Me Inc. – A vocational adventure for the 21st century

Autonomy, or the condition of self-governing, is often associated with knowledge workers and knowledge work.  Typically autonomy is about how you DO your work. What if autonomy was about how you MANAGE yourself in relation to all your work? Enter the Me Incorporated (or Me Inc.) concept.

Essential to Me Inc. is the idea that you take the lead for your vocational adventure. It’s about you AT work, and you ABOUT work. It’s honouring the ‘voice’ inside that calls you to align what you do with your purpose. (The word ‘vocational’ is related to the word ‘voice’.)  It’s having a considered perspective about the Why, How, What, When, Who, Where of your workscape. It’s the mindset that “You are self-employed regardless of who pays you.” And this new mindset means new responsibilities, new actions, and new tools.

Why consider a Me Inc. adventure?

Work is literally and figuratively a huge part of our lives.  Work generates a source of income; it provides a place to exercise talents and skills; it’s where we often make friends; it’s a place to learn and grow; and it’s a way to contribute to something bigger than ourselves. With something so critical, shouldn’t there be substantial personal consideration about how work figures into our own life?

Catalysts for this adventure are often:
1. Desire to improve your professional and personal well-being. You need to shift out of a bad state and restore well-being; or you want to establish patterns of working to sustain well-being.

2. Major shifts about the idea and reality of work in response to political, economic, and social changes. You want to be prepared and capable to navigate these shifts. For more insights on the shifts, I recommend reading “The Shift, the future of work is already here” by Lynda Gratton

Are you seeking and ready for change?

Explaining Me Inc.

Me Inc. is separating You as an identity from your current job and employer. There is You (becomes Me Inc.) and The Job (becomes a job). Many employees find their identity so integrated into their current job that they can’t define themselves without that job. People on a Me Inc. adventure can define themselves without reference to any single job or employer.

Your current job is simply one ‘gig’ in a lifetime workscape of many serial gigs, as well as one gig in current workscape of potentially many co-existing gigs.

The diagram below illustrates Me Inc. as two perspectives of your vocational life.
A. Lifetime workscape (Blue box) with multiple eras (Green lines)
B. Current workscape with either a single (Black box) or multiple gigs (Red box)

Concept of workscape

A set of Me Inc. scenarios

The Me Inc. vocational adventure can be thought of as different scenarios. The scenarios are not necessarily progressive – you might go for No 1 and never go for No 3 or 4.

1. Reinvent your work.  A traditional way to change your current work is to negotiate with your current employer for a different set of responsibilities or a different scope of work and change what you do. The Me Inc. approach changes your mindset about yourself in relation to your current employer, i.e. you have a Client not an Employer, and you are a Service Provider rather than an Employee.

2. Add extracurricular.  This is an approach for when your current role doesn’t offer the opportunities you want, to use or develop particular talents, or the talents you want to develop or use have little relevance or value to your current employer, i.e. starting a business. The Me Inc. approach is for you to take the lead of adding activity you value into your vocational package. It is very likely this activity will be done outside current work hours and for another organisation or group.  Extracurricular could be taking a leadership role in a professional association group; doing volunteer work; tinkering with a hobby as a potential business; or starting up a group or exploring a venture with like-minded people.

3. Go somewhere different. This is an approach for when you decide to leave your current role to locate somewhere else, while reconceiving how you want to be or what you will do in a different role. The Me Inc. approach is for you to find and secure a role that is a good fit for your version of Me Inc. It’s not to simply take any role just because it’s available or offered.

4. Take a big leap. This is an approach for when your entrepreneurial spirit is so strong you simply must create your own business or organisation to realise your vocational adventure. You may be a business of one as a freelancer, or you may create a business that employs others.

In all scenarios above, you take on additional responsibilities for your vocation or career than if you were ‘simply’ an employee. You might call these ‘career management’ responsibilities; I invite you to think of them as ‘Me Inc.’ responsibilities. (By a different name, you may liberate new insights for yourself!)

