The Way to Live the Life You Want Is to Outline It

A simple way to figure out what you should be doing, and what’s simply a waste of your time

Mike Sturm
Sep 5, 2020 · 7 min read

GTD and Thinking in Altitudes

One of the best things I did in my adult life — aside from getting married and having kids — was reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done. It changed the way that I looked at almost everything I do — life, work, the whole thing. Am I so bold as to call it a miracle? Not exactly, but what are miracles, really?

  • The 10,000 ft. level is the list of projects you’re committed to. It’s everything from getting your oil changed this weekend to that huge project you just took on at work.
  • The 20,000 ft. level consists of your roles and responsibilities — the stuff at your job and in your personal life that you are responsible for on an ongoing basis.
  • The 30,000 ft. level is the slightly bigger picture. It consists of where you want to be, and what you want to be doing in the next 1 to 2 years. It’s the stuff that’s not represented in the projects or your current responsibilities at the lower two levels — it’s aspirational.
  • The 40,000 ft. level consist of your medium and long-term goals for your work and life. Whereas the horizon below this one is about where you want to be with your next few moes, this horizon is about where you want to be after the next few moves. It’s where you really get strategic in your thinking.
  • The 50,000 ft. level is the overarching purpose in your life, your big goals, your endgame. What is your life’s work? What do you want your legacy to be? These are the 50,000 ft. questions. When you think at this level, you consider whether or not the goals at the two horizons below — along with the projects laid out currently — align with your lifelong values and visions. You can also ask yourself whether your values and visions have changed. That’s allowed. But it needs to happen separately from looking at your to-do list, or what your current job is. Hence the high altitude.

Make Time to Climb to Higher Altitudes

When I was forced to think at this 50,000 ft. level, I began to immediately realize three important things. First, I realized that so much of my frustration, exhaustion, anxiety, and irritability came from failing to think at an altitude higher than 10,000 feet. Even at times when I got clear on project objectives and next actions, I was still running around every day without clarity on my bigger goals, objectives, and values. I hadn’t spent any meaningful time at the higher horizons of focus.

The Quick(ish) Fix: Check Your Life’s Outline

It can seem like a big undertaking to go through all of those altitudes — especially when you’re stressed and have so much to do on the runway now. With that in mind, here’s one quick approach to cleaning off your runway, and gaining some peace of mind along the way. It consists of 5 steps, and can be done quickly, if you set aside a few minutes to focus on it.

  1. Take out a new blank list medium (paper or digital, your choice). [note: I have to give a shout out to a web-based platform for this called Workflowy. It is elegant and so very useful for just this purpose. And no, they’re not paying me to say that.)
  2. List no more than 5 major, long-term goals for yourself — which represent where you want to be 5 and 10 years from now. As a guide, think about what work you want to be doing, and where you’d like to be physically, as well as with whom.
  3. Take out your original to-do list and place it alongside your new list from step 3.
  4. For each item from your original to-do list, attempt to place it in the space under one of your major goals on your new list. Skip any items that you can’t place within a minute or two. Cross each item off of your original list as you place it.

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Mike Sturm

Written by

Author of “The Wabi-Sabi Way” and “Be, Think, Do”. Subscribe to my newsletter “Woolgathering”: https://goo.gl/UhzUYL.

Curious

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

Mike Sturm

Written by

Author of “The Wabi-Sabi Way” and “Be, Think, Do”. Subscribe to my newsletter “Woolgathering”: https://goo.gl/UhzUYL.

Curious

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

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