From Day-to-Day to Your Purpose

Airplane wing with plane in flight

I recently wrote a post about doing a “Weekly Review”, an idea that comes from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done (GTD). Another important aspect of the GTD method that I think often gets overlooked is the “Horizons of Focus”.

According to Allen, there are six horizons of focus that he explains using a “flying an airplane” metaphor with different altitudes representing each horizon. They are:

Ground (still on the tarmac waiting to take off, or just landed depending on how you’re looking at all of this) – being on the ground you’re looking at what’s in front of you, what’s on your calendar today or this week, your current to-do list, your habits, whatever needs your attention right now.

10,000 Feet – These are your projects, which he defines as anything that has two or more actions attached to it. For example, I have some minor hail damage to my car. I needed to start the claims process and now I’m waiting for a response (waiting counts as an action). Once I hear back I’ll need to schedule an appointment for an assessment, and so forth. Getting the hail damage taken care of is a project.

20,000 Feet – This is where your attention is on your areas of focus. My areas include, “my health”, “partner”, “parent” “Better Me” (this blog and the podcast”, “USask” (the university where I work), etc. Your projects sit within each of your areas of focus.

30,000 Feet – Your goals sit at the 30,000 feet horizon. What you do with them comes through in how you define and prioritize your areas of focus, the projects you take on, and your day-to-day actions.

40,000 Feet – The big picture you have for your life, the view you want to have to look back on your life n your later years, is your “vision”, which you’ll find at the 40,000 feet horizon. Your goals come from the vision that you have for your life.

50,000 Feet – Your vision, your goals, your areas of focus, projects, and daily actions should align with this horizon, which is your “purpose and principles”. Why are you here? What are your values? What really matters to you.

I think that this is a very interesting way to set goals, prioritize, set boundaries, and try to act each day. If you’re feeling kind of lost, spend some time up at 40,000 to 50,000 feet. If you need to get some work done and to your boss by 5 PM or you have a dog that is currently peeing on the rug, well then you’re attention is needed at ground level.

You may feel like your attention needs to always be on the ground, but if you make the time to hang out at each of the horizons on a regular basis, I think you’ll find that your days seem less hectic and you’ll have a better picture of where you’re going on your journey.


  1. Brian says:

    Thanks for sharing this framework, Heather! I’ve used this one in the past, and it may be a good time to return to it.

    You may be interested in another book of David Allen’s, Making it All Work, which goes more into these different horizons of focus. Let me know if you’d like to borrow my copy this summer!

      • Brian says:

        I don’t have an app for this one currently. In the past, I used a diagramming app (OmniGraffle) to create a visual depiction where things were at across the different levels, but it was a bit clunky to keep things updated and it dropped out of use for me.

        Thinking about it now, I’m not sure if there would be one app to rule them all in this area, given the breadth of detail – ground level up to 20,000 feet would fit within a traditional task or project management software, while 30,000 and up would be more stable and thus would need a different way to visualize and understand, while not losing the link to the details.

        Will have to give this one some more thought!

        • Heather says:


          I’ve been using ToDoist for a few years and I’ve set it up to cover all of these. I’ve set up a single project where I created tasks for 50,000, 40,000, and 30,000 where I can add subtasks for goals and notes for things like my purpose statement at 50,000. Each area of my life (20,000) is its own project and I have sub-projects within each of those for all of my 10,000 things. Tasks within those projects and my calendar are the things at ground level.

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