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Question about Next Action vs. Context

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  • Question about Next Action vs. Context

    Hi all! I'm new to the forum and a GTDer for about 2-3 months now. I have a question about my Next Actions, specifically as it relates to Contexts.

    I use Remember the Milk as my main tool. It works perfectly for me as I have an iPod touch and a home and work computer.

    I work in an 8-5 office job, and I use lists as Projects, and assign the Next Action a tag in Remember the Milk, and then have that tag saved as "Work Next Action." When I search that tag, I get an instant list of what to do. This is powerful- every day I check my list, make sure every Project has one Next Action tag and do it. I've never been more productive at work. It's incredible. This system works like magic.

    It doesn't work for at home, however. First, I'm having trouble with contexts. There are some things I can do at both work and home, as they're online tasks or calls, so how do I properly tag them or place them into a context? Right now I have a context for "Tonight," which is after work, "Saturday," and "Personal," which is an "anytime" tag for personal things. At work, after I finish up a big project or get bored I'll occasionally look at my Personal tags, but other than that it doesn't get much use.

    Second, I'm clearing out my "Work Next Actions," my "Tonight," and my "Saturday," but barely making a dent in my "Personal Next Actions." Everything else is working like clockwork and so relaxing, but this is the killer- my Personal Next Actions as it intersects with contexts.

    The problem is I don't know what I'm supposed to do- dump it and then assign a tag called "Personal- at work?" I think my contexts are location/time based, rather than "@computer," "@phone," as I'm 24/7 near a phone and about 18 hours near a computer, so I like the idea of time/location contexts.

    Do you have any thoughts? I love GTD so much, and thank you for your reply.

  • #2
    Regarding not making a dent in personal actions: I think the source of the problem is on the projects level. With your work stuff there is a boss who excepts something and a schedule that brings a certain pressure into the game. At the personal level you have to provide that pressure on your own. How? Think on the project-level. What is the successful outcome also entails _when_ to do something or how to do something. What kind of personal life do you envision? Encode that into your personal projects. Set deadlines or schedule NAs, whatever helpful, but first think freely how you want your life to look like - and when you want to be unproductive.

    It seems to be the case that you have this unwritten contract with yourself to do certain things at 'Saturday'. Is this how your life should be? Also the 'Tonight' context looks a little bit like pressure cooking. Does it absolutely be done at a certain time? Then it belongs into the calendar. So you have half of your calendar as RTM tags. Maybe go full for it and hack a total calendar into your RTM? What about your Tickler? Doe you have explored the wonders of the Tickler?

    Comment


    • #3
      I can relate to your problem. I have a couple thoughts:

      First, I think your personal contexts should be modified. When you give them time-oriented names, it confuses "contexts" with your calendar". I have my personal contexts set up as follows: "errand", "household chore" (for chores and repairs), "home office" (for stuff online, calls, bills, etc.). I also have a couple contexts for specific errand locations like "hardware store" where there are often a lot of little things I need to do.

      The next question is when and how you choose what to do. I had a similar problem once in that my personal tasks were well organized, but without deadlines or someone waiting for it, it was hard to get it done. I found that I really needed to focus on the GTD process for choosing what to do next: context, time & energy available, priority.

      Self-motivation is a factor. You need to create the habit in yourself to say "i'm home with a free hour and plenty of energy to get some stuff done (instead of using it as recreation time). I can look at my home-oriented contexts and choose a next action or some other high-priority items that fit my time and energy".

      I work hard and have kids and when I have some free time at home, I just fall into reading a book or watching a movie. It's hard to maintain the habit to get things done at home, but once you set aside the time and nurture the habit, you'll do well.

      Best,
      Michael

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      • #4
        Grear reply. I think it's really interesting your post. I mean the "hardware" is nothing without our attitude and our habit to process all the stuff.

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        • #5
          Extra thought - do you only have 'work' on your home list, such as clean this fix that? I used to do that but found that it felt like taking work home with me. not looking at my list began to equate to time off.

