GTD Horizons of Focus Part 3: How I manage my Horizons of Focus in Todoist

This is part 3 in a series about GTD Horizons of Focus. Part 1 is GTD Horizons of Focus – A framework for success. Part 2 is GTD Horizons of Focus – How to get started.

In part one, I defined what GTD Horizons of Focus is all about. In part two, I showed you two examples of people and their Horizons of Focus. In this third and final part, I will tell you how I worked to find my purpose and values as defined in the 50 000ft horizon. Then, I will show you my GTD Horizons of Focus. Finally, I’ll take you into my cockpit and show you how I manage my Horizons of Focus in Todoist.


How I got started

When I started filling in my Horizons of Focus, I chose to approach this from two sides. The thing that made me want to work on my Horizons of Focus was that my motivation and drive kept fluctuating, but I couldn’t identify why.

At the time I loved my job, and I still do, but I knew that in order to continue to do that, I had to figure out how to keep motivated over time. I had to figure out what made me go to work every morning.

I work in a big company where strategic goals cascade downwards in the organization. By the time they reach me, we are looking at the 30 000ft level. The daily operations that fall in under my responsibility belong on the 20 000ft level.

My challenge is then to find out what to do in the projects at my 10 000ft level in order to deliver on the expectations at 20 000ft and the goals at 30 000ft. If I want some visions on the 40 000ft level, these would have to be somewhat related to the lower levels, if not I’m going to have to put in a lot of extra energy to fulfill them.

For me personally, I knew that I had to find the “right” way to do this so that I could fulfill my employer’s goals and my own goals at the same time.

You know that feeling you get when you volunteer to do something because you feel that you can really contribute by doing something you know that you master? This feeling is what I knew was needed in order to find a more constant motivation.


What’s your purpose in life? (Picture: Bigstock)


Find out what’s behind your best moments

I started to think about all those times when I was really happy with my results and accomplishments. Was it some correlations between a successful project or delivery at work and those times when I had helped someone or accomplished something in my spare time? What was the common denominator?

I knew that I liked to deliver high-quality work, but it was something more than that. After a while, it became clear that most of the time when I felt really good about what I had done I had delivered something that was solid, smart and lasting. Provided that I had the time and resources, I wouldn’t just patch things up; I would go in and fix the root-cause and build something that was even better than the original.

In my quest for purpose, I had also found my personal mission statement.

Delivering lasting improvements


My GTD Horizons of Focus

The GTD Horizons of Focus is a very personal thing. With the exception of the 50 000ft level, the below list is just an excerpt of my personal visions, goals, and projects. For obvious reasons, I have changed or simplified all work related items, and removed the most personal information.

For an explanation of the codes in front of the different elements, see Color-code the different levels.


50 000ft – Purpose, Principles, and Values:
Delivering lasting improvements
Principles and Values: Loyal, clear, caring, positive, engaged, productive.

40 000ft – Visions:
V1: My company’s vision about big data, digitalization, and being “data smart.”
V2: Implement “my” solution for the whole company.
V3: Enjoy life, learn, network.

To achieve my visions, I have the following goals:

30 000ft – Goals:
G1V1: Something about digitalization, and being “data smart.”
G2V2: Get the rest of my company to use “my” software.
G3V2: Develop support for localized needs.

To meet these goals, I have to focus on the following areas:

20 000ft – Areas of Focus and Responsibility:
F1G1: Look for new ways to utilize metadata.
F2G2: Continuous improvement of software.
F3G2: Build a network across business areas.
F4V3: Exercise and stay healthy.
R1G2: Run “daily production.”
R2V3: Be a good husband.

10 000ft: Projects and Outcomes:
P1R1: Daily production tasks
P2F1: Use QR codes for document validation.
P3F1: Provide live statistics of document production.
O1F3: Learn about other parts of the company.
O2F3: Influence important decisions.

With GTD Horizons of Focus, you are in the captain seat with regards to the most important decisions in your life. (Picture: Stocksnap)


How I manage my GTD Horizons of Focus in Todoist

Let me be clear: Todoist is a very good tool for managing your day-to-day GTD, that is projects, actions, and contexts. Even with no particular support for weekly review, I have figured out a way to do this using a project and repeating actions.

Managing Horizons of Focus in Todoist, on the other hand, is a completely different story. It took me a year to figure out the below set-up, and it’s far from perfect.

The problem with managing your Horizons of Focus in Todoist is that you have to use projects. The only way to add a sub-project is to nest the projects inside each other. This is kind of OK for Horizons of Focus until you reach the 20 000ft level and want some separate responsibilities or focus areas.

What Todoist is missing is two things:

  1. Nested folders where you could set up a folder as a horizon-level and then put all visions, goals, and projects in the appropriate folder. That way you would be able to view all items in one level at the same time.
  2. The ability to manually set the connection between the elements in the different folders, what is known as the parent and child relationship.

Todoist: If you are reading this, contact me! I’m willing to work with you for free to get this implemented.

Back to how I’m managing this…


Horizons of Focus in Todoist projects

Horizons of Focus in Todoist
Managing your Horizons of Focus in Todoist is doable. (Picture: Bjørn Christian Finbråten)

Since Todoist only supports four levels of projects, the only option is to have the four lower levels of your Horizons of Focus. This is not so bad, as these are the only levels in daily use and with dynamic content.


Color-code the different levels

For easy identification, I have color coded the different levels.

  • Green: Visions (V)
  • Red: Goals (G)
  • Orange: Areas of Focus (F) and Responsibility (R)
  • Gray: Project (P) and Outcomes (O)

The color-coding also makes it easy to know that you should not assign actions to anything but the gray projects.

The set-up to the left corresponds with my GTD Horizons of Focus as outlined above. All elements are numbered. The first number is the current element, the next is the parent element.

The first red dot is numbered G1V1. G1 is Goal 1. This goal is connected to V1 which is Vision 1.

Below G1V1, I have F1G1. This is the first Area of Focus under G1.
Below that is the first project under F1. The reason this is called P2F1 is that this is the second project I added. The first project is P1R1, almost at the bottom.


How to handle self-standing Areas of Focus or Areas of Responsibility

Because of the need to nest the projects in Todoist, I have started using a * to jump a level.

If you look at the element all the way at the bottom, F4V3, this has no parent goal but is tied directly to vision 3. If this was not tied to any vision, I would have used a * both at the vision level and the goal level.


How to follow-up your Horizons of Focus in Todoist

By clicking at the level you want to follow-up, you can easily see all related levels and actions.

Viewing Horizons of Focus in Todoist
This is the right-hand panel in Todoist if you click on V1. Notice the two next actions. (Picture: Bjørn Christian Finbråten)


Return on investment

The way I have my projects set up ensures that:

  • All actions ties to projects with a defined result.
  • All projects contribute to reaching a goal or fulfilling a responsibility.
  • All goals ties to company goals and visions.
  • I can report what I have done in order to deliver on the different levels.
  • My manager gets an easy overview of my contributions.
  • I can adjust course easily to ensure success.
  • I’m sure that what I’m doing at the moment will contribute to the wanted result in the future.

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