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where and for whom

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  • where and for whom

    I am still struggling with context lists. It appears that they present a subset of my next actions that are appropriate for the physical context I find myself in. The context list answers the question 'where' I will act.

    Trouble is, I spend my days with a computer and a phone. Further, I can work 'in the office' or from home. This means that most of my next actions for work will fall into an @computer or @phone list.

    Of course, so do an awful lot of other things -- a lot of home, recreational, learning, and exploring 'next actions' require a phone or a computer. This means that the next action list that guides my 'work days' is interleaved with lots of non-work stuff. I don't want to have to sift through a bunch of non-work items to find a 'work' item. That is, the context lists only tell me a physical context -- they do not tell me 'for whom' the next action is being taken.

    How do you handle this?

  • #2
    It looks like you don't have any contexts (place and tools are the same always). Why not to split to two lists @Office (9-5) and @Home (the rest)?

    Comment


    • #3
      I have settled on @work and @home contexts. @work is more of a mindset than a physical location because I often work from home. Every once in a while, I need to do something that I can only do when I'm "in the office", so I also keep an @office context, but this is generally administrativia that I can't do remotely so it is almost always empty.

      I also maintain a separate @phone context, because I *hate* making phone calls; so when I am in the "telephone" mode, I just plow through as many calls as I can.

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      • #4
        jknecht has a good idea: I hate using the phone too, so I have a phone list so I can take advantage of those rare times when I don't mind so much.

        One thing you might do is make your contexts more precise in terms of what tools you have available. If you've got your spreadsheet software open, for example, it makes sense to get all your spreadsheet work done in one hit. Ditto your word processing software, and definitely ditto for your email software.

        I'd strongly recommend having an @Email context, and being strict with yourself with regard to email. Check it once or twice a day only, and do all your emailing in those sessions. Email is one of the biggest time-suckers on the planet: it can eat up a couple of hours a day, when you combine the time spent constantly checking it with the time it takes for you to regain concentration. It can take up to 15 minutes to regain your focus, so you only need to be distracted by that infernal little email bell four times and you've lost an hour of productivity.

        Another option is to classify not by your physical context, but by your mental context. That is, have a list of things that you can do when you're feeling sparky, a list you can work from when you're coasting, and a list you can work from when you're brain-dead. That way, you're making the best use of your time, all the time.

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        • #5
          Email is a tough one.

          I have tried limiting my reading to a few specific times per day. Trouble is, I work closely with people who use it like a phone for time-sensitive issues. So I have to choose between remaining 'plugged-in' and available, or disconnected and out of the loop.

          You make good points about getting into flow. Trouble is, I work on stuff where 'the pieces of the answer' are fragmented across many people, and where I have to constantly interrupt others, and allow them to interrupt me, to accomplish anything.

          What some of my colleagues do is work 'after hours' just so they can have a few hours of uninterrupted time. I would rather not 'go there' -- but of course that leaves me with a fragmented day where getting into flow is a rarity.

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          • #6
            I appreciate your frustrations regarding email. I've gently educated some of my co-workers that I simply don't check email frequently. They've adjusted.

            One good way is by sending an email to a few of these folks, explaining that, due to your workload, you only check email at certain intervals. In my experience, at least, people have been very understanding.

            Comment


            • #7
              What I try to do is to dedicate half my day to fragmented, interruption-generating work, like email and phone calls, and the other half to highly focused work.

              Now the nature of my work is that most potential interruptions are non-urgent and can be deferred, which helps. Still, you may find that your coworkers are also desperate for concentration time, and would enthusiastically embrace a plan to create it.

              Katherine

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              • #8
                I set up my email notification to notify me of email only from the few key people that I'm currently working with. If I'm currently working with Bob, Pavel, and Suresh, then I get notified of email from them and from my boss. If the next project requires working with Liza, Pavel, and Cathy, then Liza and Cathy get added to the notification list and Bob and Suresh get removed.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by unstuffed View Post
                  One thing you might do is make your contexts more precise in terms of what tools you have available. If you've got your spreadsheet software open, for example, it makes sense to get all your spreadsheet work done in one hit. Ditto your word processing software, and definitely ditto for your email software.

                  Another option is to classify not by your physical context, but by your mental context. That is, have a list of things that you can do when you're feeling sparky, a list you can work from when you're coasting, and a list you can work from when you're brain-dead. That way, you're making the best use of your time, all the time.
                  The @particular software program is something I really need create. It happens too often that I was working in Excel or another program only to discover later I could've done a few other tasks in there. I also like the brain-dead list. This may come in handy during my snoozy early afternoon time.

                  Re @email, I think it's important to be very organized here; it can get away from you. Frequently I need supporting docs to answer an email. Mostly I do emails in chunks of time. If I don't, I envision myself as one of those texting addicts on tv or in the movies that is continuously and furiously texting back and forth on a handheld device. However, I do answer emails properly or else I will be non-stop on the phone.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Thanks for the suggestions.

                    I am now doing well with about six contexts.

                    These contexts are optimized for an environment where you bring a laptop home with you that requires a slow reboot both at work and at home because of the differing environments I hook into:

                    workNoComputerRequired
                    work
                    errand
                    home
                    computer (a 'non-work' task that could be done anywhere there is a computer)
                    newoffice

                    before going home at night, I ensure I have doable tasks for workNoComputerRequired -- sometimes I have to print something. This is great for my slow computer boot in the morning.

                    work is work, whether I do it in the office or at home

                    home are actions that require me to be at home

                    computer is a non-work item that could be done anytime I am at a computer, either work or home

                    errand and newoffice are self explanatory

                    My next actions now have a little more clarity and focus.

                    Thanks,
                    Arc

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                    • #11
                      Thanks for sharing your list, ArcCaster. Sometimes seeing the lists of other players clarifys a lot, so I find.

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                      • #12
                        Agreed.

                        My current contexts are At Home, At Work, On Laptop, and On Errands.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Some detail: I have all my context lists in a single Word file -- currently, it is less than a page.

                          I sort them alphabetically using table->sort

                          To make them sort well, and to make them intuitive, I use the following prefixes for my action items:

                          aa
                          aanocom
                          computer
                          errand
                          home
                          newoffice

                          aa is work; aanocom is work where a computer is not required

                          As I complete them, I put an X in front -- at the end of the day, I sort again (so the Xs drop to the bottom of the list), then I cut and paste everything at the top of the list into my list for the next day.

                          Because a PDA makes me feel too controlled, mine is setting unused in a drawer. Before I go home, I select the open action items, then do a Print->Selection, and take the printout home with me. Paper works fine when I am out of work, because new action items are generally infrequent enough that it is not a burden to capture them with a pencil and enter them into the computer the next day.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            My Current Contexts

                            Currently, my contexts consist of:

                            Anywhere - Can be done anywhere I can write something, whether it be done on scrap paper, a BlackBerry note or whatever.

                            Calls - mostly for general phone calls. Work phone calls go into that category, as I'm usually either at my desk or have my BlackBerry, or they get replaced by email.

                            Computer - Tasks to be done at the computer, doesn't make a difference where

                            Errands - as the name suggests

                            Home - Anything at home, could be computer based

                            Work - Pretty much anything and everything at work

                            Waiting Fors

                            All in all, nothing really out of the ordinary, but I find that it works for me.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Nice -- I've added your Calls, Anywhere, and WaitingFor (along with your definitions of them -- for example, work calls are work, any other calls are calls) to my single Word file.

                              This forum (and the contributions of its members) really helps to weave these lists into a system that is starting to look simply elegant. Thanks.

                              Arc

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