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  • Importance of @context

    I've reviewed and seen the samples of context lists in this forum. I've tried the typical @calls, @computer, @desk, etc... and kept coming back to the thought that I need something simpler.

    I do most of my Next Actions either at home or at work. When I'm at work, I have access to the computer, phone, library (for research), etc... I rarely have a block of time where I can, say, sit and go through a list of phone calls. Usually, what happens is I get a few moments between appointments and I decide then and there what I can do next --- be it a phone call, write up patient records, or research a treatment.

    If I have separate context list (paper-base), I would need to scan each context list to see what I can / like to do next.

    Whereas, if I have one NA list for work, it would be easier to quickly pick the NA. Also would help to force me to limit the NAs to fit one page.

    I guess, I wanted to check in before trimming my @context. Have any of you discarded the detailed contexts? I'm hesitant to do so since they seem to be a cornerstone of GTD (next to weekly reviews) but I keep coming back to the idea of having just @Work, @Home, and @Car

    Thanks for any insights!

  • #2
    I started with @Home, @Work and @Errands and was happy till I understood that I can do something outside of that boundaries, i.e. make calls while driving, read a book while waiting for a meeting, do some work-related stuff on my home computer, etc. So I started to use detailed contexts that allow me to choose some granular actions at any free minute: @Agenda, @Call, @Car, @Computer, @Home, @Office, @Waiting.

    Start with the contexts you want or even without them and you'll see what contexts you need in your daily life.

    Regards,

    Eugene.

    Comment


    • #3
      I find @errands, @day-time-calls, and @personX (one for each person) tend to be the most effective contexts for me. Night-time planning can lead to a lot of these items that can't be done in the moment. After that @home and @web capture most things.

      After breaking down contexts to the extent above, your energy is best spent on the next stage of decision making:classify next-actions based on time-required.

      I break mine into 15m, 1h, and 2h. Guess which group of actions gets the most traction? The value isn't really in generating the associated lists, but in thinking practically about a managable next-action. "End world hunger" doesn't fit on any of these lists.

      Backed when I was mulling this over, I tried to organize information I could find in a blog entry on "Putting Things in Context".

      Comment


      • #4
        I agree with Eugene

        Eugene is spot on in my opinion. It's the concept of context that's important, not how long your list is. I know folks who move about a lot and have a correspondingly long list of contexts to tag their NAs. I also have worked with folks who, like you, really don't.

        @Waiting is an important "meta-context" and one I think you might consider holding on to if your work involves hand-offs with others. Besides that, I think you should use the basic list that meets your needs and add new contextx as your circumstances dictate.

        FWIW, my context list today is different from the one I was using a year ago as I'm now involved with a primary job and a number of projects that have essentially reshaped my day. My current list is:

        @Home
        @Office
        @HQ
        @Errands
        @Calls
        @Mac
        @PC
        @Waiting

        So for me, @Office is my tag for things to be done at my local office and @HQ is for things that need to be addressed at my company's offices in California. As I work on both the Mac and PC for my writing and blogging, I need a context for each platform to keep track of reviews, interviews, and testing relevant to each OS.

        I've also adopted "people contexts" like:

        1:1 Richard (boss)
        1:1 Sue (my wife - the real boss)
        1:1 Oliver (business partner)
        1:1 Andrew (business partner)

        These last "people context tags" are an idea I picked up from Sally McGhee's work (she was an early collaborator with David on some of the foundational ideas in GTD). These are the people most important in my life right now who literally require their own context so that when I'm interacting with them, I have a list of NAs I can reference to make sure I'm not dropping the ball on something important.

        Richard and Oliver are in LA. Andrew is in London. All of them travel as much or more than I do. Sue is usually at home in NM. I'm often not where they are so interactions may take place by phone, e-mail, IM, or in person. No matter what medium I happen to be using to converse with any of them, I have my NA list for them in front of me to work through items that need attention.

        Hope that helps...

        Comment


        • #5
          I use several of the usual contexts, but this week I added a new one: @Lunch.

          I find I make better use of my lunch time if I can see a list of NAs that can be done during that time, rather than scrolling through all the other contexts.

          It's still on a trial basis, but so far I've found it to be helpful.

          Comment


          • #6
            What does 1:1 mean?

            Mochant,

            What's the significance of the 1:1 preceding your people contexts? Does it have some functionality?

            PS - I'm really looking forward to your new book. It's on pre-order.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by smithdoug View Post
              Mochant,

              What's the significance of the 1:1 preceding your people contexts? Does it have some functionality?

              PS - I'm really looking forward to your new book. It's on pre-order.
              it's the same as @Agenda

              Comment


              • #8
                Context is whatever works for you

                Originally posted by petdr View Post
                I rarely have a block of time where I can, say, sit and go through a list of phone calls. Usually, what happens is I get a few moments between appointments and I decide then and there what I can do next --- be it a phone call, write up patient records, or research a treatment.

                If I have separate context list (paper-base), I would need to scan each context list to see what I can / like to do next.

                Whereas, if I have one NA list for work, it would be easier to quickly pick the NA. Also would help to force me to limit the NAs to fit one page.
                The main idea of the context lists is to eliminate from consideration things that you can't possibly do where/when you are. In your case, as in mine, that doesn't eliminate much. Merlin Mann, on 43 Folders, goes into this fairly often, as it's an occupational hazard for geeks. There are several ways you could go:

                1) Have context lists that are based on how much time is available. So you'd have a 5-minute list, and 10-minute list, and so on. Disadvantage: you'd have to be very good at estimating time.

                2) Go with the fewer lists. Disadvantage: You might get big lists, which would take just as long to go through.