Extra Responsibilities in Me Inc.

Many of these ‘extra’ career responsibilities were previously owned and determined by the organisation you work for – and this won’t necessarily change. In a Me Inc. paradigm, You change to you have your own perspective: doing these by yourself, and for your direct benefit.

Here’s a list, brought to you by the letter R.
Reign  purpose, strategy, direction – the big picture stuff that will guide your choices
Reputation  branding, marketing – what you are about and getting the word out
Relationships  connections, networks, collaborations – who you know and how you leverage social ‘capital’
Rule  code of practice, processes, terms & conditions – your ‘operating system’ for doing and managing your style of work
Reform  performance, improvements, quality criteria – the What and How you will learn and transform
Resources  infrastructure (soft & hard) – the things you need to have and use
Revenue  delivery, multiple sources, administration – how you are going to get currency-of-choice for what you do

This translates into skills and resources you need that you probably won’t get with/from your current employer. On a Me Inc. adventure – it’s up to you!

Me Inc. adventurers

The Me Inc. adventure is for at least these three groups of people:

  • Young people starting their working life who want to set relevant useful patterns for themselves
  • Experienced employees seeking to approach work differently
  • Mature people who are exiting traditional working life and ready to reinvent themselves

Influences from my own journey

The Me Inc. idea was influenced by other people’s thinking. I’d like to take a moment to honour the sources of influence.

  • About 10 years ago, I saw a book on the bookstore shelf called “You Inc.” by John McGrath . The title and premise about personal responsibility, were sufficient to shift my thinking: To a view of myself as my own business even if I was an employee and not looking to start my own business/organisation.
  • About 8 years ago, I bought the book with the provocative title “Willing Slaves” by Madeleine Bunting, and was fuelled by the notion that modern organisations are not the benevolent employers they purport to be. My eyes were opened to the general lack of self-determination of employees about their relationship to work.
  • In reading the book “Slideology” by Nancy Duarte,  I was introduced to the elegant slides of Pamela Slim as designed for her Declaration of Independence message (viewable on YouTube) . I was particularly taken by the message, “I am self-employed regardless of who pays me”.

Ready, set, go

Are you ready to start a Me Inc. adventure?
A learning programme for Me Inc. adventurers is under development. For more details, contact me directly


Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge is valued and leveraged. She revels in making small changes that disrupt the way people think and what they do. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people and knowledge.


Reduce knowledge loss with Knowledge Transfer Report

Retention of Critical Knowledge (or ROCK) is a popular concern in organisations or groups with retiring workforce or turnover of personnel.

Often initiatives to retain knowledge focus on turning the details of what people know into codified forms or documentation. This makes it more possible for others (maybe unknown today) to read (or watch) in a different place or at a different time.

Codifying knowledge affords an immutability and mobility of the knowledge. Immutability fixes the knowledge in time, preserving it across time. Mobility means it can move beyond its creator and point of creation.

Immutability and mobility are seductive notions for knowledge capture:

  • An upside of immutability is that you can feel certain about codified knowledge as fixed definitive content and this can give rise to a sense of community and continuity. A downside – it probably stopped being definitive before the proverbial ink dried.
  • An upside of mobility is that it can readily circulate. A downside – it needs supporting context to enable decisions about its relevance somewhere else; and if this is missing, its less usefulness is limited or non-existent.

Trying to capture a substantive portion of what a person knows in a codified form is akin to writing a book on the person. And if it gets written, will anybody have the time or motivation to read it?

How about instead writing the Table of Contents on a person’s knowledge?

Enter the Knowledge Transfer Report. A succinct document that lists all the essential important topics and points to where to get details. Those details may be explicitly in a database, website or document; or more importantly, held implicitly (or tacitly) in an individual or group of individuals.

