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  • An Annotated Chart of Contexts

    Hi everybody, [sorry this is so long!]

    I felt like I needed to reevaluate my contexts (for my next action lists) because one of my lists was very long, much longer than the others, and was a bit overwhelming to look at it. It had items that I don't need to look at through the week (outdoor tasks I mostly do on weekends), and things that were simply not getting done (things around the house to fix). So I wanted to reevaluate all of my contexts and wondered how do I determine the optimal set of contexts for my work and homelife...

    I did this on memopad sheets but it would probably be a good mindmapping or outliner exercise.

    First I thought about all the places where I might find myself and made a list. I started with "at home" and "other places" and then expanded from there, for example studio, office, places (ie. outside the home), outside (outside the house, for example doing yard work), etc. Of course these are all "contexts" but for the sake of discussion I'll call these "locations" so as not to confuse them with "@contexts".

    Then under each Location I wrote out the different kinds of activities for that particular location. For example, under Places I listed errands, appointments, walk the dog, fun stuff (that would be plays, dinners, etc, I didn't actually list them all out). Under Office I listed Mac, desk work, Calls, Daily review, Weekly Review, Routines, etc.

    So when it was all finished it was very easy to get a "big picture" of my daily activities, and I just went through the items and where there was an obvious next action context list just waiting to happen I put an "@", for example, @Mac, @errands, etc.

    So I went from having four contexts to seven, with two of the contexts being mostly to be looked at on the weekend. The lists seem more manageable now, more balanced, and I believe these are the best set of contexts for me.

    An interesting thing about this exercise is that when I was finished I not only had @contexts but all kinds of ideas for new checklists (a Mac checklist, for example, for routines like backups,etc; a list of new places to walk my dog, etc.). This outline also gave a new context to my existing checklists (for example, weekly housekeeping chores, my gardening checklist, etc.), which are somewhat scattered (some are on index cards on the fridge, some are grouped together in my gtd paper binder). Then I expanded the outline and under the different locations I added some things that I'm doing on a regular basis, for example under "Home" I listed guitar practice. And I listed things that I need to be thinking about more, under Desk I listed "long-term planning", etc.

    Then in addition to the Locations, I added "Someday/Maybe" and "Waiting For" and turned it all into a one page chart.

    So I ended up with a unifying overview of my daily life, all under the umbrella of GTD. It gave me ideas for new checklists of things that I have mostly just kept in my head. It gave me a perspective of how GTD truly covers all daily activities, even routine tasks. I thought I would use this chart during my weekly review (as kind of a checklist to trigger ideas and next actions) and I'm also thinking about other ways to use it, maybe organizing my paper binder more contextually (maybe put checklists and next action lists together if they have the same context.)

  • #2
    Very interesting. I've read this post three or four times. I totally understand the need for more contexts. I work from home so technically all of my contexts except Errands could be combined. However, I have about seven based on groupings that follow what I need to work on at different times (home, clients, non-client oriented office work, kitchen (groceries/menu), family & friends (coordinating get-togethers), hobbies).

    I'm a paper person as well, and recently I got rid of my Someday/Maybe and Projects sections and combined them with each of my contexts. Thus wish lists go with errands because it is when I'm shopping that I may find those items. Home improvements go in the home section. Business goals go in the client section as tracking sheets for achieving those goals. Recipes that I want to make someday but not this week go under kitchen. Places I want to visit go under family & friends (family vacations). And future hobby projects go under hobbies.

    Doing this has enabled me to be able to see the big picture without having to flip from section to section. For instance, with my hobbies, I can see what projects I'm working on now, what projects I've bought materials for but haven't started yet, and which projects I'm thinking about doing. Then when I think about a project I want to do, I can look at what I have going on and make an informed decision as to whether or not I have time for it. When I had things separated strictly into projects, next actions and someday/maybe, it was difficult to see a true picture of what I had going on.

