If you know what is most important, you know perfectly what to do to be most effective. But often this is actually the most difficult thing: how to know what is important.

David Allen has an answer, and it comes in six levels. He compares life to aerospace: with a higher altitude, you’ll have a better overview and details disappear.

Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up:

  • Runway: Current actions: This is the list of tasks as you compile it. Emails, proposals, things to take care of at home, et cetera. You probably have around 50-400 of these lying around.
  • 10,000 feet: Current projects: Zooming out a little bit, you should be able to group the tasks together to form projects. This sums up the bigger things you’re working on right now. A project is anything that requires more than one task to complete your goal.
  • 20,000 feet: Areas of responsibility: A little higher, projects together fall into a couple of categories you are responsible for. Within your job you probably have multiple roles, and also in your personal sphere you probably have more than one area: health, family, finances, and so forth. A list of these areas gives a more comprehensive framework for evaluating the list of projects you have.
  • 30,000 feet: One- to two-year goals: this defines where you are working towards in the next one to two years. Knowing this will add far greater clarity towards the areas of responsibilities you’ll accept and projects you take on.
  • 40,000 feet: Three- to five-year vision: on this level you’ll think about larger trends in your life: career and life-changing transitions, longer-term family and financial goals. Changes at this level obviously have a big impact on your goals and what you’ll be working on in the short term.
  • 50,000+ feet: Life: the “big picture” view. Who do you want to be? Why do you exist?-Kind of questions. Basically everything derives from this and works towards who you want to be in life.

This is just some model and the different layers might be different in your occasion, but I found this really helpful to get a sense of where I want to be heading. Since this year, I’ve been planning quarterly goals which have been working really well, so that could be an additional category between the current projects and areas of responsibility.

If you have the time, I’d encourage you to try to sketch out your life in broad strokes in this model. You’ll be surprised about the insight it gives.