The design of the report addresses the issue of immutability by allowing for micro details (Chapter & Verse) to change while providing macro details (Table of Contents) which are more likely fixed. The form of the report gives a vehicle for circulating the knowledge.

The Table of Contents (ToC) concept embodies an organisation structure with sequence and/or logical groupings with which to traverse a body of knowledge. It’s the map of the territory – rather than detailed step-by-step instructions. It’s scannable and doesn’t need to be ‘read’ for the user to get immediate value. Re-using the form of ToC for the report content, empowers the user of the Report the freedom to explore and discover within useful parameters.

Learn about the technique: the process and template.

Share with us about your experimentation with the Knowledge Transfer Report, and other practical ideas to enable retention of critical knowledge.

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.

Fourth dimension of networking – Making it happen (Part 3)

I have shared knowledge about the ‘What’ of my 4D networking practice. This post outlines the details of ‘How’ by answering the question: What enables a savvy 4D networker?

Below is a set of three lists: Practices I do, Tools I use, Mindsets I hold. I encourage you to reflect on these and prepare your own lists.


This is a list of things I do with my ‘Networking’ time.

  • Connect only with 3D or 4D contacts in visible online databases (i.e. LinkedIn)
  • 3D & 4D networking, based on my own 4D criteria
  • Act thoughtfully and purposefully
  • Ask individuals: How can I help you? What is your passion or interest?
  • Think proactively: How can I help this person? (Do 4D activities); Who can I connect this person with? (e.g. Utilise my trusted contacts)
  • Endorse or recommend people without prompting
  • Ask for assistance to meet new people
  • Treasure chestFollow-up after meetings to give something meaningful, show appreciation, or spread the word/tell others
  • Catalyse discussions (online or in person) with interesting questions
  • Being active participant in an Professional Association or Community of Practice
  • Schedule and honour regular networking time/activity
  • Use digital calendar to manage availability and issue shared calendar entries for meetings
  • Keep a record of my contacts and my engagement with them (contact details, personal details, my reflections on initial meeting with them, suggestions for how I can assist them or connect more meaningfully, email correspondence).
  • Keep current records so I can do summary reports/analysis about breadth & depth of my activity over time, e.g. who I saw, how many people I meet, number of contacts in my databases, and evaluate performance
  • Adapt: Review what’s working or not working and do something again or differently
  • Learn from others lessons-learnt, e.g. Mistakes not to make using LinkedIn.
  • Consider: What presence will I show up with when meeting with someone?
  • Implement 4C’s filter: give varying degrees of attention to interact with individuals or groups
  • Observe or imagine what others might value; scan/seek for items and opportunities to share with others
  • Write on back of business cards and noting person’s interests & preferences immediately after meeting someone. (This later gets transferred to digital records.)
  • Tagging/classifying people into meaningful groups for interaction – makes it easier to execute contact with collections of people.
  • Capture valuable information so I can act quickly to share something of value (see Notebook lists under Tools below)
  • Prepare or acquire micro-blog (i.e. Twitter, LinkedIn update) content I can publish quickly and constantly
  • Do regular micro-blogging to share and mobilise useful or inspiring knowledge


This is the set of tool I use that enables the practices listed above.

  • Contacts database (online = e.g. LinkedIn; offline = e.g. Outlook Contacts – I have both because approx 10% of my contacts are not LinkedIn members)
  • Tagging schema to organise contacts in my databases
  • Linking micro-blog posting across online platforms, i.e. LinkedIn feeds to Twitter feeds to Facebook
  • Sample text for replying to various message correspondence scenarios, e.g. LinkedIn member who I don’t know (i.e. not 3D or 4D contact) invites me to connect with them
  • Social media professional profiles with connections so others can learn about me and my network (e.g. LinkedIn – Basic is sufficient, Basic is free; Twitter; Facebook)
  • Bio copy prepared for various audiences
  • High quality professional colour digital photograph
  • Links in email signature of available methods to contact me
  • List of my interests, specialities and passions that I can share
  • Notebook entries of useful lists: Quotes, recommendations, insights, suggestions, humour, random acts of kindness to do
  • Notebook entries with potential & finalised micro-blog content I can publish
  • Artefacts/methods to send a surprising delightful message: Quality cards, or notepaper. I also use origami paper made into objects, and handwritten emails using inking on tablet laptop.


