Now, the true power of the attention compass can come into play.

RolesFinder addresses the primary problem of task management systems - tradeoffs.

We simply have more to do than we have capacity for. We have constraints on our attention. Management has been described as the fine art of making things happen despite constraints. Self-management is no different.

If you are reading this, you are probably a successful knowledge worker. That means that, during your career, you have shown that you are capable of solving problems and making things happen. You have a group of stakeholders who depend on you to continue to do so. Successful people are in high demand. Your boss wants you to put your attention on your job. Your spouse and family want you to give attention to them. Your spiritual and physical health tap some of your attention. Your friends want to hang out and your church wants you to volunteer. Your home and your hobbies require your attention and you have to get the oil changed in your car.

Fine, lots to do. How do we decide between two alternatives that conflict? How do we prioritize? 

In my dozen or more years of attempting task management, I discovered a truth. At the individual task level, we simply don't have enough information to prioritize tasks. Nor do we have the tools to understand the implications of choosing to work on one task rather than another. Think about a simple decision over whether to work late to meet a deadline or to go home to have dinner with your spouse. At the task level, you are faced with the unanswerable question of which is more important. Do you make the boss happy or your spouse? How can I satisfy the one that I make unhappy?

RolesFinder helps highlight the information we need to make these kinds of choices.

Each task in your life supports a role. I define a role as a set of responsibilities that you have agreed to take on. The agreement was with a set of stakeholders. It may have been an active or passive agreement. The stakeholders for each role are the people who are affected by your performance against the set of responsibilities. You define the target level of performance, usually along with your stakeholders. Reaching the desired level of performance requires some amount of your attention. 

When we view the decision to work late through the lens of roles, the tradeoffs and their implications become much clearer. My role as employee conflicts with my role as spouse. Both roles need my attention at the same time. But the longer-term view of the roles can help me clarify the tradeoffs involved in the decision. We do this naturally, almost unconsciously, all the time. We might decide to work late and have dinner with our spouse another time. We might negotiate with the boss over when, exactly, the work needs to be done. In this way, we are utilizing the power of role-based thinking. RolesFinder helps us do so more consistently and consciously.

Our problem is that we have a hazy concept of those roles in our lives. When I ask my clients to list their roles, they usually come up with about half of the actual number of roles that we eventually identify. Many of the roles that they can identify are not clear-cut - they are poorly defined and have vague performance targets.

After implementing the Attention Compass, you will have all of your tasks and information in one place. You will have visibility into all of the things that could have your attention. From this point, taking the additional step of implementing RolesFinder is simple. Assign a role to each item in the Attention Compass. Over time, you will generate a complete listing of your roles. But RolesFinder does not stop there. Merely identifying your complete set of roles is a meaningful first step, but we will go further.