Control and Perspective

There are times when we have control, but not perspective, over our projects (personal/work), and by extension our lives. We get so focused on being in control that we lack perspective. We focus so much on the details, that we lose track of the big picture. In our daily life, this would mean checking things off our list without fully knowing how those things map to our life.

Having control without focus means you’re micromanaging (i.e., the implementor). It means you have too much structure without flexibility. We become too tight. It’s when we tend to overemphasize system, process, and structure. It’s at this point that structures tend to become strictures. When we find ourselves too much in control, we tend to fall out of control.

On the other side of the coin, there are times when we might have perspective, but not control. We have more ideas in our heads than we know what to do with. Put simply, we are in a divergent mode of thinking and have an influx of ideas in our heads without any relevant structure to capture, clarify, or to organize it. In short, it’s about having ideas without execution. This leads to crazy-making (i.e., the visionary), but is not entirely a bad thing. What is bad is staying in this mode. When we are in this mode, it is also possible to flip to the other side and suddenly micromanage.

When we have neither control nor perspective, we are in victim (responder) mode. We are reacting toward the latest and loudest things without any idea and/or system in place. We are operating in crisis mode, reacting to whatever comes our way. In this mode, we are not capturing inputs, let alone doing anything productive with them. We are basically living life in survival mode here.

Of course, the ideal state to be in would be one in which you possess both control and perspective. Anything less than this would be considered sub-optimal. We need to be able to look at the details without losing track of the big picture, and we need to look at the forest (perspective) and the trees (control) at appropriate times. That said, it might be considered unrealistic to be in this mode all of the time, and that’s okay.

When we have both control and perspective, we reach what David Allen calls, “Captain and Commander”. We have just enough control to have appropriate focus. It’s the difference between being driven by life as opposed to being in the driver’s seat. The purpose of having control is having the ability to focus on things with no distractions.

The set of practices for achieving control are different than those for achieving focus (or perspective). We need to have our life under control sufficiently and we need to be focused on the right things at the right time in the right way. It’s quite easy to get things out of control and be overwhelmed in a matter of minutes. Most people feel out of control based on that. Once we have things under control, we ask ourselves if we are focused appropriately.

Control and perspective are both closely intertwined, but we cannot gain perspective without having some kind of control, which always comes first. Control is horizontal while perspective is vertical. When we talk about control, we are talking about having things under control, such as your kitchen, your car, or your head. When things are under control, there is stability so we have room to focus. Unless we have a clean kitchen (control), we won’t have the space (perspective) to cook anything. Unless we have a complete inventory of things to work from, we cannot decide which ones to do or not to do. We can’t prioritize if/when we lack perspective.

Gaining control of things is about paying attention to what has our attention, and then capturing anything that might be potentially meaningful for processing later. Why later? We need to think about our work and then do the work, just not at the same time. This goes back to thinking and doing.

It’s only when we know what has our attention that we can do something about it. This requires having a trusted system and a process to follow. Also, spending a few minutes writing every day first thing in the morning is a great way to find out what has your attention. Apart from this, we can spend a few minutes every day jotting down a list of things that are taking space in our minds.

Achieving perspective might mean looking at our lives through different time windows. For instance, we might look at our calendar daily to review the hard landscape to determine how much discretionary time we have for doing things. We might also choose to review our projects on a weekly basis, our personal/work areas of focus on a monthly basis, etc. To learn more about doing reviews to achieve perspective, I suggest reading Review:

While the shorter-term reviews are for getting a control of things, the longer-term reviews provide a sense of perspective in terms of where we are in life and where we are headed.

We all fall into all the four modes from time to time. We might find ourselves in “victim” mode, “stricture” mode, “free” mode, or we may have the appropriate balance between them. When we have the latter, we have just enough structure to be able to allow us the freedom to stay focused. It’s okay to be in any of the four modes as long as you’re aware of where you stand because it’s easy to get back in. There is no right or wrong. It’s about recognizing where you are and making the changes you need to get back to the ideal state.

For instance, if you’re the crazymaker type, then you need to have systems around you or people that support you with complementary strengths (such as holding you accountable). If you’re the micromanager type, then you want to think more about ideas, vision, and perhaps take some risks to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone.

Self-management boils down to two things: control and perspective. Anytime we think we have difficulty prioritizing, or “managing time”, or organizing, etc, it’s usually because one or both of those things are sub-optimal.

Both control and perspective are interconnected. We cannot have one without the other. Gaining control always comes first. Only when we have appropriate amounts of control and perspective can we be totally present, engaged, and focused in whatever we’re doing.

I hope this piece gives you a good overview about control and perspective. To learn more about this, I suggest picking up a copy of David’s book.

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