These ideas I hold to guide my networking and professional practice. They underpin the practices listed above.

  • It’s better to give than to receive.
  • Pay it forward.
  • For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.
  • Be prudent and purposeful with resources
  • Don’t enable the waste or potential of talent.
  • Its okay to say No. It’s okay to stop.
  • Its okay to ask.
  • Respect others time and energy.
  • Honour my own boundaries and limits.
  • Aim for effective not efficient activity.
  • Leave something better than you found it.
  • Its not what I do or say but how I make people feel.
  • Make the first approach, take the first step.
  • Show up.
  • Mean what I say, say what I mean.
  • Honour my word and commitments.

May you find meaningful ways to perform better in professional networking.
Please share with me your ways and means!

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX GroupHelen likes to experiment and create conceptual frameworks to use in making sense of human activity. She thinks critically about knowledge work and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change, learning and knowing so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.

Image credit: iStockphoto

Fourth dimension of networking – Concept applied (Part 2)

Recently, I defined a way to examine value in my professional networks, introducing the concept of Fourth dimension networking.

To better quantify and qualify this value, I defined ways to measure ‘return’ on my networking ‘investment’. I looked at what I received, and what I gave in my networking activity.

Quantifying the fundamentals of networking activity

As I networked, I kept records of the following basic data:

  1. No. of individual or group encounters had
  2. No. of people in my network (Source: LinkedIn contacts, Twitter followers, blog followers, and Contacts database)
  3. No. of people who joined my network in a period of time (I typically only retain 3D connections, i.e. people I have met face-to-face and shared an experience with)

NB: ‘Encounters’ were intentional face-to-face contact, and did not include incidental meetings in coffee shops, co-working spaces or train stations. Some individuals were repeat encounters.

I summarised this data for specific time periods to give me a quick snapshot of how much networking I had been doing:

  1. No. of encounters (From 1 Jan – 30 Sep 2012) = 277
    1. Individuals = 205
    2. Groups/events = 72
  2. Increase in my LinkedIn contacts (From 1 Jan – 30 Sep 2012) = 180
  3. No. of people in my network (As at 30 Sep 2012) = Approx 600
    1. LinkedIn = 408
    2. Contacts database (of people not in LinkedIn) = 54
    3. Twitter = 127
    4. RHX Thinking Blog = 9

NB: Twitter and Blog followers overlap with LinkedIn contacts

4D networking criteria list

Now I knew something about the quantity of my networking activity, I still lacked a sense of the quality of what this activity had returned to me. Enter the 4D networking criteria, where a rating is assigned to a person for the networking activity they have done.

WARNING! These are activities (and the order) are for what I value in/from networking. You are invited to define your own list.

ANOTHER WARNING! This list is written in 1st-person for easy reading. I run a risk that the reader perceives this as self-centric. I have some discomfort in taking the perspective about ‘what I received’ as I believe networking is about serving others; however I have more comprehensive data from which to draw upon regarding my ‘received’ experience.

#1  Created opportunities to catch-up with me in person
#2  Suggested a relevant reading, podcast, event, group, role, contact to me; shared knowledge or insights
#3  Actively encouraged, affirmed or validated me in a contextually relevant way
#4  Mentioned, commented or liked a post of mine or included me in a post
#5  Endorsed or recommended me
#6  Introduced me to someone else because I asked
#7  Introduced me to someone else of their own volition
#8  Invited me to be part of a collaboration, strategic alliance or lead participant in event
#9  Asked how to help me and acted on the answer
#10 Offered me work opportunities/referred me to work opportunities

I reflected on networking activity (of which I had been a recipient) for the period 1 Jan – 30 Sep 2012, making a shortlist of people who rated as 4D networkers. I worked through the shortlist assigning each individual a rating. Where an individual got multiple ratings, I assigned the value of the highest rated activity.

