David Allen

When people ask me how to set priorities, I ask them a question: At what level do you want to have this conversation? Each of us operates on many different levels at all times. We each have a runway that holds all of the little things that consume our time. At 10,000 feet are the projects. At 20,000 feet, people are deciding on their roles and goals. At 30,000 feet, people are thinking ahead, asking themselves where they want to be in their careers 12 to 18 months down the road. At 40,000 feet, they’re thinking 3 to 5 years out and looking at their organizational aspirations. Then, at the top — at 50,000 feet — they’re asking, “What’s my job on this planet?”

A Wall Street executive once complained to me about having to attend too many meetings. I drew a chart and asked, “At what level do you want to have this conversation?” I explained that at 20,000 feet, maybe you need those meetings. But if you go up a level and think about the next 12 to 18 months, maybe you can pass on some of those meetings. And at 50,000 feet, where you think about your heart and your health, you might say, “I don’t need to make partner. I’ve made enough money. From now on, I’m going to leave at 7 PM every day. And if you don’t like it, then fire me.”

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