In 1974 the sociologist Dr. Edward Banfield of Harvard University wrote a book titled “The Unheavenly City”. In the book he discusses the findings of research he conducted with the purpose of finding why some people become financially independent and improve their social status whilst others do not.
When he started his research Dr. Banfield expected to find that the typical factors of education, race, family background, influential contacts or intelligence would be the primary contributing factors to success. To his surprise none of these factors could be attributed to the reasons for success. What he found was that people became successful due to a specific way of thinking.
The Significance of a Long Time Perspective
Dr. Banfield discovered that people who progress and achieve financial independence did so as the result of an attitude which he called the “long time perspective”. The long time perspective is your perspective of time, specifically how far you look into the future when deciding on what you are or are not going to do in the present.
Dr. Banfield came to the conclusion that a long time perspective was the single most accurate predictor of upward mobility. He found that people who were most likely to succeed were those that took their long-term future into consideration when making decisions and acting in the present. People who looked to the future were more likely to become financially independent than those with a short-term perspective.
The longer the time span a person takes into consideration when planning and acting the more likely they are to achieve success. Simply put people who are willing to make sacrifices in the short-term are more likely to get better results in the long-term.
Dr. Banfield found that the higher a person rises in society the more they make sacrifices that may only payoff many years in the future. People with a long time perspective think about their choices in terms of what they mean in ten or twenty years in the future. They consider the long-term 5, 10 and 20 year implications before making decisions.
In contrast unsuccessful people have a short-term perspective. They give very little thought to the long-term consequences of their decisions. Unsuccessful people tend to be more concerned with immediate gratification. For example one of the many decisions faced by school leavers is “do they leave school and get a job or do they make time to study further?” The decision made by the school leavers depends on their long time perspective. School leavers with a short time perspective would tend to make the decision to get a job and make money. Whilst school leavers with a long time perspective would choose to study further rather than getting a job. Research shows us that over the duration of a career an educated person will earn more than double that of an unskilled worker.
Contrast this with people at the lowest levels in society. They tend to have the shortest time perspective making decisions based on immediate gratification. This short-term mindset results in choices that lead to negative consequences in the long-term.
Building Your Time Perspective Muscles
Your attitude towards your time horizon has a significant impact on your decisions and actions. Two ways to take action on Dr. Banfield’s findings are as follows.
1. Develop Your 20 Year Vision
Dr. Banfield’s research shows that perspective is of critical importance. A clear, long-term vision that guides your short-term tasks is critical to your future success. People with a long-term perspective don’t make decisions based on what is easy. Instead they make decisions by asking “what is important for me to do today that will help me achieve my 20 year vision and goals?”
For you to make decision in this way requires that you develop a long-term vision. To do this you will need to decide what you want most out of your life in 10 to 20 years from today. What do you want you life to look like in 10 or 20 years from now? What kind of work do you want to be doing? How do you want to be spending your time? Do you know? Is it clear?
It is your long-term vision that guides you and helps you make effective day-to-day decisions.
2. Prioritise and Act in Support of Your Long-term Vision
A long time perspective helps you set priorities, organise your time and activities. Successful people allocate their time and resources based on where they want to be in the future.
Your long time perspective will help you tell how important something is by considering its impact on your future. For example, you know that exercising each day is important as exercise has a significant impact of your long-term health. Using a long time perspective will help you make the most valuable use of your time.
Review your schedule for today asking yourself:
- What activities have I planned for today that will have the greatest impact on my future and my vision?
- Now schedule everything else around these critical few activities. Make these activities the most important for the day.
This simple practice will keep your priorities on track. It will help to make sure you are not sacrificing your future success on the altar of ineffective time management.
You can start developing your long time perspective today. Make time to create your ten or twenty year vision. Describe what will be your ideal life twenty years from today. Then working backwards from your vision to define a set of 10, 5 year and 1 year goals as a plan for your journey.
Always look at your daily tasks and activities in terms of their impact on your long-term future. Over time seek to do more things that have a greater impact on your long-term vision.
You will be surprise the progress you make.