HelpingOthersThe results:
From a network of approx 600 people, 16 % (i.e. 92 people) engaged me in 4D activities from 1 Jan – 30 Sep 2012.
Of those 92 people (i.e. 4D-network connections):
18 % rated #1-#3
36 % rated #4-#5
28 % rated #6-#8
7 % rated #9
11 % rated #10

I also noted where I first met a 4D contact to determine which groups or events produced valuable connections. Interestingly, very few higher rating contacts (i.e. 8-10) were first established at professional groups or events. Many higher rating contacts were initially made when working together. It seems contacts with whom I’ve had a deeper work experience are more likely to result in further collaboration.

Helen’s 4D networking under the spotlight

The 4D networking examination above was done retrospectively, coming up with list after activities were preformed and not before. It turned out to be easier to specifically recall what I have received, than what I gave.

To get data for my networking activity, I examined a portion of my email correspondence to aid my recall. While I couldn’t create the same detailed summary, I found evidence that I had done all the activities in the list multiple times. From anecdotal feedback, I know what I have done has been appreciated by others, and in some cases inspired them to do the same for others in their network.

What to conclude?

My business partner (he’s a numbers person) looks at the figures of 277 encounters resulting in 23 offers of collaboration/strategic alliance (#8) or work (#10), and calculates that 8% of those encounters were ‘worthwhile’ in cool business terms. In the current economic climate that hasn’t translated into exciting revenue figures.

Networking doesn’t always have obvious returns but that’s not a reason not to do it. It can be resource intensive work, so I recognise I must invest time and energy resources prudently. Knowing what activities are worth doing allows me to better prepare and conduct myself. (More on this to come in the Part 3 blog post on 4D networking)

I invest with faith: My networking actions are seeds sown that are not guaranteed to germinate. Nevertheless, I believe that generous thoughtful actions, though small, cultivate a sharing and caring network culture.

I trust that doing 4D networking activity inspires others to act. Let me know if you are so inspired.

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX GroupHelen likes to experiment and create conceptual frameworks to use in making sense of human activity. She thinks critically about knowledge work and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change, learning and knowing so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.

Image credit: stock.xchng

Organising your time honestly and flexibly (with a digital diary)

Our work time is regulated by hours, weeks, and months. Organising our work activity temporally (that is, by time) is a challenge that can be conquered with a diary (of the datebook kind, not the daily record of experiences). With a digital diary, it becomes easier to manage an emerging or changing schedule, such is the nature of modern work practice that attempts to include inherently changing acts of creativity and innovation.

When I was an employee in a large organisation, our digital calendars were visible (with some concessions for privacy) to other staff members. As a dedicated user of the calendar, I often found others commenting that according to my calendar, ‘You are so busy’. I was bemused and wondered: Were people with empty calendars considered to be ‘not-busy’?

Tom Peters (in his “Mother of all Presentations”) says: ‘You ARE your calendar. You ARE how you spend your time. Calendars NEVER LIE.’

The technique explained in this blog is about making visible how-you-spend-your-time, and enabling flexibility to better manage what, where and when factors of your activity.

Managing your temporal space

From Shutterstock

My diary is my temporal space made visible. It enables me to map my intentions about time. I create and shuffle around blocks of time to firm up what my schedule will look like, while also experimenting with what it could look like. With a digital diary it’s particularly easy to drag and drop entries; and to append extra information to capture the meaning I have given certain entries, for example: Tentative, (In) CBD. Then my diary appears clean, and (re)organised – no whiteout or erased pencil lines in sight!