    I do have my checklists in their own section simply because they are something I refer to only occasionally. I do have them sorted in that section according to personal and business so I can find them easier when I need to reference them. However, I can see how it might be handy to have them at the back of the section they apply to as well. It's an idea I will have to ponder.

    Again, very interesting post, very thought-provoking. It's always nice to hear ideas about contexts, especially from people who are using paper (as one who is using paper).

    Comment


    • #3
      Thanks for the feedback. That's interesting, I hadn't thought about extending the contexts to include someday/maybe and projects. I believe after awhile with GTD, thinking in contexts becomes second-nature What do you do about projects that have actions with different contexts? For example if you have a hobby project but you need to have an errand related to it.

      For each project, I have a project page with a list of actions (projects are still grouped together in my notebook for now). Next to each action, I write the context (@calls, @errands, etc). I copy the project's actions to the appropriate next action lists. I know it's redundant but it seems to work for me. I was wondering how other paper-based gtd'ers handle this.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by marcia
        Thanks for the feedback. That's interesting, I hadn't thought about extending the contexts to include someday/maybe and projects. I believe after awhile with GTD, thinking in contexts becomes second-nature What do you do about projects that have actions with different contexts? For example if you have a hobby project but you need to have an errand related to it.
        I put the next action in the context that it belongs. Obviously there is some crossover, but that is fine. I just put the project in the area where most of the work will take place and since that is generally where I review it as well, it works for me.

        Originally posted by marcia
        For each project, I have a project page with a list of actions (projects are still grouped together in my notebook for now). Next to each action, I write the context (@calls, @errands, etc). I copy the project's actions to the appropriate next action lists. I know it's redundant but it seems to work for me. I was wondering how other paper-based gtd'ers handle this.
        I only have project pages for complex projects (ones that aren't done step by step - those I just list the current step and when I work on the project, I start with that step and when I finish working on it, I write down the next step on my next action list). So for complex projects, I have more than one next action and yes, they are both on the project page and on the appropriate next action lists.

        Comment


        • #5
          Marcia that was a great idea, to start with locations, and then refine.

          I followed your lead, using an outliner like you said, and an interesting thing started to happen: all my locations were nouns, but all my contexts started to turn into present-participles. Contexts became (generic) actions.

          I like this cos it is dynamic, and in the spirit of '*Getting* Things Done'. Here's what I mean... [I am studying for a degree and looking-after and fixing-up the house just for errr context]:

          - [ ] Locations: [ ] House
          - [ ] @housekeeping
          - [ ] @renovating
          - [ ] @studying
          - [ ] @contacting
          - [ ] @bookkeeping
          - [ ] @playing piano
          - [ ] @reading
          - [ ] @waiting
          - [ ] Locations: - [ ] Garden
          - [ ] @gardening
          - [ ] Locations: - [ ] Car
          - [ ] @visiting library
          - [ ] @running errands

          Some different kind of contexts started to form this way, all more dynamic, and some which hooked into a traditional description of tasks. For example, one of my most anxious open loops is keeping track of household expenditures: credit card debt, budget, bills, echh you know what I mean. I thought of this originally as @finances, and it became @bookkeeping in the 'participular' translation. More verby. And more... quaint And it's a whole 'nother hat that I have to put on for a while, cos I have to balance all these inputs against each other, so it's an entire context.

          And then that led me to change my orginal @cleaning which I often see, or @cleaning/organizing, to @housekeeping, which I like a lot more, and is way more appropriate. (Shades of the book "Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House", handbook for home geeks...)

          But then the traditional @calls-emails had to become @calling-emailing (yuck) and under the pressure of doingness it transformed into @contacting... I'm sure this is partly due to the semantic influence of @housekeeping. And I know I am drifting another dimension away from locations and resources (cf. @phone) but I really like the connotations, and it's still concrete enough.

          Using present participles for contexts is like aggregating the *kinds* of actions you perform in your life. And for me, it's more cohesive to fit specific next-actions under generic kinds-of-action. I think of it as 'what will my next action be when I am.... @renovating', etc. I guess I think that everything that you can do to make GTD action-oriented is a plus.

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