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Key Areas of Interest

How To Identify Your Key Areas of Interest

kai flowchart

Identifying your Key Areas of Interest enables you to clarify what areas of your life you want to focus on and the specific goals you have for each.

The method starts by reviewing your life as a whole and determining the categories you will use to develop your Key Areas of Interest.

Life Categories are the big ‘containers’ of your life. They are broad categories for different aspects of your life. JD Meier uses the term ‘Hot Spots’ to refer to them and lists out the following:

  • Mind
  • Body
  • Emotions
  • Career
  • Financial 
  • Relationships
  • Fun

I have my own way of categorising things which looks this:

  • Home — Everything related to life at home including, property, possessions, administration (pension, bank, investments etc.) and overall lifestyle.
  • Personal — Everything related to me as an individual including, physical and mental well-being and my close family relationships.
  • Work — Everything related to the job I do now or might want to do in the future.
  • Creative — Everything related to my creativity including, writing, photography, drawing and music.
  • Fun — Everything related to just having fun including, social life, entertainment and holidays and travel.

It doesn’t matter which ‘hot spots’ or ‘life categories’ you choose — they are just buckets which make sense to you. I’ve chosen mine because they work for me and I’ve mapped my DevonThink databases to these categories. I’ve also got OmniFocus set up so it reflects these domains which means I’ve got pattern recognition across all my digital systems. That helps me keep things clean and simple.

I work through each container heading with some prompts. For example, under ‘Home’ I ask myself — ‘Where do I want to live when I retire?’ 

I’ve got a pre-loaded spreadsheet you can use if you like. You can access it below.

I spend a few minutes jotting down anything that feels important under each life category heading. Eventually, I’ll have a long list of possible Key Areas of Interest (KAI). I don’t want to evaluate at this stage — it’s more important to use my non-evaluative brain to generate as many ideas as possible. Don’t worry if it feels like you’re generating more than you can manage — you’ll slim things down shortly.

When you’ve finished, I find it useful to store these long-lists somewhere where I can find them again if I need them. In my case that’s easy — I just tag them and move them into DevonThink.

Short List Possible Key Areas of Interest

Next, I chop down my long list of Key Areas of Interest into a manageable shortlist. I aim to get it down to five or less for each life category. When I first run down the lists I’ve generated, there’s usually some overlap between at least some of the items. I tidy that up and then for each long-listed KAI, I ask two questions. 

  1. Why is this important?
  2. What do I want to achieve by when?

I now have a list of areas I’m interested in, together with a ‘why’ and ‘what’ statement.

Rank Your Shortlist

Having completed a ‘why’ and ‘what’ statement for each KAI, I rank them. I use a simple scoring system to do so and although it’s not strictly necessary, I find it quite a fun way to do it. Here’s what I do — you can follow on in the downloadable spreadsheet.

For each  KAI, I give it two scores, 0-7 for ease of implementation and 0-7 for appeal/impact. The spreadsheet will calculate the result and then I simply sort by value in the result column. Doing it this way semi-blinds the result which can sometimes surprise me. I don’t always follow the results, but it’s a useful way of checking I’m not indulging in too much short-cut thinking.

It’s a good practice to leave your results for a week or so and then go back to them. When you do, you’ll be checking to see if they still feel intuitively correct. When you’re happy you’ve built a strong shortlist, go ahead and move to the next step.

Remember, the time you’re putting into this will pay off for years into the future. 

Mind-map Each Key Area of Interest

For each Key Areas of Interest, I now need to examine it in more detail. I find that mind-mapping is the best way to do this. I use MindNode but any decent mind-mapping app will do, or you could just use a paper and pen.

When I’m mind-mapping each KAI, I exploring at a very high level what sorts of things I would have to be willing to do to achieve the goal I’ve specified. The reason I do this using a digital mind-map is that it’s easy to create a new one for each KAI. These become useful records to refer back to, particularly when you are drilling into the details which you’ll need for the final step in this process.

As you mind-map, you’ll probably find that some of the KAI require you to do something you’re unlikely or unwilling to do. That’s great, and you can now rule these out. When you’ve finished, you should have a maximum of five KAI under each category heading, now with a relatively detailed high-level mind-map of what action would be required to achieve them.

Finalise Your Choice

Before finalising my choice, I take a moment to review two documents which I keep close by at all times. The first of these is my ‘Future Perfect Day’ which summarises what it will be like to experience my best day, sometime in the future. The second is my ‘Personal Manifesto’ which summarises what I believe in and how I want to guide my life.

Together these documents are a reminder of what I hold to be most important or most aspirational. They are my compass settings and allow me to choose whether I’m heading north or south. They provide a context within which I can set my goals. I find that they’re relatively stable documents, in that they don’t change a whole lot over time. This stability means the time you spend in developing them now will stand you in good stead for years to come. All you’ll need to do in future is review and tweak them as you go on.