Putting entries in my diary gives me a schedule to follow for the day. While my days might not have a regular routine, I am assured a degree of order as important things needing my attention are factored in.

Many of my entries are not appointments with others, but simply an entry for me to work on a specific activity. Rather than work from a general To-do list during the day, I work from my calendar schedule of activity. Many of these activities have an associated and specific To-do or next-action list which is my exclusive focus during the allotted time.

Entries in my diary are an agreement with myself about what I am going to focus on, and help me to focus on one thing at a time. I’m not a fan of multi-tasking, but on occasion my thoughts are scattered and I free them from the leash, within a boundary of ‘Planning’ time or ‘Admin’ time – simultaneous chaos and order!

Making diary entries also enables me to more accurately forecast how much time activities will need, particularly those that are spread over multiple days, and to ensure sufficient time is reserved. In addition, I can better evaluate when to sequence individual activities in context of other things, e.g. other activities, my location, and my anticipated energy level or attention capacity.

While not an Activity per se, I’ll often add entries to my calendar for deadlines or time-sensitive milestones. Because I am following my schedule for the day, it’s handy to have time-sensitive things co-located with my actions, in case I need to re-evaluate action priorities.

If you are following an Activity-Time Budget, you could assign colours to each Budget category and apply these colours to the items you have in your diary. With a quick glance you’ll be able to see how well your projected budget matches your actual budget. (See Calendar 2 below.)

Being honest about your time

Every day we have activities that use time (and attention and energy) but are not typically accounted for in our calendars. Some examples of ‘invisible’ use of time: travel (on foot, by train, parking the car); general administration (filing, processing correspondence/incoming email, paying bills, etc); reading (correspondence, articles); preparation for meetings; processing note; preparing task-lists; lunch breaks; etc. (Hopefully you’ve created your own Activity-Time Budget that allows for such time.)

Start to put this time in your calendar. Particularly when entering linked activities. For example, after creating a Meeting entry, add Travel time to either side of the Meeting entry. Or, when creating a Meeting entry, add entries for Prep/Reading time and Note Processing time in close proximity to the meeting entry. See examples in Calendar 2 below.

There are two screenshots of my sample Calendar here. Calendar 1 is the typical calendar of most people, and reflects the events or appointments I have that involve other people – often because the appointment is linked to their calendar, or because it’s important to be ‘on-time’ for these. Calendar 2 extends Calendar 1 showing the activity of ‘invisible’ time, as well as colour coding to align with an Activity-Time budget (and no, I haven’t explained my colour coding – it’s meaningful only to me.)

Calendar 1 (Partial)

Calendar 2 (Complete)

Scheduling serendipity (or Planning for the unplanned)

While I am advocating filling a digital diary with entries, I am not advocating filling every waking moment with scheduled activity. Leave space for the unexpected that might better deserve your attention, or for spill-over when you’ve underestimated the amount of time needed or things have emerged with unanticipated complexity.

You might need to schedule ‘contingency’ or ‘open’ space in your calendar, simply so you (or others if you are sharing a calendar) don’t mistake it for Free-to-schedule-any-Activity time.

Dov Frohman (with Robert Howard) in the book, “Leadership The Hard Way: Why Leadership Can’t Be Taught—And How You Can Learn It Anyway“, advocates scheduling ‘day-dreaming time’ where you engage in “loose, unstructured thinking with no particular goal in mind”. An approach they recommend for dealing with complexity and ‘fuzzy’ problems.

One of my students shared this technique: she schedules a calendar entry called ‘Lucky Dip’ – the time is reserved but the activity is unknown. She has a bag in which various activities, both delightful and necessary, are written on strips of paper. When the appointed time arrives, she dips into the bag without looking, selects what she will do, and does it.

Another type of time you might consider scheduling is disconnected time, i.e. time when you don’t access the internet, read your email, look at Twitter or other social media sites. A practical way to support day-dreaming time!

