Cascading Timeframes is a model for thinking of and seeing the world in terms of time.
It is a model for seeing your life as a continuum of time, with each given moment linking to past moments and leading to future moments.
Cascading timeframes lets you work out what you should be doing now, in a week’s time and even far off into the future.
Here’s how it works.
What Are Cascading Timeframes?
The Cascading Timeframes model looks like this:
Everything at the top level “cascades” or flows downwards towards the lower levels.
This means that your purpose, mission, identity and values all influence your long-term planning, which influences your next three years, one year and so on.1These collectively are your Personal Ops and inner game.
It means that what you do on any given day should be informed by and help you work towards what you want to be doing at higher timeframes.
The simplest example of this is with your goals:
- Your purpose informs your long-term goals.
- Your long-term goals inform your three-year goals.
- Your three-year goals inform your annual goals.
- Your annual goals inform your quarterly goals.
- Your quarterly goals inform your monthly goals.
- Your monthly goals inform your weekly goals.
- And your weekly goals tell you what you should be doing today.
Another straightforward example would be a personal or work project. If you have something you know should be done within a year, be it building a new outdoor deck or developing a new app for launch, you know that you can work backwards by quarter and months until you know where to start today.
Why Are Cascading Timeframes Important?
Cascading timeframes are important because understanding the model gives you the ability to think in terms of time.
This is (unfortunately) not something that most people can do. But once you learn how to do it, you will find that you can estimate what you need to be doing next week, next month and more with incredible ease.
You will be able to see how what you do (or don’t do) today will impact things in one week and further down the line.
Once you can do this, it means that you will be able to readjust your day-to-day to make sure that you are doing things that contribute to the grander scheme of your life. This means more productivity, more efficiency and less time wasted.
You’ll also be able to work out what to do next with preternatural clarity. This results in better planning, better prioritisation and better organisation. And all these things can be considered virtues.
Thinking in terms of cascading timeframes also means that we are exercising our rationality as human beings, which is a good thing.
It is also humbling to be able to remind yourself that what happens in the next five minutes will both add to the greater whole of your life… and is at the same time not that important.
Why Do Most People Not Think in Terms of Timeframes?
Most people don’t think in terms of cascading timeframes.
This is because planning is typically hard for human beings, and isn’t something that is effectively taught in our education systems.
It’s also because as human beings we tend to run on emotions. We make decisions in the here and now, and use emotions as the basis for what we want to do.
We want that pizza now. We want to not go to the gym now. We want to go out now because it sounds like fun, rather than getting a full night of sleep.
Part of it is also that people don’t want to face the likely painful realisation that they can’t have everything they want right now.2Which in and of itself is a realisation of our own mortality and fragility.
Modern culture tends to lean towards instant gratification and having more of everything — but the truth is you usually have to wait for a bit. There are many things that just take planning and consistent action to get, and the idea of that is a lot less interesting than being able to have it right now.
How You Can Apply Cascading Timeframes in Your Life
The easiest way to learn and start to apply cascading timeframes in your life is by example.
A couple of simple systems based on cascading timeframes that I’ve written about are:
The most straightforward application of cascading timeframes is in a business or professional setting, where you will simply be planning projects or work until it is completed.
In your personal life, you can start by recognising what you can and can’t do in a given timeframe and how that affects future timeframes. This gives you the ability to realistically assess situations and make rational decisions for what to do today, this week, this month or longer.
For example, I know from (painful) personal experience that moving and setting up for full productivity in a new city takes at least one month of crazy logistical running around, and about three months before I’m fully “settled in”.
Once you start having some understanding of the model, you can get more granular and combine it with the areas of life model. When you do this you can start to ask questions like:
- What will my health look like in three months?
- What will my finances look like in three years?
You can also apply the model against anything that you learn. Say you learn a new productivity technique or a professional skill. Using the cascading timeframes model, you can work out both how much time it will take you to acquire that skill/technique, and also when you will start to see results from using it.
What To Do Next
The Cascading Timeframes model is not difficult in-and-of itself — you just need to practice and use it to learn it.
- These collectively are your Personal Ops and inner game.
- Which in and of itself is a realisation of our own mortality and fragility.
Photos by BENCE BOROS, Dose Media, John Schnobrich, Mike Kononov.