GTD at 50,000 ft: How to find and fulfill your Life's Purpose

A Community Contribution by Arif and Ali Vakil

Have you ever had the feeling of being lost & left wondering “Why am I doing what I’m doing?”, “Why am I in this Job?”, “What does all this mean?”, “Who am I, and what is my purpose?”.  In spite of all the achievements there is a feeling of emptiness.  This feeling usually comes when our actions are not aligned with our Life’s purpose.

Using the Horizons of Focus model, GTD helped me align my day to day actions to my life’s purpose, and in this post I’d like to talk about how you can do the same.

What is GTD at 50,000 ft?

The Horizons of Focus Model is basically the agreements that one has with his or herself at different Horizons. Each Horizon represents a different time-level & impact.  It’s a tool to know what your work is so that your priorities are clear.

In David’s book 50,000 ft is defined as “This is the ‘big picture’ view. Why does your company exist? Why do you exist? The primary purpose for anything provides the core definition of what its ‘word’ really is. It is the ultimate job description.

In other words, your agreements at 50,000 ft. are the description of your life’s purpose.

How to Find Your Life’s Purpose?

Sometimes I wish we were born with an instruction manual outlining our purpose, life would be so much easier, but then again life wouldn’t be so interesting if we had all the answers!  I like to define Life’s purpose in a two-fold manner. The first is one’s Inner Purpose, and the second is one’s Outer-Purpose.

The Inner-Purpose is the same for all human beings on the planet, and that is know one oneself. Not in the sense of who your personality is, but to know yourself as the silent witness of your thoughts.

But what is more challenging to find is our Outer-Purpose i.e. what is it that we can do in this world that will align ourselves and our actions with our Inner-Purpose?  No one can tell you what your Outer-purpose is, it’s something that you have to find out for yourself.  But there are ways to find out and it can be done by asking ourselves a series of questions:

– What are my unique Talents?
– How can I use my unique talents to serve others (such as family and community)
– What gives me peak experiences and Joy?
– What would I be doing if I had just 6 months to live?
– What would I be doing, if I had all the time and money in the world?
– What do I love to do?
– What are the top values I believe in and uphold the most?

Recommended Reading: The Passion Test.

If you own an organization there are some questions you can ask to help you identify the purpose of your organization:

– What business are we in?
– When does my business get done?
– What are the values of this Organization?
– What value are we trying to give our customers?

Recommended Reading: The E-Myth Manager

If you’re working for an organization, then you need to ask both sets of questions above and then ask “Are my talents & values in alignment with the purpose and values of the organization?”

Some of the answers to these questions may come to you instantly; whereas some of these questions will take you a lifetime to answer. The sooner you start asking these questions, the sooner you’ll begin to get answers. It important to remember that these answers can change during your lifetime depending on needs, interests & circumstances.

How to fulfill your life’s Purpose?

Once your 50,000 ft agreements are clear, you then start determining your agreements at the lower Horizons of Focus:

40,000 ft: Vision. What it will look, sound, feel like with successful implementation of your long term visions. This is a picture of where you want to be 3 to 5 years from now.

30,000 ft: Goals and Objectives. What do you need to accomplish within the next 1 to 2 years to make your vision happen?

20,000 ft
: Areas of focus and responsibility. Important spheres of work and life to be maintained at standards to “keep engine running”. eg. What is the standard Health you’d like to maintain.  How about your standard for your education, family life, spirituality etc. so that you can achieve your 30,000 ft and 40,000 ft goal.

10,000 ft
: Projects or Outcomes you want to achieve that require more than one action and which can be completed within a year.

Runway Actions: Next physical, visible actions to take on any project or other outcome.

You get such a sense of power once all of your agreements at each of the different Horizons are aligned. You’ll reach a stage where you know that with every phone call, every meeting and every step you take at the Runway level, you’re fulfilling your life’s purpose; and that feels just Wonderful!  Trust me.

Join the Conversation


  1. No kidding. And as simple and straightforward as these questions and areas of engagement may be, the truth is, it comes down to these truths…and that the answers come from nothing deeper or more relevant than you, at this moment. GTD is only there to assist in clearing the air and providing a real, fun, and interesting target to play with.

    David Allen

  2. Hi David,

    Thanks for your comment. You know I’ve been thinking about those questions for a long time, and still am searching for the answers. But now I’m more confident than before in managing my agreements, as my 50k ft horizon becomes clearer.

    I also realize Life is a journey, and have to enjoy the present moment and accept whatever comes in it.


      1. Dude, this video (I already loved Watts) just saved me from going down a rabbit-hole of disappointed goal-seeking. Thanks.

      2. not really…

        “The value of goals is not in the future they describe, but the change in perception of reality they foster, in the present.” – “Make it up, and make it happen.” (David Allen)

  3. This is a useful read, especially considering I recently did a critique of the vertical map on my blog. It’s given me a little more to think about. Nice timing 🙂 Are we looking to see how what we are currently doing aligns with each level, or are we defining what we want to do and then looking at how we can align our lives with it?

  4. Hi James,
    That’s a good Q. I was thinking of the same when writing this article. Theoretically it makes sense that we start from the 50k level downwards, but from a practical view it’s better to start organizing actions at the runway level, and then move up the horizon. Once your day to day actions are under control, there less resistance moving up 🙂
    Mohammed Ali

  5. Great article. Inner and outer purposes as elements are well presented but they have to be defined and aligned. How to “know yourself as the silent witness of your thoughts” and have that in alignment with the “outer purpose” is easier said than done. Moreover these two elements are defined in old literature and ancient wisdom with a certain level of abstraction as “Believing and Acting well.” What I found to be lacking – not inexistant – in the discourses of GTD authors, including Allen’s, is the workings of the “witnessing”, “believing”, “Inner purpose”… whatever you call it. The idea of starting “practically” from the lower levels but working also on the highest level and getting them to meet somewhere along that continuum seems to be an impossible task!… Thank you for the insights and for stirring up this topic again.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.