How’s your altitude aptitude?

Over the years, it has become more and more helpful in my work to help people understand the ecosystem of GTD® (particularly priorities) by framing their thinking and decision-making around my altitude model:

GROUND: Calendar/Actions – The nitty-gritty this-moment doing level. Call Fred. Buy tires. Draft proposal. Email Susan.

HORIZON 1: Projects – The things you’re committed to finish that one action won’t finish. Give Barbara a birthday party. Set up my new MacBook. Implement this year’s budget. Hire a new marketing VP.

HORIZON 2: Areas of Focus and Accountability – Current job responsibilities and status of key aspects of your personal life. What are your roles and responsibilities re: work? What areas of your personal life need to be maintained at some appropriate level? Given a review of all of those, what projects should you have on your list that you don’t have yet? Any projects on your list you should dump?

HORIZON 3: Goals and Objectives – The typical strategic level. Goals and direction of the organization and your work. Things you want to accomplish personally, in the longer term. Definition of current and new key result areas.

HORIZON 4: Vision – Career, lifestyle choices. Is this the job you want? Are you in the right game? What does success in the long term look, sound, and feel like? Talents, skills, interests.

HORIZON 5: Purpose and Principles – Life. Living the one you want? Quality of life issues. Values, balance, style, inner gifts, personal expressions.

So what about this? Well, too often I find people trying to solve a Horizon 4 problem with a Horizon 2 solution. Or trying to solve a Ground-level problem with a Horizon 5 solution. Doesn’t work—and even worse, it creates deep frustration and confusion because they know somehow that the questions that they are posing are good ones.

Whichever of these levels most has your attention is a fine place to begin, and to reassess its contents for yourself. However, trying to solve an out-of-control inbox (Ground) by agonizing about whether this is the job you should have (Horizon 4) is the Serious Pits. That’s why I usually coach on this scale from the bottom up—if your landing gear doesn’t work, it’s pretty hard to make real decisions from any other level! Getting control of where you are is a prerequisite for healthy thinking about where you should be.

–David Allen

This essay appeared in David Allen’s Productive Living Newsletter. Subscribe for free here.

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