Wednesday, March 30, 2011

GTD chapter 3 - vertical focus

Took me a while to understand what he was getting at here.

Horizontal focus is where you think about moving the project forward towards its goal. Next steps etc. It's apparently all that's needed in most situations. Seeing the form on the table in front of you. Picking up a pen. Signing it at the bottom.

Vertical focus takes things deeper. It's needed in more complex situations. Finding creative solutions to problems. I'm all for vertical focus. This is where the fun is to be found. More of it.

Allen starts by talking about back-of-the-envelope planning. You're sitting in a coffee shop and dream up an idea (he talks about hashing out an agenda for a sales presentation - probably the equivalent to my dreaming up an idea) and jot it down on any bit of paper you can find. He says this tends to be the most productive kind of planning and this natural planning model is what we need to aim at. Excellent! I'm with him here, 100%. Back-of-the-envelope planning is what I do!

But then he goes on to break up natural planning into 5 stages! No no no. No no no no no! Something stimulating and creative and wonderful is about to become tedious. 

The natural planning model
1. Defining purposes and principles
2. Outcome visioning
3. Brainstorming
4. Organising
5. Identifying next action


Natural planning has a vision for where we want to end up. We use it for many things - getting dressed in the morning, choosing a restaurant for dinner... Unfortunately, we tend not to use it at times when we really should. We're reactive and just try to get ourselves out of the crisis at hand.

Natural planning is natural, he argues, but not normal. Most people don't stand back and look at the big picture. They just try to untangle the mess in front of them. I see his point.

From here, the chapter went on in painstaking, boring detail, to explain how to do natural planning. Step by step. How to define purpose. How to brainstorm. Blah blah blah.

I think this chapter has a lot going for it. We need to think big picture.

But this is the world I live in. Whenever I do anything, I see the end product in HD. I know exactly how I want my Sunday School curriculum to look. Right down to the fonts on the page. I know exactly how I want the set set up. I know how the unit hangs together. I can see all that right from the start - in fact I can't start doing anything on it before I see the end product. [Which, incidently, is why I'm such a beast to work with. I'm told that my choir has to wear long, elastic waisted blue trousers. What?!? My choir doesn't dress like that!] 

If someone is already a big picture person, giving them instructions on how to see a vision is laughably pointless. It's like giving me a five step method for breathing! I can't help but do it!

But you tell me. If someone's not naturally a 'visionary'[!], can they learn to be?


  1. I'm a natural big picture person and I have found that using the natural planning model has just sharpened and focused my natural tendencies.

    I've also found it has enabled me to bring people with me when I start dreaming, rather than leave them watch me brainstorm.

    And yes, I think the last thing it has helped me do is to teach others, who aren't naturally big-picture people, to think this way.

    I work with a details-guy. When he gets paralysed with details and 'it can't be done', I force him to go through this process to unlock new solutions.

  2. What I said before. You just described right brain planning. Mr Allen's "natural" method is a classic left-brain sequence.

    "Natural" is such an awful word. Nobody is that systematic naturally, it takes training. But doing this could help you be less of a beast to work with - if you really are - because it helps you to communicate the vision in your head in a way others understand. Then they can help you and you don't have to do everything yourself. And they might have some good ideas too.

  3. Hmmm...I think a "Getting Things Done" book written by Simone may not be a help to everyone but it would be fun to read - maybe you should give it a go!

  4. Can someone learn to be a 'visionary?'

    People can learn to be all sorts of things. The bigger issue is whether they WANT to learn to be a visionary.

  5. I would recommend checking out for an online GTD manager.

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote, and also comes with mobile-web version, and Android and iPhone apps.

  6. Thanks for that Dannielo. You need to read the next chapter of the book.

    The Brother labeller (black print on white background) is where it's at. And manilla folders.

  7. Narelle - There's an interesting idea! What would my book say?

    1. The best filing system is your email inbox. You don't have to do anything at all. You can search through it in seconds, by subject, sender, or words appearing in the email. Hook into something like gmail and you have it wherever you go. With this system, the whole next chapter of the book is redundant.

    2. GoogleDocs similarly. All your documents there all of the time.

    3. Most paper can just be chucked. At work I get a lot of catalogues sent to me from shops wanting to sell me music and instruments. I chuck the lot without even opening it. When I want to by something, the good people at google will help me.

    4. Get an idea. Get excited about it. Do it before the excitement fades.

  8. Ok, I'm late to the party, but I said I'd read along, so I'm trying to catch up.

    You missed the most important thing: he blamed Mrs Williams! Sure, he had her for fourth grade, whereas I had her for fifth, but I don't care. He simply maligned her. She was a sweet lady with coke bottle glasses who didn't panic when a teary 10 year old broke down and confessed that he hadn't memorised all the square numbers because he couldn't see much point in the exercise. I was genuinely distressed. I mean, he was. And she calmed me ahem him down nicely, and we were great friends.

    How he can blame her I don't know. I bet she didn't teach all these people that don't think big picture.