Goal Setting: Top Down or Bottom Up?

Readers of my previous post about Getting Things Done (GTD) Revisited and the Digital Cloud will hopefully be pleased to know that the system is working well so far.

morning meeting japan

In particular, the FastEver smartphone apps are making it much easier to collect stuff for processing.

Getting my paper files and home work-desk sorted took nearly a week but has been worth the effort.

What I find most useful from the weekly review (well, the few I’ve done since implementing GTD as above) are the following:

  1. I’m forced to examine why projects and tasks are listed as active in the first place.

  2. The title of each project is best framed as the actual objective or goal e.g. Publish 15 blog posts within 4Q2012.

  3. A GTD Project entry in Evernote should match exactly to the project goal in a business plan.

Let me explain that third point.

My understanding of David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, is that it takes a bottom-up approach to the process of how, and on what, we spend our limited time and energy.

Some critics of this approach hint that no amount of collecting and processing stuff will fix a ladder leaning against the wrong wall.

I think that is mostly true but only if the GTD’er disengages his or her brain during the weekly review. Because this is the time when some projects start to make sense while others are clearly best ditched or put on hold (someday/maybe).

A regular review period also provides time in which to open a self-coaching conversation with yourself about all these plans and tasks. Are they really what I want to do? How will I fit them into a week, month, year, decade? What changes do I need to make?

I suspect this has been David Allen’s intention with GTD all along.

That is: help people get out of their own (run)way at ground zero and clear a path for take off to that 10,000 foot view, climbing on up to 50,000 feet where necessary.

In my case the 20,000 foot view (with apologies to those using metric) has suffered from the personal growth equivalent of Clear Air Turbulence (CAT), mainly because I didn’t have the landing strip clear and tidy in the first place.

For example, I made use of Jim Horan&‘s One Page Business Plan system, but neglected to include accountability in the mix.

Oh, I was able to create an elegant and concise one page plan with vision, mission, strategy, objectives and plans. However, I would often drift off course (and into the CAT zone) because the plan would sit unexamined for too long.

Crazy, eh?!

Here’s a screenshot of the current one page business plan for my freelance writing business, samuraiwriter services:

one page business plan samuraiwriter services

The key to keeping on course seems to be entering each of the six plans (these are similar to GTD’s Projects) as Evernote projects, and then to regularly work through the next actions.

Note that the plans in the one page business plan are equivalent to projects that will last at least 3 months.

In some cases, they are open-ended e.g. Publish monthly email newsletter starting with Sep 2012 edition.

This means that the document should only require editing 3 or 4 times yearly and acts as a map/compass for the operational nature of running daily/weekly activities via an Evernote-based GTD implementation.

Goal Setting: Top Down or Bottom Up?

To be honest, this is a chicken-and-egg question. Some people will prefer the +top down* approach while others start working from the ground up.

The important thing is to start.

In my case, the bottom up GTD ¬†approach has brought additional clarity to the goal-setting process because existing goals are under regular and critical review. Some goals will make it, others will get the axe if they are not in alignment with the plan’s vision, mission and objectives.

Let’s see how this goes for the rest of 2012.