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My never ending struggle with contexts

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  • My never ending struggle with contexts

    I am trying, again, to implement GTD. I have tried unsuccessfully a number of times. One thing I learned in past attempts is that I pay a lot more attention to my lists if I use a paper system for everything except my calender and contacts (smartphone) because I have to think more about them when I write them than I do when I type them. But I am running in to my same problem with contexts that I have had in the past.

    I basically wear three different hats, or have three basic jobs, each with their own tasks and active projects. Except for meetings, I am in my office at all times and all work occurs there. All three of them require all tasks to basically be @office because they require a combination of phone or computer with hardcopy files that must remain in the office. I cannot perform tasks from "any phone" or "any computer", except for a few personal tasks. Because of this my @office context becomes huge with 95% of all tasks in the same context and it creates difficulty picking out an activity to perform because the list is so long.

    I understand that the DA recommended contexts are just a starting point, but I can't seem to land contexts that work for me.

    I'm looking for suggestions from others. I really want to make this work.

  • #2
    Cherryl1 this is a common issue, and it is the reason we need to watch the contexts, my question will be to see what you do @ the office.

    In my case, I have 3 computers, many hats, travel 60% of the time, manage a lot of things therefore I have many hats and context.

    My context as Follow:
    @Wife
    @Agendas_Work (only with work people)
    @Agendas_Important Costumer (5 of them)
    @Agendas_Personal
    @Agendas_Side-Business
    @Calls (any phone, anywhere)
    @Computer (any computer, anywhere)
    @Computerhome (only on this machine)
    @Computerwork (only on this machine)
    @Computer other (only on this machine)
    @Work_calls
    @Work_Actions
    @Work_Office (Need to be in the office to do this)
    @Work_Planning
    @Errands
    @Home
    @Home_Cleaning and Maintenance

    As you see, everytime I get a context that have many actions I ask myself 2 questions
    1. I am neglecting this Context? Why?
    2.- Did this context need to me more precise? How?

    Hope this helps.

    Comment


    • #3
      Contexts can be difficult!

      Hi Cheryll1,

      I am in the midst of integrating DIT with GTD (see my post from last week on this). I too have struggled greatly with contexts as the vast majority of the time, I have all of the standard contexts available to me in my office -- computer, phone, etc. However, I am trying again like you in making these work. I have the following contexts:

      @Office/Computer
      @Computer/Laptop
      @1:1 meetings
      @Anywhere
      @Errands
      @Online/Email
      @Home
      @Someday/Maybe
      @Waiting For

      The first two need explaining. There are many things I do on the computer --writing manuscripts, doing data analyses, etc. that I need files that are only in my office -- hence the designation office/computer. However, there are many things I do on the computer that I can also take with me and continue on my laptop. I think carefully about this when I assign the context. The @Anywhere context is just that -- things I can review, plan, ponder over with a table of paper virtually anywhere. Paul@Pittsburgh gave me an excellent answer on my post last week about how he is in the office ~70% of the time and all contexts come into play. He now uses the time available and priority parts of the decision-making process since context no longer can rule things out. But he also uses Areas of Focus -- a brilliant idea -- to help make choices on what to choose to do next. I am now doing that as well and it works! For example, when I put on my scholar hat, I only do next actions listed, regardless of context, related to scholarly activity.

      At any rate, contexts can be helpful in some cases where they are obvious, but if you put in the effort, I think you can make it work.

      Best regards,
      -Longstreet

      Comment


      • #4
        Hi Cheryl1,
        I find myself in a similar situation as yours context-wise. As a home-worker "time available" did not help. Priority is too relative, and is better clarified on 10k-level (Is this SdMb or active project?), though sometimes a NA sticks out as clearly urgent. Energy does not help either, when I sorted my NAs by energy, all I learned was how to talk myself into laziness by suggesting to self not having enough enerby for doing this or that. I too want to make this work, mainly because I hate the alternative, the daily list, with a passion. But also because contexts worked fine for me when I had a corporate job in the city. Although the productivity-junkie in me is not entirely happy with our set-up so far, our inner pragmatist feels pretty content these days.

        I divided my @office-list into three parts:
        - work on projects with deadlines {in the next 60 days [or so])
        - standard @office-NAs
        - work on pure processing / thinking / reseaching / mind-mapping - projects (ie I am clear on concept XY / I formed an opinion on issue XYZ)

        Naturally the first division has the highest turnover of NAs and the third is the slow paced one.

