Saturday, 12 May 2012

Understanding David Allen’s GTD Perspectives Model:

Here’s a brief refresher for those of you who may have forgotten the ins and outs of David Allen’s altitude-horizons model. And, hopefully, a sensible introduction to anyone who has no idea what GTD is.

In “Making it All Work”, David Allen describes the two main overarching considerations to succeed in “the game of work and the business of life”. Those two things are Control and Perspective.

Control is about HOW you’re going to get things done.

Perspective is about WHAT you should be doing, or what you should be focussing on.

David uses an altitude metaphor to help us get our heads around Perspective. I’ll describe and explain the metaphor from the top down:

50,000 feet: Purpose.
At this altitude, you can see an overview of your entire life. You’re able to see as far into the future as you can imagine. At this altitude, you’re asking, “Why am I on the planet?”. Knowing the answer to this, you’re able to shape your Vision of what your life should be like in 5 years.

40,000 feet: Vision.
At this altitude, you’re thinking up to 5 years into the future. At this level, you have a clear picture of all of your Goals and can prioritize them or reshape them to better fit this vision.

30,000 feet: Goals
You can’t see quite as much at 30,000 feet. At this altitude, you’re creating goals that will help you realize your Vision. A clear picture of your Goals will enable you to generate the right Projects (10,000 feet) as well as help you decide whether your Areas of Focus (20,000 feet) are fitting into your life the way they should.

20,000 feet: Areas of Focus
Areas of Focus are mainly those things in your life that you need to maintain to keep up a certain standard in your life. Think of the 5-7 areas of responsibility at your job (like scheduling, keeping the trucks running, payroll etc.) and 5-7 areas in your personal life (health/fitness, finances, fatherhood etc). Areas of Focus is at this altitude because clarity here will generate Projects (10,000 feet) that will help you to automate or systematize things at the Areas of Focus level.

10,000 feet: Projects
Everyone’s favourite horizon! At this level, you know all of the Projects you’re intending to complete to achieve your Goals or support your Areas of Focus.  Every Project should have a Next Action attached.

0 feet, the Runway: Next Actions
At ground level, you don’t really have perspective. You’re just doing. (This ‘doing’ will be a mix of pre-defined Next Actions and ad hoc actions that happen throughout our lives) This is where you influence your world and mould it to complete projects, which support your Areas of Focus or your Goals which support your Vision which supports your Purpose.

So, HOW do you DO Perspective?  By thinking about it, writing it down, reviewing it. That’s how.

Consistent, day to day Capturing and periodic Mind Sweeping (a guided brainstorm of everything you should be focussing on) will let you maintain a full list of items at every horizon.

If you have a FULL inventory of everything in your life that you need to do something about written down under all of these horizons, and if you’re reviewing it, you’ve got Perspective.

The emphasis on Perspective is part of the beauty of GTD. David Allen realized that our brains will automatically prioritize things for us at a low level when we’re clear about things at a higher level. Perspective automates the prioritization process. A full, captured, inventory also frees your mind to do the things it’s good at doing.

How to get started:
Write down the heading:  “Purpose:…” and actually state your purpose; why you’re on the planet.

Write down: “Vision…”. Write down in as much detail as possible what your ideal life will look like in 5 years.

Write down: “Goals…” . List your goals.

Write down: “Areas of Focus…”. Create a full list of these.

Write down the heading: “Projects”. Create a full inventory of your projects.

Write down “Next Actions”: Create separate Context lists, based on where you need to physically be to perform the action.

When you make these lists, and review them, you’ve got yourself Perspective. When you’ve got perspective, you’ve got an important ingredient for winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life.


  1. thanks as this clears things up as I was struggling trying to remember the different horizons

  2. Thank you so much, this is amazing