          Once my lists got more comprehensive, with cool films, places to eat and things like that, I began to use it a lot more.

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          • #6
            Here are some of my contexts which might be useful for you also
            Computer work, office, calls (work & personal), agendas, home office, home, internet, iPhone, errands, garden.

            I find a combined work & personal calls list is useful, because the most convenient time for calling to make a doctor's appointment might be during your work lunch break, so it's good to have them on the same list. Errands list is absolutely essential for personal projects.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by mmorowitz View Post
              I work hard and have kids and when I have some free time at home, I just fall into reading a book or watching a movie. It's hard to maintain the habit to get things done at home, but once you set aside the time and nurture the habit, you'll do well.
              Why aren't the book list and movie list part of your GTD system?

              Adding in *all* the projects and things you do makes the entire system much more complete and also means that you know that you will have some fun stuff in amongst the rest.

              I've actually got a context for "Inside by Myself Hobbies" because I have so many different things and I have a bad case of startitis when it comes to hobby items.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Oogiem View Post
                Why aren't the book list and movie list part of your GTD system?

                Adding in *all* the projects and things you do makes the entire system much more complete and also means that you know that you will have some fun stuff in amongst the rest.

                I've actually got a context for "Inside by Myself Hobbies" because I have so many different things and I have a bad case of startitis when it comes to hobby items.
                Well, I do have some hobby activities as part of GTD, especially those that are more project-oriented.

                But, I do personally believe that there needs to be a recreation time that is totally divorced from task management (obviously a personal choice, many people prefer to task out their recreation). I do have tools that I use to keep track of "what's next" (netflix for movies, a big bookshelf of unread books for books, a notebook of crossword puzzles). I find that un-structured, un-tasked relaxation time is more relaxing.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by mmorowitz View Post
                  Well, I do have some hobby activities as part of GTD, especially those that are more project-oriented.

                  But, I do personally believe that there needs to be a recreation time that is totally divorced from task management (obviously a personal choice, many people prefer to task out their recreation). I do have tools that I use to keep track of "what's next" (netflix for movies, a big bookshelf of unread books for books, a notebook of crossword puzzles). I find that un-structured, un-tasked relaxation time is more relaxing.
                  On the one hand, it's nice to have a break from "should be" but, on the other hand, there are times when what you "should be" doing is relaxing. This is a prescriptive approach to relaxation as would be described in a sports performance book.

                  I do agree that it's also healthy to get away from structured thought and just go with your creativity and mood in a child-like state of play. Maybe this is why it's also important to allow enough bed time to dream - so your brain can follow all the rabbit holes it has built up during the day. When I first discovered podcasts I thought it would be a great way to use all the 'dead' time in my day, so I filled every spare moment with people talking. After a while I started to feel quite anxious like there wasn't enough space in my head for my mind to live in. I needed that free-flow time back.

                  Perhaps just recognising that these are different types of relaxation is enough to make it work.

                  "16:00 hours; Fun will commence!" - Seven of Nine, Star Trek Voyager
                  Last edited by pxt; 05-15-2011, 12:22 PM.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by pxt View Post
                    On the one hand, it's nice to have a break from "should be" but, on the other hand, there are times when what you "should be" doing is relaxing.

                    I do agree that it's healthy to get away from structured thought and just go with your creativity and mood in a child-like state. Maybe this is why it's also important to allow enough bed time to dream - so your brain can follow all the rabbit holes it has built up during the day. When I first discovered podcasts I thought it would be a great way to use all the 'dead' time in my day, so I filled every spare moment with people talking. After a while I started to feel quite anxious like a storm was brewing in my head. I needed that free-flow time back.

                    Perhaps just recognising that these are different is enough to make it work.

                    "16:00 hours; Fun will commence!" - Seven of Nine, Star Trek Voyager
                    Yeah it's true, we can't be constatly processing new input

                    here is a good article on this topic
                    http://www.newsweek.com/2011/02/27/i-can-t-think.html

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Priorities

                      Have a look at what type of thing is on your "Personal -- Next Actions".

