The Vertical Map Is Dead! How To Really Plan For The Future
The GTD vertical map (or horizon of focus) has always stood out like a sore thumb. It’s a neat idea and can certainly offer a lot of value to people, but in a book that focuses so much on the here-and-now, it just feels tagged on with too little detail on it. I decided it was about time it was really addressed but as I thought about it and tried to really implement it, something occurred to me. It actually kinda sucks.
My main problem with it is the timescales used. One month projects, one year objectives, three-to-five year goals… I don’t know about you but very rarely have I ever done anything that fitted so neatly into such timescales. Speaking of the categories there are six of them. Six! Again, how many of your goals can you neatly break down to fill all of those stages? I found myself making stuff up just to make sure I neatly got from 30,000ft to 50,000ft. Finally, should you even be planning so far ahead at all? Dreams, jobs, relationships, personalities, lifestyles and beliefs change all the time. There is so much redundancy on a vertical map.
With all that in mind I’ve come up with a much simpler approach. I’ve halved the number of categories and stripped out the precise timescales. You could say it follows a basic long, medium and short term structure. However, like what I did with my prioritizing system, it’s all about the wording. What is a long term goal? How does it relate to the medium term goal below it? It all means nothing. Instead focus on your vision for your life, the goals that will move you forward and the projects and next actions you work on daily and weekly.
Vision ← Goals → Next actions/projects
Vision is the big picture, that often fuzzy image in your head of where you’d like to be and what you’d like to do in your life. Stuff like living in a beautiful house with a happy family are staples of this vision. Contrary to common advice, I don’t propose that you have to try and focus and clarify your vision. If you want to become the CEO of your own company developing alternative remedies for smelly feet, that’s a great vision. However, most of us are simply happy to pursue success in whatever field they find themselves in, and that’s fine too. If you end up forcing yourself to be more specific than that when you passions simply aren’t that focused, you will most likely find yourself going down roads you don’t really care for.
Goals are the key to this technique because they encompass many of the categories from the vertical map. They are long term enough to be significant but not so much that they have no clear focus, or aren’t flexible with changing lifestyles. Projects and next actions are the tasks we do on a day-to-day basis. But why do we do them? Because they move us towards a greater goal. For instance, decorating your bedroom is part of a big project of improving your home, which will move you towards the greater goal of selling it on and finding somewhere better. That goal is aligned with your vision of living in a great house in quiet neighborhood. Ask yourself why you’re doing something and if that fits with your vision, make that your goal.
Another example is how a person writes a big report to impress his bosses because there is a big promotion coming up. Getting that would move him towards his goal of becoming manager. That aligns him with his long term vision of having the experience and contacts to start his own company. There will most likely be more goals to achieve along the way (perhaps getting a couple more promotions or making your team top in the company) before you get to your vision but why worry about them when they are reliant on the results of current goals and are so susceptible to change? Imagine hitting that first goal of getting promoted and then having an old friend come along who wants to partner with you in a new business. On a vertical map with your future so tightly planned out would you be able to do something different or make spontaneous alterations?