Focusing on the Visible Horizons

How many major projects can you see coming down the road?

When I was in college, I spent a lot of time driving Interstate 80 across Wyoming. I knew every dip and rise. I knew where the highway patrol usually hung out. I knew where I would need to switch radio stations to pick up the next Wyoming Public Radio affiliate, and where the dead zones were. When Audible came on the scene, it really helped to smooth those out.

One trick I developed was to break the trip into horizons. At the top of one ridge, where I could see for several miles, I’d start tracking the distance to the next horizon. Some of them were short and could be travelled in two or three minutes. The longer ones would take twenty or thirty. I developed a sincere appreciation for the ’78 Pontiac Phoenix that was whisking me quickly through the elements that 19th-century pioneers trudged through.

Breaking up the drive like that helps keep it manageable and make it go by more quickly. Breaking up the work ahead of you the same way will help you stay on top of things and not get overwhelmed, but you do need to keep the whole route in mind.

Photo courtesy of © iStockPhoto / Pgiam

  • Focus on the visible horizons. There are lots of small tasks you need to do to keep things running smoothly, like taking out the garbage and going shopping. Don’t sweat the small stuff—they have their own triggers and will happen. When the trash fills up, take it out. If the fridge is empty, fill it.

    Your attention should be on the visible horizons. The ridges that stand out from five miles away. The hills that take some work to get up and you can take your foot off the accellerator when you’re past them. This is what takes planning and forethought.

  • Visibility depends on how high the summit is. Small hills are only visible when they’re close or you’re high up. They may show up when you’re planning at a higher altitude, and they may appear larger than they are when you’re at the bottom, just starting the incline. Either way, they’re small hills and you’ll soon be over them and moving on.

  • The higher the summit, the more attention and energy it requires. Big hills are visible from a distance. There are smaller things you need to take care of before then, but these are big projects that form a sort of barrier you can’t see past. You can—and should—break these down into a series of smaller hills, goals, and milestones, but the summit is what you’re working towards. All your attention and energy are focused there—until it’s taken care of, it’s hard to think about anything else…

  • Hidden summits require planning to not get blindsided. …and this is where you have to regularly step back and review the road ahead from higher altitudes, or you’re going to get in trouble. If you’re only focusing on the next one or two hills that you can see from the road, you’re going to spend most of your time managing crises and scrambling at the last minute because there was another hill hiding behind it.

At twenty thousand feet, things look very different than from behind the wheel. Taking time to view things at twenty, thirty or even fifty thousand feet gives you a different perspective. You can see every hill you’re coming up against, and it helps you see just how small some of the hills really are.

Once you know what the road ahead looks like, you can plan for it. Things won’t go according to plan—they never do—but you will be better prepared to handle what comes along. Enjoy the scenery.

Question: How do you keep the big picture in mind while working day-to-day? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

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