Getting Things Done – 04 – Goals

This post is the fourth in a series of articles on the Getting Things Done method (GTD) and how to implement it.

To really understand the advantage of setting goals, let’s go back to David Allen’s theory for a minute and then we shall take a look at the practical side of things. Once again, my solution is not ideal. I am simply looking to share a few ideas.

The 6 levels of perspective

David Allen uses an aerospace analogy to outline 6 levels of perspective (or altitudes):

  • 50,000 feet – Life
  • 40,000 feet – 3-5 year vision
  • 30,000 feet – 1-2 year goals
  • 20,000 feet – Areas of responsibility
  • 10,000 feet – Current projects
  • Runway – Current actions

Looking at things “from a height” helps define what your priorities are. You have an overall vision of your activities and of your existence in general.

50,000 feet – Life

As the name suggests, this is about what you want to do with your life.

The questions here are: Why do I exist? What do I want to do with my life? What do I want to accomplish or become? [Rich? Happy? Devoted to others? Travel the world?]

40,000 feet – 3-5 year vision

These are (relatively) long-term goals (the number of years may vary depending on the situation), that will move you towards your “life” goals and determine your short-term actions.

The questions here are: How do I see my career in 5 years time? [Will I be doing the same job? How big will my company be?]

What about my personal life? [Married with 2.1 kids and a house in the countryside? Surrounded by an army of dwarf rabbits?]

30,000 feet – 1-2 year goals

These are the short-term (and therefore more concrete) goals that will also help you achieve your long-term goals and determine your immediate actions.

The questions here are: What concrete steps do you need to take in the next two years to reach your five year goals?

20,000 feet – Areas of responsibility

These are professional responsibilities (administration, accounting etc.) and personal responsibilities (family, health, leisure, etc.). These fields determine the tasks that you have to complete. Making a precise list will help give a broader outlook.

10,000 feet – Current projects

These are short-term projects (or results to be achieved): buy a new computer, go on a training course, plant cauliflowers etc.

Runway – Current actions

This is simply all the tasks you have to do on a day to day basis.


So, what does all this actually involve?

You can start by determining your very long term aspirations and then define your short term projects (the top-down method), or start with the tasks in hand and gradually enlarge your perspective to the very long term (the bottom-up approach).

Top-down and bottom-up approaches

With the top-down method, you begin by determining your life aspirations, then look at how you can go about achieving them, then mid-term projects, short-term projects and finally day-to-day tasks.

My main aim in life is to grow raspberries.

The bottom-up approach enables you to clarify your current actions and determine whether they are effectively taking you where you want to go.

Both approaches are equally viable and absolutely compatible. The approach you choose will depend on the stage that you are at in your life: at the beginning or a turning-point in your career it may be more useful to aim for a very long-term goal and then to determine what you need to do. On the other hand, if you already have a long career behind you and you have a precise idea of where you are going, then the second approach will enable you to clarify your daily work and ensure that it is in line with your long-term vision.

Whatever you decide, you will have the opportunity to review your goals regularly. By placing yourself at different altitudes, you will be able to examine your goals on all levels and have an overall view of where you are going and of where you want to be.

Define your goals

Here are a few things to consider if you opt for the top-down approach:

The question gives you a headache

Maybe I’ll just go to bed.

Take the time to ask yourself THE question: what do you want to do with your life? Also think about what you are not satisfied with currently? With the answer to that question, you will have a good idea of the goals to be implemented in the next five to ten years to get closer to your lifetime goals. Then sort your goals according to their level of perspective and note which ones are part of your very long term vision.

(Purely fictional) example You are not happy working as a freelancer, you feel alone and abandoned and you would prefer to work in a company, but salaried employment is not for you.

  • Ultimate aim: Run an SME with 10 employees
  • 5 year goal: Hire an employee
  • 1-2 year goals: Set up a company
  • Current projects: Get information from the Chamber of Commerce
  • Current actions: Call the Chamber of Commerce and make an appointment

Annual goals

Your very long term goals probably won’t change very often. However, it is a good idea to set precise targets for the current year, always bearing in mind your ideals and the direction in which you want to take your business and personal life.

This is how I go about it: at the end of the year, I fix my goals for the following year. There are three sorts of goals:

– financial (turnover level);

– professional (update my website, renew my tools, take training courses etc.);

– personal (exercise more, read the complete works of Nietzsche in German, etc.)

I set deadlines throughout the year according to priority, making sure they are realistic so as not to get discouraged. There is no point in saying that all your goals have to be met in the first semester. You probably won’t manage that and then you will be disappointed. I spread my goals out over the year so that I’m not working on too many professional, financial and personal goals at the same time. That way, I remain focused and I can get on with work on my current projects. Based on these goals, I create corresponding projects in my task lists.

Every month, I examine my progress on each goal, determine whether I am running behind or ahead of schedule and redo my task list accordingly. Of course, you may want to add new goals during the year. Be careful to schedule them so that they don’t create a conflict. It’s all a question of priorities!


By fixing both business and personal goals in the mid to long term, you get a larger perspective of your life and you are more aware of the reasons why you do what you do on a day-to-day basis. To put it bluntly, you finally know why you get up in the morning!

Be true to your ideals

If you set your goals based on what defines and motivates you, then you are sure that whatever you do will remain true to your ideals.

Keep motivated

Your goals tell you WHY you are doing what you are doing: you will be more motivated to attack boring or ungratifying tasks if you see them as part of the bigger picture of your life. At the same time, you will always have reasons to abandon or postpone some of your projects (because of other priorities or because they weren’t taking where you wanted to go).

Say goodbye to guilt!

So, how about you? Do you set yourself annual or long-term goals? Don’t forget to add your comments!

The other articles in the series

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