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  • Contexts, moods, ADD, and working from home

    When I started using GTD (via MyLifeOrganized), I was largely focused on music studies, and I had a large house in the suburbs with lots of rooms.

    MLO makes it easy for contexts to include other contexts, so I had a nice system that basically gave me contexts for each of the resources I might need to do tasks (Internet, phone, etc), as well as each room I would tend to be in. (I have ADD, and if I'm not in the right room, I practically have to schedule myself an appointment to get there.)

    So my old context list includes:

    Day Calls
    Night Calls
    Home
    Office
    Computer
    Errands
    Buy
    Piano
    School
    Studio
    Homework

    (Homework could be done at School or in the Office. Anything needing a Piano could get done at School or in the Studio.)

    I also had a few "plus" versions called Home+ and School+. If I wanted to maximize my "uniquely available" time, I'd tell MLO I was at Home or School, and see only the items for those two contexts. If I wanted to see anything that was available in that context, I'd choose Home+ and School+, and now all my computer, calls, etc. tasks would show up.

    This worked amazingly well at the time. The contexts were separate enough and granular enough that I didn't get too many tasks thrown at me at once when I looked at my to-do list, but yet the context-onomy was simple enough that I knew which one to assign to a task.

    Fast-forward. I'm still (occasionally) studying music, but I no longer have a separate studio, and I'm living in a one-bedroom, one-office apartment downtown. Mostly, I'm a contract programmer working from home, doing non-specific tasks at non-specific hours, and spending the rest of the time brushing up on various computer skills.

    So "rooms" aren't really contexts anymore, because there's much less to distract me between the two rooms. And a great deal of my tasks - phone calls (day OR night), office work, billpaying, really anything except errands and housecleaning - takes place in the exact same chair at the exact same desk, in front of the computer, with all the same resources. About the only divider is whether or not need to change out of the pajamas...

    So I'm a bit stuck. I know some folks have had success with the near-elimination of contexts, but I find it incredibly motivating to have a "hook" to hang a group of tasks on, aside from their related project, and I don't want to lose that. I don't know if that's as true for non-ADDers, but it helps me find "flow" (debate about whether flow is truly "flow" left to another thread).

    A friend of mine, studying for med school, found a similar problem when trying to study in her one-room bedroom/office/closet in a tiny NYC apartment. She's discovered that there are certain "environmental cues" you can set up For instance, when she's studying for MCATs, she drinks ginger tea. Now, if she starts losing focus among the leaning piles of books, papers, grocery bags, and laundry on her 3-x-4-foot desk, she takes a sip of tea, and her brain says "Ah! Ginger tea! We must be in study mode". Pretty darn clever way of using the brain's associations with senses and moods. It's an adult version of "thinking caps", I suppose. Anyway, my point was that contexts can help enforce or even create those boundaries.

    Back to my problem. Since I can't really use places as contexts (too few), and I can't use resources as contexts (too ubiquitous), and I'm just no good at setting aside "12-3pm is phone call time", I need to look elsewhere for inspiration to create a proper context-onomy.

    I liked one poster's idea about "creative" vs "dragging", and "how much time" - in fact, MLO pulls out "time available" into its own field, so you can already filter out tasks that would take longer than you have available. I like the "Create" vs 'dragging", though, and I'm wondering - have other people organized their contexts in a mood, mind-set, and disposition basis?

  • #2
    Originally posted by Jay Levitt View Post
    For instance, when she's studying for MCATs, she drinks ginger tea. Now, if she starts losing focus among the leaning piles of books, papers, grocery bags, and laundry on her 3-x-4-foot desk, she takes a sip of tea, and her brain says "Ah! Ginger tea! We must be in study mode".
    Yep, and there's a fair number of experts who recommend using this sort of cue. Since you've only got a weeny apartment, you probably don't even have the option of setting up 'stations' at your desk, to at least get you facing a different direction. So cues using senses other than visual would probably be best: maybe put on different music for different types of activities. Once your subconscious begins to associate the cue with the activity, you can (kind of) trigger the activity using the cue.

    Originally posted by Jay Levitt View Post
    I liked one poster's idea about "creative" vs "dragging", and "how much time" - in fact, MLO pulls out "time available" into its own field, so you can already filter out tasks that would take longer than you have available. I like the "Create" vs 'dragging", though, and I'm wondering - have other people organized their contexts in a mood, mind-set, and disposition basis?
    Yep. For a while I had my action categories broken up into @Nice and @Nasty. The @Nice group contained everything that either represented something good, or was just a task I enjoyed doing. The @Nasty was things that were unpleasant or had unpleasant connotations.

