Many people have goals – they carry them round in their head as rather vague and fuzzy aims like ‘I need to lose weight‘ or ‘One day I’ll get the job I want‘, ‘I’m going to get fit‘  or ‘I need to deal with x/y problem.’ The problem is our brains are designed for having ideas not holding them as David Allen says in Getting Things DoneIf we try to hold too many issues in our head, we will become confused or forgetful. It also means that we will sight of our  important goals. These goal statements are not SMART.

SMART stands for:ghl-goals

S – specific, significant, stretching

M – measurable, meaningful, motivational

A – agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T – time-based, time-bound, timely, tangible, trackable

Some Is Not A Number…

Instead of ‘I want to get fit‘ it would be better to say ‘Starting on Monday I will go the gym after work on Monday and Wednesday and on Sunday morning, where I will do fifteen minutes of cardio and fifteen minutes of weight training‘.

Notice how with the second statement it would be easy to develop a plan to deliver it. For example:

– Join the Gym today.

– Pack my gym bag each night before bedtime.

– Put ‘gym-night’ into my work calendar and so on.

You get fit by breaking the goal down into smaller steps, each of which are taking you toward your goal. Ask yourself this:

‘What are the three most important life outcomes that I will accomplish in the next five years?’

‘What are three most important work outcomes I will accomplish in the next five, three and one year?’

Make them big goals, ones that will make a real difference to your personal life or your success at work. When you write these down, how confident are you on a scale of 1 to 10 that you have a way of keeping these in mind throughout each day and across the timescale over which time the goal will be delivered? Be honest.

What I Learnt

When I did this exercise for the first time I scored a 3. The question I asked myself when I reached that conclusion was this:

 If I’m not focusing each day on moving towards these goals – how will I ever achieve them?

From that day forward I decided that I would become much more mindful of what my most important goals were. I quickly concluded that I would need some kind of system to allow me to retain my focus over time, and make sure the time and energy I was committing each day would have some bearing on these goals. My thinking was – these either are my most important goals or they’re not.

 Being Not Just Doing

What emerged was a system for achieving this clarity and focus, a system I refer to here as focus.

I believe it’s important that as an individual I am not only able to do more – we are all judged on the results we get – but that how these results are achieved is also important. I am not equating this with a moral or spiritual purpose. Instead I mean that what I get done should stand for who I am as well as I what I do. Another way to put this is I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror and know that I am doing what I believe in, as well as securing the results that are required.

I now have a clear personal bottom line – something I encourage everyone in leadership to develop – which means that I will walk away if I am ever asked to do something which fundamentally conflicts with my core values. I have a post called Top Ten Tips For A New Healthcare CEO which discusses this in more detail. Over many iterations and after much experimentation this is the system I now use.

One Big Caveat

Please understand – I’m not advocating you use this system – it probably won’t work for you, at least not without tailoring it to suit how you work or the way you like to think. That’s the caveat. What I do urge you to do however is find a system that works for you and implement it each day.

The focus. SystemGHL Diagram

There is the world as it is – with all it’s imperfections and daily churn of more or less important events. Then there is the world as it needs to be – a future where you have accomplished your most important goals. focus. is how your personal resources (time, energy, focus) – meets technique. I have three categories of techniques:




These techniques allow me to deal with all the Stuff which hits me every day. Stuff is what David Allen call all the in-bound traffic that needs to be processed – such as emails, meeting requests, phone calls, meetings. These are all competing for my Time, Energy and Focus.

You will notice from the diagram that You – The Person are in the centre. The outcomes you want – your goals – need to be connected to the choices you make about how to deploy your Time, Energy and Focus each day. The challenge for many of us is that we don’t do that – the urgent literally drives out the important. That’s why our goals can remain frustratingly out of reach. I use focus. to manage the many demands on my Time, Energy and Focus. I recognise I can’t do everything, and that it’s not possible to give everything the same degree of priority. If you’ve ever felt any of the following then my system – or any other that you choose – could really help you. Have you ever:

– Felt exhausted and overwhelmed?

– Unsure about how to prioritise?

– Worried about deadlines?

– Lost sight of why you work in healthcare?

– Thought of giving up because of a work-life imbalance?

– Been unable to enjoy downtime?

I don’t argue you should do what I do – I’ve found that experimenting with different methodologies is helpful – but if any of the statements above are true, then please take action. Your own health and wellbeing depend on it

Resources To Help You

There are many great materials available on the web to help you. Here are four of my personal favourites.

Getting Things Done

Joe Buhlig

Sources of Insight

Zen To Done


focus. is a methodology I find works for me. I like being able to see my values, beliefs and assumptions as I plan my day. It means I am always mindful of what matters and the goals I’m working towards.

Follow the links to explore focus. in more detail.


I’m writing a series of eBooks that will provide more details on the focus. System for those who are interested. The first of these eBooks will be published in the Spring.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]