                3) Stay with your current context lists, but choose a list to work from.

                4) Make different lists.

                For instance, here's a scenario: you've just walked in the door, you've got 12 minutes before your next patient, and you feel like getting a few things sorted. You can make a quick dive into your email @Reply mailbox, and fire off 3 or 4 quick no-brainer responses one after the other.

                Or maybe your computer just crashed, or the network is down, so you grab the top folder in your @File tray and file it: you don't want to have to think about things that you can't do right now, just things you can.

                And then there's how tired you are, how friendly you're feeling, and other things. For me, all those factors go into choosing which context list to look at: I'll have made the (emotive) decision about what sort of work to do before I even consider the lists, so I only have one list to look at.

                Then again, you might want several @Work context lists, depending on those factors. You might have things like @Frenzied & Brain-fried, @Completely Knackered & Dying To Go Home, and @I Am A Zen Master. Then sort your NAs depending on how many neurons you'll need to cope with them.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Time Available

                  Thank you for the feedback; gave me some things to think about. I'm going to try and keep my @work context but break it down into the time frames as suggested i.e. <5min, 10min. The downside as unstuffed mentioned is estimating the time required. A phone call to a client to discuss lab results can take a brief 1 minute to 15 minutes. But I realize that "time available" is what I use to determine which NA I can tackle. So I guess nothing to do but give that a try.

                  Thanks everyone!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Why 1:1?

                    Mr. Borisoff, I think you're missing my point here, so let me try to clarify.

                    The '@' convention has its genesis in a limitation of the Palm--which David Allen used personally and was a proponent of as a simple, mobile list-keeping device--and the need for a system to tag actions by context for his business clients who use Microsoft Outlook. The solution was to use Outlook's categories feature for the context list. But the Palm can recognize only the first 15 entries that happen to appear in Outlook's category list, whereas Outlook can handle.... well, a lot more than 15 categories. The list appears in alphabetical order. Therefore, if one has a long list of categories, contexts such as 'Someday', or 'Waiting For', or 'Weekly Review' probably won't copy over to the Palm. But since the '@' symbol appears at the top of the category list, ahead of any category that begins with a letter, standard contexts such as @Someday, or @Waiting For, or @Weekly Review will copy over to the Palm.

                    Some folks carry this concept one step further and add 'contexts' that begin with the '!' symbol--such as !Today, or !This Week--and these will appear even above the '@' contexts in Outlook's category list.

                    But I've never seen the 1:1 convention that Mark Orchant describes and my question has to do with the special significance of using 1:1 instead of, for example, the '@' convention. And why use the same 1:1 for each of the four individuals instead of, for example, 1:1 or 1:2 or 1:3 or 1:4?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Importance of @context

                      dougsmith

                      I think 1:1 is one to one.

                      Pixlz
                      Last edited by pixlz; 02-11-2007, 11:14 AM.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by smithdoug View Post
                        But since the '@' symbol appears at the top of the category list, ahead of any category that begins with a letter, standard contexts such as @Someday, or @Waiting For, or @Weekly Review will copy over to the Palm.
                        Of course, there's a secondary mnemonic benefit to the use of '@' to denote contexts. After all, my @Home list contains things I can do "at home"; my @Computer list contains things I can only do "at (the) computer".

                        As far as the 1:1 convention, I'd venture a guess that it has its roots in the term "one-on-one" as used to mean personal face-to-face weekly meetings with someone, and especially for meetings between oneself and one's supervisor. Several of the places I've worked in the past use this term, as in, "let's table discussion of that until our next one-on-one, so we don't bore the rest of the team."

                        -- Tammy

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          My thoughts on this take a decidedly techy slant. There are two different ways you can look at the @ contexts, as discrete folders, where an item can only be placed in one folder, or as metadata, or "tags" which can be used to describe the context of each action in multiple ways. An ideal system would allow you to place an item under both @phone and @office, so you can reference it as a list of all items you need to do at the office, or if you choose, reference it through a list that only includes phone items.

                          I think the trick is that most systems don't support this methodology. Certainly a physical paper based system wouldn't function this way effectively, so software systems are a necessity. This paradigm has taken hold in other areas, such as media cataloging (take a look at Flickr.com for an example), and Microsoft wanted to completely reinvent their Windows file system in this manner at one point (thought it was scratched, or delayed for a later release), but I don't know how much it has taken hold in personal information management / calendaring systems.

                          I downloaded Agenda Fusion for my Pocket PC (Agenda One for newer pocket PC OSes than mine), and it does support this method, thought it may not translate over fully when you sync it to your desktop app. I don't use Outlook, so I'm not sure if it supports this method.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by joelmole View Post
                            An ideal system would allow you to place an item under both @phone and @office, so you can reference it as a list of all items you need to do at the office, or if you choose, reference it through a list that only includes phone items.
                            Hi

                            My Life Organised does this and it has a pocket PC edition. I havn't used that edition of it so I cannot comment but it works well on the PC.

                            http://www.mylifeorganized.net/

                            Pixlz

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              re the posting of joemole

                              Completely agree. However, I feel it woul'd be a lot of extra-work to tag every action accordingly. What I mean is, how practical would be such a system? It had to "think" for itself like in adding all @computer items to the @office list automatically. And then, while you are at it, why not incorporate other aspects of action like time, energy and so on into such a system? What is the gain? Where is the opportunity to win something here?

                              An important aspect of physical contexts imho is the hard edge ie you are at your computer or you are not. To decide how much time or energy you have available is a much more fuzzy affair. Like in the oldschool-todo-list, this item is important. Yeah, right.

                              Comment

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