    This had two surprise bonuses. Firstly, whenever I chose something out of the Nice file, I'd find myself thinking "Why did I put this in here?". Which then reminded me of why I'd thought it was Nice-worthy, which then made me a bit happy.

    The second bonus was that I actually got more things done out of my @Nasty file than out of my @Nice file. I'd find myself thinking "I feel brave, let's tackle a Nasty one!" whereas previously, if I felt brave, I'd look at my Actions lists and just pick anything. And under this new system, if I felt not-brave, I knew I could look at my Nice list and wouldn't have to see anything icky, whereas previously I'd avoid the lists altogether.

    I've also used @Brain and @NoBrain, for tasks that require me to think versus tasks that I could (probably) do in my sleep. That's helpful too, at appropriate times.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by unstuffed View Post
      Yep, and there's a fair number of experts who recommend using this sort of cue...So cues using senses other than visual would probably be best: maybe put on different music for different types of activities.
      Are there any search terms/books/specific experts you'd recommend I look into? Music's normally a great cue, I know, but between the ADD and my music production background, it's hard for me to get anything done while music's playing. "Ugh, what horrible '80s reverb! That guitar is out of tune. Hey, that sounds like a U47 mic he's singing into. Oh, nice diminished 7th chord."

      For a while I had my action categories broken up into @Nice and @Nasty. The @Nice group contained everything that either represented something good, or was just a task I enjoyed doing. The @Nasty was things that were unpleasant or had unpleasant connotations.
      I like that idea - maybe a @Resistance category I can move things into when they sit around too long.

      Comment


      • #4
        Book recommendation

        I highly recommend "The War of Art". Can't remember the author, but it's like a bible for work-at-home and/or creative types. Helped me tons.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Barb View Post
          I highly recommend "The War of Art". Can't remember the author, but it's like a bible for work-at-home and/or creative types. Helped me tons.
          Oh, wow, what a book:

          The following is a list, in no particular order, of those activities that most commonly elicit Resistance:
          ...5. Any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals.
          Overnight 1-click, baby!

          Comment


          • #6
            Soon to lose my "overnight one click"

            I have an Amazon Kindle on order. This little gadget will change my life! I have to keep up my habit of getting rid of a book or two every time I buy one, though, because I either need to BUY MORE BOOKSHELVES or get rid of some books. I buy more than I read, of course, but I did read "The War of Art" twice. Enjoy!

            Abs? What abs?

            Comment


            • #7
              Jay, in terms of auditory accompaniment, a lot of people recommend pink noise: the sound of waves in particular. Apparently it does something to brain cycles that helps focus. Music generally doesn't, unless it's classical music with a fairly fast tempo:like Vivaldi's Four Seasons Winter, I think. But ocean sounds or forest sounds provide that auditory background that settles the nagging part of your mind without distracting you: anything fractal (natural) will do that.

              There's a good book called Conquering Chronic Disorganization by Edith Kolberg (I think). She talks about some offbeat solutions she's come up with for clients with ADD and various other conditions/situations for whom conventional solutions don't work. You won't necessarily find what you're looking for in there, but you will find some interesting ideas that may spur you to find your own solutions.

              I like use of colour, too. I've got two different colours of folders (purple and orange), where the colour signifies something about the contents. Colours do affect mood, since we've got inbuilt responses to certain colours that go right back to the days we came down out of the trees, so colour is a fast way to trigger a response.

              I remember reading somewhere that the beige colour used in manila folders is almost the worst possible choice if you want to motivate yourself to work: it produces a completely flat response in humans, which is probably your subconscious telling you that even the colour is boring, so what must the insides be like?

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by unstuffed View Post
                I like use of colour, too. I've got two different colours of folders (purple and orange), where the colour signifies something about the contents. Colours do affect mood, since we've got inbuilt responses to certain colours that go right back to the days we came down out of the trees, so colour is a fast way to trigger a response.

