Martha McSally on Productivity – thru Fear


Finished reading “Dare to Fly” by Martha McSally – who was in the USAF, first female combat pilot, and also a US Senator. Interesting reading, and my focus here is on productivity and dealing with actions in the moment. It’s one thing to use list managers, calendars, tools, productivity systems. It’s another thing to acknowledge and transcend stuff like, “fears” – things that get in the way of desired outcomes.

Conquering Fear (various lessons from her father and military)

  • Do things Afraid:
    • The key lesson is that life is never neatly packaged as we would like it. Be in the moment. Don’t wait. Step into the fear and do it anyway. Overtime, it gets better.
    • As an aside, I remember years ago a guy from Siemens was interviewing with DA, and he said (I’m paraphrasing), “It’s important to have courage within our GTD systems”.
  • Create a Plan:
    • In GTD, this could be: Action Support; Desired Outcome; What Success Looks Like; addressing something from perspective of Horizons of Focus – from Runway to 50K, etc. She discusses chair flying, as that relates to flying fighter jets. One can also work in Virtual Machines/SIMs – trying out things without having to be concerned of failures.
    • Create some way points along the way, within your plan. That way you can focus on nearer term components of completion. Trust the people that will help you along the way. Don’t let overwhelm derail getting to the final destination.
    • Have complete faith and trust, while on your planned road. Have a healthy and positive attitude that things will work out, including possible blessings and miracles in disguise. Be OK (and even thrive) when you are in the middle of something, have no clue what will happen next, and be comforted knowing that help will arrive when needed – in other words, have a ton of trust along the way. Sometimes, life can be really challenging, but the higher level mission/purpose may be all that’s worth something – keep eyes looking forward. It’s OK to call a major timeout to yourself and the team, when things have gone off-center.


  • According to McSally, the USAF has this as their first core value – “Integrity First”. I also remember seeing this upon entering the CA National Guard at Camp Roberts. Integrity is a keyword for me personally, and something that is non negotiable.
  • The author focuses on integrity as being following the truth, regardless of size of the issue. I resonate with that as well. It’s important to maintain integrity for even the small things, when nobody is watching.
  • The concept of being true to your word is often said, but is a definite marker of Integrity, when achieved. The more I consistently deliver on what I said I would do, the faster I get towards being completely trusted by the other person/organization.
  • GTD has a principle of renegotiating commitments. This goes towards Integrity as well. If, for some reason, I cannot deliver on a commitment, then it’s vital to renegotiate (change a meeting time in the schedule, etc). People understand that things come up. What people can’t stand is not knowing a future change will happen without warning.

Actions associated with Areas of Focus (Tags)


This post was written as a free-flow mind-dump, so the language is likely repetitive and verbose. However, I think I’m on to something in terms of improving my productivity.

Typical GTD Setup

Typically, my GTD List Manager is structured to create Projects and Actions, grouped by Context (@Computer, @Phone, etc). While not required, as per GTD guidelines, it can be helpful to associate Actions with their Project.

Areas of Focus and Responsibility

Within GTD, Horizons of Focus are (at the 20K foot level) “Areas of Focus and Responsibility”. I think in 2015, DA modified this, but I still go with the original definition.

What I’ve found is that my Projects and Actions can also be associated and grouped by Areas of Focus. When my lists (eg @Computer) get to be too big, it’s easier to focus in on Areas of Focus. For example, as of 20210718, my PocketInformant List Manager has 125 items under @Computer and 78 under @Agendas. While I’m sure a Weekly Review will trim some of this back, the point is that I have too many items within @Computer to reasonably manage. I could be creative within the wording of the Action within @Computer and group things together – but then I’m back to the question of Areas of Focus. This is where Tags come in.


I’ve seen Tags within WordPress (Categories and Tags) and now within PocketInformant. Within WordPress, I haven’t fully developed it yet, but I’m thinking this could be more about the status of a post – In Process, Pending, Completed, etc. The Category (and SubCategory) is the Areas of Focus.

Focusing on the GTD List Manager (PocketInformant), I could consciously use the Tags to define various Areas of Focus. To drill even further, I could lead with a common high-level Areas of Focus. For example:


-Aviation-BFR (All Tasks that relate to completing the Biennial Flight Review, for example).

-Aviation-Weather (Specifically weather). It also allows me to get an area of interest focused on without necessarily thinking about the whole BFR.

By leading with the common Area of Focus, I benefit by a natural alpha-sorting grouping.

In above example, I could be focusing on something related to the upcoming BFR, and also just things about Aviation Weather. In this case, I could assign one Task across multiple AOF’s (Aviation-BFR and Aviation-Weather).

The end result is that when I select the Tag (Area of Focus) I then see all the associated Actions — which would also be grouped by Context. In PocketInformant, I can click on a Tag (which is an Area of Focus) and sort by Context — that means that I’m seeing all the actions grouped by Context (eg @Computer), which means I can now focus just on @Computer – if that’s where I happen to be. This means I still preserve the GTD structure of focusing based on Context (location, time, energy). Difference is that I’m first drilling down based on Area of Focus.


For me, the key is to decide – for my own level of priority – which Areas of Focus I wish to focus on primarily. One method I’ve been using is creating an index card with a grid system that includes the AOF, Date, and a hash-mark for each Pomodoro of a completed period of time within an AOF. This focuses my time and energy where it really needs to be. If I’m focusing on Career, for example, I could keep track of AOF’s that are important – Career-Conversations, etc. Because I’m focusing less on Projects (which I typically do), I have to think more deeply to define Areas of Focus and Responsibility. In this case, I may have several Projects that are within one Area of Focus, and that’s OK — that’s the whole point of this tagging exercise.


20K Areas of Focus AND Responsibility. The keyword, for me, is “Responsibility”. What I’m really doing is prioritizing my views of “What’s next” based on this flow:

-Area of Focus – that I have pre-defined as being important towards a Responsibility I have – eg Making Money

-Context – standard GTD, where I’ve created Actions and associated with a Context

-My Pomodoro card is a means of measuring how much time I’ve accomplished within various Areas of Focus

-I then am prioritizing my Time, Energy and Focus by clicking on a Tag (Area of Focus) and reviewing items by Context (@Computer), and then working on those specific actions which I know are relatively important because I had tagged them as such.