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Why not leave the '@' out on Category names?

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  • Why not leave the '@' out on Category names?

    Hey folks,

    I've been using GTD for a couple of years now. Right *now* I need to define a bunch of task / todo category names for my work laptop. (It doesn't sync with my personal stuff, and that's OK, btw.)

    Anyway, I'm sorely tempted to leave the '@' sign off the beginning of each category name. I'm sure there's a reason for it, but I can't remember why. I do know that if I left it off, I could jump to categories much faster by just typing the first letter of a category.

    That is, a few category names I will have are...


    If I left the @ sign off, I can just type 'r' to immediately jump to 'recruiting' in my Outlook task list.

    So before I depart from this nuance of GTD, can anyone tell me why I should leave the '@' sign?

    -- JoeGuitar

  • #2
    Using the @ sign sorts all of your context categories to the beginning of an alphabetical list, separating them from other categories you might have.

    The examples you gave look like they are mostly *not* contexts, and therefore should *not* have the @ sign. Context categories are things like "@phone," "@errands," and so forth.



    • #3
      Thanks! Good to know that I probably have been misapplying it.

      Now I need to figure out if I'm brave enough to change it on my GTD home Outlook / Treo system I'll try one or two categories first.

      Best regards,
      -- JoeGuitar


      • #4
        Outlook makes using a special sign for contexts particularly desirable, because it has a global category list shared for all items. So categories for notes/memos like "Lists" or "Key Info" also appear for tasks, along with "Party Girls" from your address book . I think it was a poor design choice and a big pain. For GTD, you don't want to have to scroll down a long list of categories and have to recall each time if it is a context.


        • #5
          And, for those who use a Palm--as David Allen does, or at least did when he started writing about the @ convention--the Palm has a limit of 15 categories and will truncate any after the first 15. Using the @ convention insures that your contexts will migrate over to the Palm, since they appear at the top of the list. [Since ! appears before @, some people use a !Today category for items they really want to do today.]


          • #6
            One of the neat things I have applied that seems to work ok so to seperate by context, time and energy level by a different symbol.

            @ should always define context
            Then you can use other symbols for different levels:
            . is good to use for weekly review items
            someday maybe
            and whatever else you want to review weekly
            I just recently started using ! for time categories and * for energy level
            !2 minutes
            !5 minutes
            etc, These are good for recurring tasks.

            *Just woke up
            *3 lattes

            Work pretty well too for recurring.
            Last edited by 12hourhalfday; 11-21-2006, 06:31 AM.


            • #7
              Departure from @Action categories for the advanced

              After four years of using the GTD, and having a solid understanding and use of the system, I have departed a bit from the category naming convention that David teaches (using "@" in front of all Action Categories.) BTW, I'm working in an Outlook 2003 environment w/ an ipaq on Windows CE.

              I, too, like the one key entry to pop up the category I wish to assign. Also, I find myself responding to different symbols differently. What I have found from my experience is that I have far more action categories than I have non action categories. So, found it MORE distracting to have to zip through ten @ categories. Here's my category list in the order it appears in Outlook and on my PDA - I've indicated where I use these categories in Outlook the most as well (i.e., Action tasks or notes):

              #MY PROJECTS (tasks and notes)
              %FOCUS AREAS (notes)
              *WAITING (tasks)
              @OFFICE (tasks)
              E-MAIL (tasks)
              HOME (tasks)
              MEET (tasks and notes)
              PHONE (tasks)
              SM - SOMEDAY MAYBE (tasks and notes)
              SMW - SOMEDAY MAYBE @ WORK (tasks and notes)
              W - PROJECTS (tasks and notes)
              WI - WORK IDEAS (notes)
              ZI - INFO (notes)
              ZL - LIST (notes)

              I decided to put two NON action categories at the TOP of my list (MY PROJECTS and FOCUS AREAS) because I needed to build a better habit of looking at and giving priority to those areas of my life. My categories are all actionable ones after the top two, until the last six. I've preceeded NON-Action categories with a "Z" to demote to the bottom.

              I like the visual of different symbols. I think that's what somehow works for me to respond better to my lists (silly? may-be)

              You might say, why all this effort to be able to hit one key instead of two or three. Well, it was that minor difference that removed resistance to consistently using my system.

              CAUTION - I do not recommend this for beginners however, becasue it takes some time and practice to make sure you're putting only true actions on your action lists (not actions that are really projects.) I think it was after two years that I had the weekly review, decipher actions from projects, that I revised my system to this. However, the below tip is good for all...

              TIP FOR ENTERING CATEGORIES IN OUTLOOK TASK - QUICK KEY METHOD - Finally, the above category list combined w/ the following quick keys makes creating new tasks easy and (almost) fun.

              1. Ctrl SHIFT K (opens new task from anywhere in Outlook)
              2. Type title of task
              3. Alt G (move you to the category field at the bottom of the task window and opens you master category list)
              4. Type your ONE key to highlight the category you want.
              5. Press SPACE bar
              6. Hit ENTER
              7. Alt S saves the task.


              • #8
                The funny thing is, I still use the @ even after having switched from Palm Pilot to index cards.

                It doesn't affect paper sorting, it's not neccesary for rapid recognition (since the pink hilighter across the header of action list index cards is much more noticable anyway), but somehow it's reassuring to have it there.


                • #9
                  I guess I've found that, after trying a few different approaches to categories, that the way David describes it in his book is still the best way for me: simple, clear, and quickly accessible on my PDA or iCal program.


                  • #10
                    Impact of Computers

                    The use of the @ sign arises from how computers treat letters, number and other characters in a list. Its simply a sorting issue ... special characters (i.e. @) get treated first, followed by numbers and finally letters.

                    So in the GTD methodology, any item with "@" character leading, rises to the top of the list. If you used "!" it would sort before the "@". So for a computer it's important, on paper you could leave it out.


                    • #11
                      Ha! I do the same thing as david.baillie

                      I'll have

                      z_Lists or z_Something as an archive category.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by kewms View Post
                        Using the @ sign sorts all of your context categories to the beginning of an alphabetical list, separating them from other categories you might have.

                        The examples you gave look like they are mostly *not* contexts, and therefore should *not* have the @ sign. Context categories are things like "@phone," "@errands," and so forth.

                        Wow. This was posted nearly two years ago. I've created folders in Outlook using the @ sign and it does keep them sorted at the top. Additionally I've created one called @@IN BASKET that is at the very top. This way I can move a message from my Inbox to my @@IN BASKET and also messages out of my @TICKLE folders to @@IN BASKET. I find this helps me a lot.

                        Yes, I have tried a couple of Outlook GTD plug-ins and didn't like them. I don't want to learn anything new. I want to use what I know and I know Outlook.