How To Organize and Prioritize Your Life with Hot Spots



Hot Spots are a simple approach I use to organize and prioritize where I put my focus.

They help me shine the spotlight on what’s important.

Hot spots are a heat map for my opportunities as well as for my pain or friction.  By focusing on the hot spots, I can unleash the best results.  The sum is more than the parts.

Hot Spots Help Identify Where to Invest Time and Energy

I can use hot spots to identify, clarify, and simplify where to spend my time and energy, before I maximize and optimize.

It’s first stepping back far enough so I can see the forest from the trees, but then getting close enough to know the differences that will make the difference.

It’s figuring out where my levers are in the system.

Why Hot Spots

There are several reasons for using Hot Spots for mapping out a particular focus:

  • Rapid learning.  There’s too much to do, too little time.  Mapping out the hot spots helps me quickly identify what’s important.  It helps me frame out a problem space before drilling deep.  It’s an iterative process of learning.  Before going too deeply down a dead end, the Hot Spots help me see where I’ll get the most ROI.  I can then explore the finer points in more detail, but at least I have a map of where the gold is.  This has been my single best way for learning domains quickly and effectively.  It’s exponential too.  Once I know where to look, I have an effective filter to find relevant information faster, as well as ask experts in those areas.
  • It’s where the action is or should be.  It’s where my attention, energy, and focus should be.   By thinking in terms of hot spots, I can imagine a heat map.  On this heat map are the most important things.  The heat map can show either opportunities or pain points.  On the opportunity side, I can imagine new interests, business ideas, or potential game changers.  On the pain side, I can imagine areas that I’ve neglected and are now causing pain. I can also imagine areas that have a lot of friction.  Maybe they are just a little tougher than they should be.  Maybe a bit of focus would help me debottleneck these hot spots.
  • Forest from the trees.  When I’m in the thick of things, it can be tough to see the bigger picture.  This is especially true if I don’t know what to look for.  When I’m right up against a tree, it’s tough to know my next move.   Hot Spots can help you see the forest from the trees in a few ways.  For example, at the macro level, I can think of hot spots in terms of work, personal, and life.  I can think of my life hot spots in terms of mind, body, emotions, career, financial, relationships, and fun.  Within each of those hot spots, I can then identify the main things for me that are important.  I can do the same for work and personal.  For example, if I’m not sure where to start, I can at least think of work in terms of my projects, activities and roles.  On the personal side, I can also think of my roles as well as any personal projects.
  • Hot Spots as a heat map.  What’s on the radar?  I don’t need to know all the details and my map doesn’t need to be complete.  In fact, that would get in the way.  I’d spend all my time updating the map to be complete and what’s important would get buried among the details.  Instead, I need to know the threats and opportunities.  When I know where to look, I gain insight.  I can start to see patterns.  I get a better lens for what’s working and what’s not working.  When I know what to look for, I can figure out which levers matter most.  I want to find the right levers to either get unstuck or maximize my results.    I should be able to know at a glance where the pain or opportunity is.  My hot spots are my heat map.
  • Hot Spots as your portfolio.  The hot spots are a portfolio.  They help me more thoughtfully spread my life force across the portfolio.   I already spend my time and energy on a variety of things.  Hot spots help me answer the question, where should I invest my time for maximum results?  When I think of my results as a portfolio, it helps me manage risk.  I might be over-investing in some areas, while ignoring or over-investing in others.  For example, am I investing in my relationships?  Am I investing in fun?  My portfolio will have its ups and downs, but now I can focus on monitoring my hot spots.  They can help me find key indicators for my personal performance.  The portfolio metaphor helps me carve out time for what’s important.
  • Balancing across hot spots.  Hot Spots give me a bit of scaffolding to help structure my life.  When I have a set of hot spots, I can better balance my life.   This works in conjunction with the portfolio metaphor.  For example, am I investing the same time and energy in my wok as in my personal life?  Am I making time for fun?   With the hot spots I have a frame for balancing my results.
  • Satisficing for resultsSatisficing is a decision strategy.  It’s how experts can quickly and effectively make decisions under time pressure.  Rather than optimizing, or trying to find the ideal solution, satisficing is about finding the first option that works.  When I have a heat map of hot spots, I can more effectively satisfice across them.  It helps prevent me from robbing Peter to pay Paul, or from spending too much in one area at the expense of the others.

How to Find Hot Spots

Here are some of the ways I use to find Hot Spots:

  • Look at where the action is.
  • Ask experts.
  • Know the buzz.
  • Find the centers of gravity.
  • Think in tag clouds.

How To Test Whether You’re Using the Right Hot Spots

Here are some simple questions I use to test whether I have found a good hot spot:

  • Is it actionable?
  • Is it relevant?
  • Is it a lever?  (i.e. If I spend time and energy there, does it produce significant results?)

I’ll be providing examples of Hot Spots I use in future posts.

You Might Also Like

How To Master Effectiveness with Life Hot Spots
How To Know When to Change You or a Situation
How To Assess Your Success at Work


  1. “Satisficing” is a very interesting turn of phrase. I think when we think like that we let the details get out of the way and often get more done. It goes hand-in-hand, I think with that forest-from-the trees idea.

    Another insiprational post,J.D. Thank you!

  2. “Hot spots” become my natural language when I speak w/customers. It sticks. It works. It gets results helping to identify stuff that matters.
    Good one!

  3. It looks like ‘satisificing’ is different from ‘picking from the best available or most likely’ in that the emphasis is on speed over deadline. For the expert doesn’t that run the risk of not looking about a bit before jumping in?

    I like the idea of hotspots. Brings a nice visual focus to what needs to be emphasized in the day.

  4. I think I would want to mix hot spots with conversation so that I could get perspective on the broader picture from others vision and knowledge.
    I am working on redefining healing for myself and it is good to have someone call out old thinking and concepts for what they are and how those have to change in order to heal….It is good to be reminded and share ideas.

    I like this approach to proceeding – gives me ideas to ponder, which is something I always enjoy

    Thank you another great post working right on my time line

  5. I never really thought of my energy and focus as “hot spots,” but I love the concept. We have to stay aware of what gets us excited and happy. The goals we are trying to accomplish will probably be easier to tackle. I’m definitely looking into this a little more. Thanks!

  6. @ Jannie

    Thank you. Yeah, I think forest-from-the-trees and satisficing are very complimentary.

    @ Positively Present

    Thank you. I think my next post helps elaborate with a concrete example. It will help you apply it.

    @ Alik

    It’s definitely sticky. It’s also evocative. Without having to say much, people get the idea pretty fast.

    @ Fred

    True. There’s always a balance of jumping in too quickly and missing windows of opportunity and over-engineering. Satisficing is more about balancing across as a set of parameters and finding a good enough fit for now. This efficiency helps you spend your energy in other places or to test your results and change your approach. It’s more of a learn and respond over try to get everything perfect. It’s one of the best ways to pave a path forward and avoid getitng stuck.

    @ Patricia

    Good point. It’s a great way to map out a conversation before elaborating on some points. It also is a great way to map out what’s important to help you get results.

    @ Karl

    You can definitely apply it to work happiness. For example, you can find the vital set of hot spots that if you invest really contribute to satisfaction on the job.

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