Organising your temporal affairs effectively means you can utilise your time wisely and for greatest benefit. Effective use of time requires knowing what you spend your time doing, as well what you don’t spend your time doing. Hopefully the suggestions in this blog can help you better align your reality with your intentions.

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.

Managing your Attention capacity with 4Cs Attention Filter

An important personal resource for knowledge workers is Attention. It can be difficult to decide what gets attention and what doesn’t. In an information-rich world, there is more and more competing for your attention.

The merchandise of the information economy is not information; it is attention.
~ James Gleick

Quick and confident decisions about your Attention can be particularly difficult when you want to be open to what is emerging around you. Common advice to minimise overload is “Just say No”. However, a simple “Yes” or “No” doesn’t work when things aren’t black or white but rather shades of grey.

Attention is a precious resource not to be squandered on trivial things that don’t matter to you – things that are distractions, or noise that unwittingly caught your attention. By setting meaningful boundaries, you can create criteria to aid purposeful decision-making about what is worthy of your attention.

What kind of attention to give

The 4Cs Attention Filter can be helpful for organising your attention by defining the type of attention to be given. The Filter categories are Committed, Contributing, Curious and Cease. Three of the Cs are shades of grey for when you want to say “Yes – with limits” and the fourth C is the classic “No”.

COMMITTED – Things that get ongoing deep attention; things to which you have a strong and pervasive commitment; things where the buck stops with you; things where you are actively scanning for new information.
CONTRIBUTING – Things that get momentary deep attention; things to which you have some strong attachment, however, you can care about with little or no responsibility.
CURIOUS – Things that get light and occasional attention, mostly when something crosses your path, not things you are actively pursuing.
CEASE – Things not worthy of any attention at all.

Think of the Filter as organising ‘Things I am interested in’ rather than ‘Things I am doing’, that is, ‘Topics’ rather than ‘Activity’.

Here’s an example of how my Filter is currently set (as at March 2012) for vocational or professional interests.

This is a reflection of where my interests currently lie; it isn’t a reflection of the depth of my competencies. With this filter, I can quickly make decisions about which meetings and conferences I attend, which groups I belong to, which blogs and books I subscribe or read, which conversations I contribute to, and to which people/conversations I’ll give priority.

With the Filter set, things that attract my attention pass through the Filter and stick to the category to which they match and therefore get the type of Attention associated with that category.

The 4Cs Attention Filter is not intended for planning or organising an action list, though it may contribute to setting some scope for a list of activities. For a technique to organise and prioritise your activities, read Mastering your workload.

Determining your Attention Capacity

Your capacity for purposeful Attention is a factor of breadth and depth. To use a scuba diving analogy: the oxygen you have available in your tank is a factor of how deep you dive as well as how long you dive. Deeper dives require more oxygen than shallower dives, even if the duration of the dive is the same. With a finite underwater oxygen capacity, a diver makes life-dependent decisions about how many dives can be made and to what depth.

So it is with your attention capacity. You need to factor how many things you will give deep attention (i.e. Committed) in relation to the breadth of things to which you will give attention.

Set limits for each ‘Yes’ category about the number of things to which you can purposefully attend. Typically there will be less items in categories characterised by deeper attention, i.e. Committed, and Contributing. To get started, a useful rule of thumb might be 3 things in Committed, 4 in Contributing, 10 in Curious.

The Limit is designed to help you maintain a sustainable Attention load. Be sure not to add items to a category without first considering what must be subtracted from that category.

What kind of attention you have been giving

Check where your attention is, and has been going, with a quick audit. Of the things that currently have your attention, in which Attention category do they fit?

Look at your list. If you have been feeling overwhelmed, you may have too many things in the Committed category which need a depth of attention you can’t give. Or maybe you have too many things across all categories which need a breadth of attention you haven’t got.

To reduce your attention load, downgrade items to another Attention category, either permanently or for a defined period of time.

