10,000 Foot Perspectives for Determining Workload

I may be the Possibility Coach to a few people, but that doesn’t mean I don’t use tech tools to help solve problems in my and my consulting clients businesses. As a result, this blog is about more than just coaching. If that ‘s all you want to see, you can limit your view of blogging topics by making a selection from the topic list. (Warning: This article references and relies on the use of OmniFocus for planning. If you don’t use it and are not interested in OmniFocus, you can stop reading right here.)[1]

If you’re familiar with David Allen’s GTD approach to organizing stuff, then you may have come across the term “horizons of focus”. A quick way of thinking about that is what would happen if you could get yourself above the daily and weekly grind to see more of what is happening with your work, your life and your environment. Allen likened it surveying the landscape from the air at 10000, 20000, 30000, etc. foot elevations.

Here’s my way of looking at the 10000 foot elevation. At this level we want to put our daily and weekly work in a quarterly frame for analysis over the next year or so. My approach also adds a bit of a look “up” into the higher elevations if you set up your projects with the right info.

My approach is 100% OmniFocus-based. I am assuming that you are running a solo or small shop operation. Bigger workgroups will need to use something else, but I have one recommendation: Don’t use Gantt charts for this. Gantt charts may look great but they are almost always wrong and introduce a project overhead for professional businesses that — in my experience — does not create any value.

The solution I believe, is an OmniFocus Perspective! Two Perspectives actually. They are very similar in construction, with subtle changes in the way they are sorted.

I call the first Perspective the “Quarterly and Annual Planning Review”. This Perspective groups all of my current and upcoming projects with Due Dates by Project, then by Due Date. The second Perspective is very similar and is called “Significant Milestones”. The grouping by Project gets dropped and only tasks with Due Dates appear in the Perspective.

Quarterly and Annual Planning Review Perspective Set-up
Quarterly and Annual Planning Review Perspective Set-up
Significant Milestones Review Perspective Set-up
Significant Milestones Review Perspective Set-up

All of the sample data is tagged “sample” so that I could put some fake, but relevant tasks together to provide an example of how I look at these two Perspectives to make a decision. So if you make these Perspectives, you do not need the “Tagged with Sample” condition. Each of the tasks are broad — they are at the 10000 foot level on purpose. You may actually want to tag 10000 foot tasks as such for inclusion in these or any other type of Perspective you come up with.

Let’s say I’m currently working on “Project 1” and “Second Big Project”. Later in the year I know I will have “Something to do in Quarter 2”, “Project for Mr. Burns” and “The Biggie Later Project”. Now, along comes a client request to get something done in the next couple of weeks (let’s say it came in on Feb. 23…). I think I can do it and I enter the project into OmniFocus as “Should I do this Project?”. There are 2 key tasks to do for the project and they will total about 150 hours. The project is due on Mar. 15.

With the proposed project and its framework (ie: 10000 foot level) tasks entered, I can now take a look at my two key Perspectives to see how things will land. I should likely also have my calendar open too, in order to check on upcoming holidays and family commitments. (You actually could put that stuff in OmniFocus too I guess, but that’s not how I do it…)

Let’s look at the “Quarterly and Annual Planning Review” Perspective first. What I like about this Perspective is that, because it is grouped by Project, the task that has to be done first pulls the whole Project ‘up’ toward the top of the Perspective. So, even though “Project 1” is not due until Apr. 2, it shows up as needing attention ‘In the next month’ because there are 2 tasks to be done by Mar. 21. In fact – wow! – there are 3 overlapping projects to work on over the next month. Now of course, one of those is the “Should I do this Project?”. Well, should you?

Quarterly and Annual Planning Review Sample Output
Quarterly and Annual Planning Review Perspective Sample Output

Let’s go to the “Significant Milestones” Perspective now. Take a look at the cleaner task listing in the Perspective. Now consider the underlying message in the data. It tells me that the answer is “No” to taking on the “Should I do this Project?” project. 150 hours of new work to be done by Mar. 9 (remember, it’s Feb.23 when we are looking at this data) when I already have 240 hours of committed work to do by Mar. 21 isn’t possible in my world. Of course it depends on what kind of work you are doing and if you have some other trusted people you could call in to help.

Significant Milestones Sample Output
Significant Milestones Perspective Sample Output

I use these two Perspectives to assess what I will be doing in a “big picture” sense. They also help me in determining when I should say “Yes” or “No” in the months ahead. If you want some help organizing your small business perspectives, then please get in touch. I consult with tech, start-up, architectural and engineering businesses to help them align their workflows to their mission.
I’m also an ICF Associate Certified Coach; here to listen to your aspirations and help you discover a path to making them real.

[1] A version of this article first appeared in the MacPowerUser.com forum in response to a question about GTD-style 10,000 foot perspectives. I thought it might be useful to put this out to the web at large.