The August Intersession has become my de facto annual review. The main summer library workshops are done, School is still a week or two away, I’m probably about to write or just wrote my yearly wrapup for the library’s annual report, and so I find it a good time to take a look at my GTD higher altitudes and make plans for the coming year. You don’t need to be a David Allen Fanatic to find this type of thing useful, but I do like his particular altitude metaphor for personal strategic planning. Here’s what he says, with a few twists of my own. Note that while Received Wisdom is that you start at the bottom and work up, I think for long-range planning purposes you can do these in either order, or hop around. I started at 50K this year, but that’s in part because of the Massive Life Change of the past year (read: Starting my Ph.D) and the impact it’s made on my goals and interests.
50,000 foot level: Purpose and Values
Per David Allen, the highest level of planning relates to your life purpose, and the values or ethics you live by in getting there. Stephen Covey argues for defining your mission as well, though unlike Allen he strongly suggests you determine your mission first, not last. However, both seem to argue that you will be able to sit down one afternoon, think deeply, and generate a Profound Life Mission that will essentially remain static for the rest of your life. After being a pretty hardcore time management nut for almost 10 years (First Covey, then GTD), I couldn’t DISAGREE more. While it is important to have a reasonably static purpose in order to serve as a roadmap, mine’s changed a lot over 10 years, especially during my 20s. This is not because of any major personality change, but due to natural growth and the simple fact that as you get older, you understand yourself better.
My core values have remained a lot more static, but wording has changed a lot. The biggest change is that both have gotten substantially shorter. If you can’t express your mission in 10 words or less, you may need to go back to the drawing board. Also, don’t try to capture every least little nuance of your core values—just pick the 3-5 most important tenets of your code of ethics.
40,000 feet: 5-Year Vision
What will your life to look like in 5 years if you are following the above vision? What do you want to be doing, where do you want to live, what kind of social life or personal development do you want? How are your finances? What about your family life? Write answers to these questions and feel free to blue-sky it—there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a stretch goal. I always revisit these annually—some years I write out a “day-in-the life” type of narrative; this year I jotted down about half a dozen long-range goals, each roughly correlating to one or more of my Areas of Responsibility (more on those below).
30,000 feet: Mid-range goals
So, you’ve established (in vague terms at least) what you want to do with your life, and how that will look in 5 years. As we descend in altitude in the model, the questions become more concrete. The 30,000 level of planning asks: what do you need to accomplish in the next 1-2 years to advance along the path to your 5 year vision? Each of the facets of your vision will probably have at least one or two subgoals that can be started now, and revisited quarterly or so (The post-finals lulls in December and May are good times, ditto the August annual review time). These, and the level that follow, will be very helpful in framing your tactical decisions about which projects to take on and which ones to jettison.
20,000 feet: Areas of Responsibility
Everyone wears different hats in life. Mine, listed in rough order of importance, are
- Friend/Family member
- Grad Student
- Adventurer (Can be travel, but not necessarily)
Whatever other hats you wear, if self-care (what Covey calls “Sharpening the saw”) isn’t at the top of your list, you’ve got a problem. This encompasses the physical, emotional, and spiritual work you do daily to keep yourself sane and healthy. Most of the others are pretty self-explanatory. My Husband Kevin and I are focusing pretty heavily in the next year or two on transitioning into hard-core retirement saving, so I’m wearing the Investor hat often enough for it to qualify as an AOR. I also crave adventure—every year or so I seem to need to go on a big trip, volunteer with a group I’m unfamiliar with, or otherwise get out of my comfort zone. Otherwise, I get twitchy and bored, regardless of how much stuff’s on my plate. In addition, a big part of my mission is to learn and experience as much as humanly possible, so by making that an AOR, I will always have at least one project going that forces me to try something new.
Below 20,000 feet are the tactical levels, projects and tasks, and they merit their own post. The important takeaway is not that you should follow exactly this process in exactly this manner, but to understand this as one of many possible frameworks for your personal strategic planning (assuming of course, you even want to live your life according to a strategic plan!) Each level informs the others as you can imagine, as a change in job responsibilities, marital status, or even your desired goals will have repercussions up and down the model. For me at any rate, understanding where I’d like to go (and why) relieves a lot of stress that I am making the best choices possible for myself, my husband, my friends, my coworkers, and my students. In addition, when things change, it can help a lot to have a starting point and an understanding of your ultimate goals.