my ten lessons from ten years in business so far, 1) Put Values First, 2) Put Yourself First, 3) Recognize and Prioritize Two Levels of Focus.

Next, The Power of Thank You.