Levels of Perspective

Posted on April 20, 2009. Filed under: Professional | Tags: , , |

Levels of PerspectiveIn his book, Getting Things Done, David Allen refers to the Levels of Perspective. The diagram at right briefly identifies the six levels, describes what they reflect and how often they should be revisited. The remainder of this article will address these levels and provide some insight into how I use this information in my personal productivity practices. Rather than starting at the ground level, however, I’m going to start in the clouds to provide perspective. As we move closer to the runway, you will notice a much more concrete sense of what is being done.

50,000 Feet

You can see a lot from 50,000 feet, in fact, in this model you can see your entire life. This is where we ask the really big questions of ourselves – What do I want to with my life? How do I want to be remembered? Why am I here? Is this all there is? It is critical to note, questions asked at 50,000 feet are the kind that have the potential to change us and the lives of those who are near and dear to us as well. For example, if I decide my job is not rewarding and I want to change careers, everyone in the household who relies on my corporate salary will be impacted – not only financially either.

Because such swings have far-reaching impact on our relationships – we don’t make changes at this level very often. Therefore, an annual or even bi-annual (every other year) or longer time period between examination may be appropriate. But during times of great disruption – birth of a child, job loss, death of a loved one, marriage or divorce, relocation as a trailing spouse, etc. – more frequent review may be appropriate.

The Fuzzy Middle

As we begin our descent from lofty altitudes, things begin to become more concrete. I tend to see the thinking that is done at 40, 30 and 20,000 foot level as a bit fuzzy. Fuzzy because it depends on your circumstances as to how important three levels of perspective really are. Some of us think in great detail and need to see a clearly defined hierarchy of relationships. Others are overwhelmed by the volume and frequency and need the space that less detail provides.

The reason I say these middle perspectives are fuzzy is that while a 50,000 foot level review is essential, for some having so many “levels” of perspective is not useful. What’s important is, what works for you. If you need to combine levels to simplify or keep separate reviews to feel in control, go with it. However, regularly scheduled reviews at monthly, quarterly and annual time intervals are essential.

Current labor force statistics show three years is typical for how long most of us remain in a job. In my personal experience, it takes almost that much time to learn a job well enough to master it. By then, it’s usually more satisfying to start looking for ways to impact my surroundings beyond just a good, steady job performance or move to a different job. By suggesting an annual review at this level of perspective, I’m really suggesting each year you look at the lay of the land (your environment and situation) and determine whether your activities are “in line” with your big picture. Deep evaluation at this level could lead to re-evaluating your 50,000 foot level priorities… or it could simply mean deciding to discontinue certain projects or activities.

VISION

Examples of questions to ask at the 40,000 foot level might be:

  • If I want to change careers, will I need additional education?
  • Is my living space serving me or do I need to begin looking for a new home – new community – or planning for a remodel?
  • Am I satisfied with my primary relationship or are there things I want to do with my partner to change our lifestyle?

LONG-TERM GOALS

Goals in this context are a more granular version of your vision. In other words, if you are changing careers and deciding you want to obtain additional education, you set a goal to identify what degree program to pursue, identify the best places and options for attending school and understand and complete the requirements for application. Each one of these goals should specify what is to be done, by when and how you will know it is complete. See my article on Linking Strategy and Tactics for a review of how to create SMART goals.

Plan to review long-term goals quarterly – more frequently if they feel more like “areas of responsibility” less frequently if they are more like your 3-5 year vision.

AREAS OF RESPONSIBILITY

This could look like a job description – yes, I’m suggesting you review your job description regularly. If you work without a job description but have a manager, shame on you! Having a clear understanding of what you are responsible for on an ongoing basis is an essential part of effectiveness. Most managers will actually value if you take the time to evaluate what you are doing routinely and present it in the form of a description of duties. Areas of responsibility should be reviewed monthly. One client of mine decided she wanted to do this monthly review with a friend. We created an oral monthly review with a few guidelines, please A Template for an Oral Monthly Review for more specifics.

Current Projects

Critical to personal effectiveness is a regular and frequent examination of your current projects. Done on a weekly basis, this 10,000 foot level may feel more like tree top flying at times. Most of us have more to do than we have time to do it. This type of review is definitely about keeping your head above the weeds and ensuring you are using your time wisely.

Weekly ReviewAll current project must be reviewed weekly – except in extreme and infrequent occasions like vacation, crisis and rush seasons like the couple of weeks before 15 April if you are a CPA.

Note within the diagram, the very first thing to do is to gather everything together. If you are like me, work has a tendency to pile up. For example, I opened the mail in one room one day and a different room the next, I have notes from a meeting in a binder, a friend loaned me a book with a typed set of questions, etc. All of this should be in front of you within easy sight, preferrably in a single pile. Only handle things once. Pull out all of your lists of actions and either check things off (often I find I can eliminate a good share of the lists even if I hadn’t been keeping track during the week), prioritize things that are due appropriately and even schedule an appointment with yourself on the calendar to ensure you have time to get it done. Don’t forget to look at your calendar. I find it useful to look one week forward and one week back to ensure I’m not forgetting anything. Finally, after everything has been reviewed and dispositioned, update your lists and get back to the tasks that demand your attention. I find if I’m regular about my weekly reviews, I can get these done in as little as 20-30 minutes. When things are particularly hectic, it may actually be the only time during the week when I stick my head up at all to re-connect with my bigger picture.

A similar activity to the weekly review is done when things get “piled up”. It’s called clearing the decks. My next blog article will address this subject in detail.

The Runway

I do this one a lot, at least once per day and sometimes more often. At the beginning of the day (if I have time, otherwise the night before) I look at my calendar and task list to evaluate what comes next. If I’m consistent at putting things on my lists – scheduling work as appropriate and keeping my inbox clean – this takes less than a minute. By the way, I typically batch my email – meaning, I keep the inbox covered, closed or out-of-sight except for 2-3 times per day. I triage my inbox during these times – if I can respond to the message in 2-5 minutes, I do. If the message will take more time it goes onto one of my action lists.  In priority order I review my lists and inboxes as follows:

  1. Email and phone calls,
  2. Tasks scheduled on my Outlook Calendar,
  3. Tasks in my Outlook Task list,
  4. Email that takes longer than 5 minutes to complete,
  5. Things I’m waiting for or incubating,
  6. Finally, I’ll look at my bulk mail.

Next week, I’ll write a follow-on article to this called The Weekly Review.

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[…] article is a continuation of the Levels of Perspective article from last week. It is my intention to focus very closely to what I’ve done and am […]


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