To control attention means to control experience, and therefore the quality of life.
~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Attention is a precious personal resource. So manage it in a sustainable manner, and be sure to spend it on what matters to you.

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.

Focusing attention with In-Out Focus Circle

With many things trying to get your attention, it can be difficult to find and keep focus on the activities that are important to execute. This blog is about a simple technique for finding and keeping your focus for work activity.

Consider this photograph …Sunflowers in and out of focus
(c) Microsoft Office Images/mp900178459

How many flowers are there?
How many flowers are in-focus? How many are out-of-focus?
Why would a photographer create a photo that is simultaneously in and out of focus?

Like the photographer, we use our physical eyes to control what is in our field of vision. So too with our conceptual eyes, we can bring clarity to what we choose to bring into focus.

The need for focus

What we focus on determines experience, knowledge, energy and fulfilment. It can be easy to squander attention on just whatever captures your awareness. Which isn’t to say: don’t scan your environment for new or intriguing things! It is to say: for things that you know to be important – make sure these get your attention.

The In-Out Focus technique is a simple idea to provide structure, balanced with flexibility, so you know what is truly worth your focus, and are able to refocus easily as needed.

The technique described below started with a need for a strategy to overcome states of procrastination or feeling scattered. I’d ask myself: What should the focus of Today be? What are 1 or 2 most important things to achieve? I’d write this on a sticky note and put it in my direct field of vision. Then I focus my attention on that, and give myself permission to ignore other things for the defined time period.

What determines ‘important’? I define it as things that will assist and advance my current situation to my preferred future. It can be as simple as making a phone call to enhance a relationship, or making a decision about whether to go to an event.

The technique has further evolved to a long-term view, i.e. What is most important for This Week, Month, Quarter or Year? And also evolved for use with a team, not just an individual: With a declared team foci of attention, individuals can better align their personal focus.

Using the technique

  • You can change focus anytime you want, but something must move out of focus. Don’t add unless you subtract, to maintain quality attention.
  • The granularity of the important items will differ depending on the focus horizon, i.e. Day, Week, Year, or Life. Don’t mix the granularity; rather have different Focus Lists or Circles for different horizons.
  • Focus on the right things (not senseless things). Is your attention consumption empty calories or nutrient rich? Eliminate what isn’t helpful. Cultivate attention-health.
  • Know what is most important even when the territory is shifting and emerging; there is always stuff that could be done – know what should be done.
  • Just because something is not IN focus doesn’t mean that it isn’t there or that it isn’t important. It’s simply not the current focus of attention.

Making it happen

1. On small sticky notes: write a project, group/organisation/committee, collaboration, interest that currently occupies your time and attention (present and future content). One per sticky note.

2. On large piece of paper (suggest A2 or A3 size), draw a large circle.

3. For ‘This Week’, what will be the focus of your attention?  Assign your notes to inside the circle. That is In-Focus. Anything left over remains outside the circle or Out-of-Focus.

Consider: If you organised for ‘This Month’ (instead of ‘This Week’), what items would you move?

4. Set a depth of field, i.e. Today, This Week, This Month, Year.  Set a number for the maximum items that can be in focus for the chosen depth of field, i.e. the breadth of attention you can simultaneously maintain, e.g. 2, 4, 10.

Expect to do some fine tuning to see what works best for you in terms of depth of field, and number of items in focus.

I no longer use the paper/sticky notes method in my everyday practice.  I use the digital Sticky Notes application for Daily/Weekly Focus lists which sit on my computer desktop. And I keep a page in my digital Notebook for longer-term Focus lists.

HINT: When you are starting out, I recommend using the paper/sticky notes method for at least a couple of months.

5. In your regular planning time, add an action item to Review and Adjust you In-Out Focus circles.  (In accordance with my Activity-Time budget, I have set aside weekly planning time.)

6. Live and work according to the Focus you have set.

Best wishes with implementing this technique.  Let us know what worked and didn’t work for you in your context.

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.