                      Either these things are important to you and you want to devote some
                      time to getting them done, or they're not really that important.

                      If you really want to get them done, ask yourself when. Do you want
                      to schedule some time at certain times of day or on certain days of the
                      week each week, or schedule a different time each week? Do you want
                      to schedule times to get particularly important individual items done,
                      or do you want to schedule blocks of time for doing several
                      actions? E.g. after dinner every
                      evening you can look at your list and do a few of the things. I'm too tired
                      or busy on weekday evenings, usually, so I aim to get a bunch of stuff
                      done Saturday morning or generally over the weekend.

                      If I have stuff that can't be done evenings or weekends
                      (e.g. phone a place that's only open during working hours)
                      I put it on a separate list for personal things to be done when
                      at the workplace, and aim to do them during coffee break
                      or lunch break. When I'm working I feel like working and
                      these personal actions seem like unwelcome interruptions,
                      but I've set up reminders to myself to review that list
                      occasionally when at the office. I put an asterisk beside
                      an action if I want to remind myself that I consider it a
                      priority, even if it might not feel like a priority at the moment
                      when I have the opportunity to do it. I can erase the asterisk,
                      but I try not to do that unless I'm fairly sure I won't
                      feel later on that I should have left the asterisk there.

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                      • #12
                        Thanks for all your help!

                        Thanks for all your help! I really like these suggestions. I don't think it's a problem with "forcing myself to work" or anything. I think I'm struggling with the proper list at the proper time. I like the idea of more contexts, but they're always affected by my time- for example, I can call somebody on my lunch break, on Saturday, or after work, but my phone is in my pocket 24/7. Having a "Phone" context doesn't help because more than the item I need the time/space to make the call. Here's my new thoughts:

                        First, I work a pretty locked down schedule. I wake up, go to work, come home, go to bed. I have Sat. and Sun. off, and so my blocks of time look like this:

                        Work
                        After Work (Tonight)
                        Saturday
                        Sunday

                        I'm trying to relax before law school, so I'm leaving Sunday alone. It's relaxing and enjoyable to have a "free" day.

                        Right now my contexts follow this same pattern, but I'm not able to get Personal items done that aren't in the Tonight or Saturday context. It's not a motivation or laziness thing (okay...not too much!), so much as it's that I have a context list that's free-floating/anytime/all the time.

                        I'm going to make my Personal into Personal At Work- that way, I can only worry about those items at work. If I have to use my work computer for something, I can put that personal item on there. If I have to make a call from my work phone for personal reasons, that can go on there too.

                        I think that correctly separates my time into the proper contexts- thoughts?

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          If you refer to your contexts as time (after work, saturday, before work) and include an unscheduled version, you're never going to get to the unscheduled stuff. It's like having a filing system for specific topics and then "everything else" which will just become a black hole.

                          It sounds to me like you're melding together your calendar and contexts in a way that is creating a hole for tasks to fall into.

                          Perhaps you don't need contexts at all (I know quite a few people who don't find them useful because of their regimented schedule). You might benefit from a more strict daily review with more active task scheduling. For example, during a daily review you can schedule next action and/or high priority tasks to be completed at specific parts of the upcoming day. Since you know where you're going to be and what you want to get done, you can ignore context and take that opportunity to make sure all projects get attention and placement in the productive parts of your week.

                          Personally, this approach doesn't work for me, I find physical context important for many reasons, but I know people who fall completely on the side of the fence of being completely review-and-calendar driven.

                          Just a thought.

                          Best
                          Michael

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by mmorowitz View Post
                            Perhaps you don't need contexts at all (I know quite a few people who don't find them useful because of their regimented schedule). You might benefit from a more strict daily review with more active task scheduling.
                            If you have 15 lists, but they're all full of things that you can do from the same starting point, you have 14 too many lists.

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