                I remember reading somewhere that the beige colour used in manila folders is almost the worst possible choice if you want to motivate yourself to work: it produces a completely flat response in humans, which is probably your subconscious telling you that even the colour is boring, so what must the insides be like?
                I second the use of color (American spelling, Unstuffed, though I completely respect your use of British spelling...). I like green for clients (money coming in), red for accounts I pay on (money going out), blue (my favorite color) for my own creative work, yellow or orange (my unfavorite colors) for anything I don't like, purple (royalty and honor) for family and friends.

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                • #9
                  unstuffed: Thanks for the suggestions. Unfortunately, listening to anything - even (allegedly) pink noise - will get me thinking about the audio quality, speakers, acoustics, etc. To give you some idea: Part of my music production coursework involved daily practice for 45 minutes or so, listening to actual pink noise that had been run through a graphic equalizer, and identifying which single frequency band (slider) was boosted or cut.

                  If I try to listen to a noise/seagull generator now, all I can really do is laugh, because they all sound like clock radios to me... it's a big problem. (I also discovered that most of my CDs really suck when listened to on good speakers.)

                  The colo[u]r is a great idea, though. Maybe I can try changing background colors, visual themes, etc. for different "modes" of work. I already use that on my file folders; black tabs are for closed files, red tabs for occasionally active ones, blue for daily ones. It helps a lot.

                  And I'll check out that book, too. (Barb, War of Art was great!)

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                  • #10
                    Colored File Tabs

                    Jay, I really like the colored tab idea for files. Do you color tab ALL your reference files this way (for example...your A-Z files)?

                    Stacey

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                    • #11
                      Colored tabs

                      Yep. I use an amazingly cool system "straight line" filing system from Smead called "Viewables". I saw it on the shelves one day at Staples. It comes with software (Windows only, I think), 16-label sheets for your printer, and plastic tabs. It'll even remember which labels you've used up already on the page, so you don't have to do 16 at a time.

                      It's totally addictive. I went through and redid all my files with it.

                      Check out http://www.viewables.com.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Wow...and you read it already?

                        Like those Viewables, Jay. Am putting them on the list.

                        Did I read that you already read the War of Art? That was fast!

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                        • #13
                          Barb, you got it - I decided to get off my butt and go walk the seven minutes to my local bookstore instead of waiting for Amazon (go me). I read through it in about an hour, and even saved a few key passages with my newest Universal Capture Tool: a Wizcom InfoScan3Lite pen scanner

                          More on the Viewables: I have one pedestal cabinet (two shallow drawers and a file drawer), and one two-drawer lateral file. In the pedestal file, I have one set of A-Z files for "short term, active" files - mostly bills and invoices that come in the mail every day. Once a year, I gather them up and put them in an annual file box for taxes. They're blue because, well, I like blue.

                          In the lateral file, I have the overall A-Z files, with the GTD-recommended one-file-per-issue. If it's just archival, it's black. If it's a file I will need to go back to, it's red. That way, it's easy to visually find the folder when I take some action on it. It also serves as a double-check on my projects list; if there's a red folder, there should also be a next action on it somewhere. That's really the reason I do it.

                          I also keep all my instruction manuals in a few box folders; those are a different color, just so I can create a "section" in the filing cabinet instead of having to create a different drawer.

                          I have a few minor nits with Viewables, mostly related to how much I suck at putting labels on the tabs without wrinkling them. But I haven't found anything nearly as good. The hardest part is coming up with folder labels; the main title can only be 24 characters. I have about six different insurance policies between car, home, business, investment property, etc., and I've had to shorten that down to "Ins" so I can include both the underwriting company and the, um, other one.

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                          • #14
                            Toys

                            You seem to like toys as much as I do. I have an Amazon Kindle on order and I'm about to POP waiting for it! I'm going on a NY's cruise...sure wish I could get it before then.

                            I'm hoping to cut down on the "paper based" books I buy...I have no more room! I have a rule, too: for every book I buy, TWO have to go!

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Yeah, I thought about the Kindle, but the problem is, I keep books (I can't bear to throw them out, though I admire you for doing so). In five years or so, anything I buy for a Kindle will be obsolete and I'll have to buy it again, just like Google Video Store, or the eBooks I bought for my Palm a few years ago.

                              I'm waiting for a DRM-free eBook. It'll happen, just like it's starting to with music. I'm glad Amazon's taking the first step, but it's not for me yet.

                              And, yes, I love toys.. sometimes a new gadget will help make an old task fun again.

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