        I also schedule one hour of work on my most important project at the beginning of the day, this reduces the number of items on the @office-list as well. I am still unsure on how to handle @agendas.

        The Area-of-Focus thing mentioned by two earlier posters is IMHO a case of mental context. A mental context is a real thing: it takes an effort of ~15 min concentrated, un-interrupted work to "load" a mental context into your head. Surely a mental context can be defined by Area-of-Focus / Role, but Type-of-Work (eg writing Java-code in Eclipse, drawing with pen on paper) or Project (that quarterly report thang) are also possibilities.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by cheryll1 View Post
          I cannot perform tasks from "any phone" or "any computer", except for a few personal tasks. Because of this my @office context becomes huge with 95% of all tasks in the same context and it creates difficulty picking out an activity to perform because the list is so long.
          Maintaining dual systems is usually counterproductive, but in this instance it might to be the most practical way to break up your calls, computer tasks, and agendas into separate context lists.

          You might want to experiment with keeping your non-office lists on a separate page that you can insert and detach from a looseleaf notebook, allowing you do add review, ignore or review non-office tasks when appropriate. You can carry this sheet with you at the end of the day, leaving the notebook behind. If you suddenly realize that something needs to be added to your office lists when you don't have access to your notebook, capture it on the flip side of your sheet and process it at the office in the morning; or email/call in a reminder to your office workstation from your smartphone.

          Comment


          • #6
            Focus to choose an action

            Hi,

            I would still suggest not dividing your physical context list further by any more criteria. Just as you said, dividing them by "at phone" or "at computer" would be artificial if you really have to do it at office. (On the other hand, if two different lists make sense, then they might have an overlap in certain contexts, and what I am writing below applies to the combined list then.)

            If you do the weekly review regularly, and are clear about your areas of focus (hats), then you will be clear about what are the important or urgent projects that you are working on, for the next week. Finding out related actions from the actions list becomes easier.

            I did an experiment just a minute ago for this post: I reviewed my "office" list and timed it. I reviewed each action, imagined myself doing it, and recalled what project it belonged to (in order to make sure that I am not glancing over it without understanding what it is). Right now I have 49 actions on it, and it took a little less than three minutes to do this. (Comes to 3.6 seconds per action on an average; individual actions' time varies widely.) And this was without the "priority antennas" tuned, for the sake of experiment. If you are looking for an action appropriate for doing now, it will be even faster, since you will be automatically ignoring many actions which are not priority, or do not fit the time-energy situation.

            A recent post on GTDTimes (find the link through www.davidco.com) quoted DA saying that a lot can be achieved by an intense focus for two minutes; I tend to think that this is one of them.

            Hope this helps,
            Regards,
            Abhay

            Comment


            • #7
              If you only have one context, then you only have one context. That's fine.

              If you have so many Actions that they're overwhelming your view, you have too many Actions. You may need to defer or delegate some work.

              Is there anything that you could push off to next week? If so, how about putting it in your Someday/Maybe list, focusing on other work now, and revisiting it during your next Weekly Review?

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by cheryll1 View Post
                my @office context becomes huge with 95% of all tasks in the same context and it creates difficulty picking out an activity to perform because the list is so long.

                I understand that the DA recommended contexts are just a starting point, but I can't seem to land contexts that work for me.

                I'm looking for suggestions from others. I really want to make this work.
                Cheryll1,

                I struggle with this problem too, particularly with my @Home list. I've found that once a context list grows beyond about 30 items, I have difficulty making intuitive choices off those lists because there's too much from which to choose. I suggest attacking this issue from multiple angles at once.

                First, create additional contexts that you need to more efficiently dispatch your work when you're in the office. You want as many as you absolutely need, but no more. As a Palm user, I'm limited to 15 categories, so I have to choose carefully.

                For example, I find it helpful to see all of my actions that have to be done on my home computer in one place. Instead of putting those tasks on my @Home list (like I used to when I did GTD "by the book") and hunting for them amongst housekeeping, home improvement, and other @Home actions, I created a context called @Home-Computer. By organizing my work in that manner, I shrunk my @Home list by a third and I make better use of my computer time.

                Perhaps you might try contexts like @Office-Computer and @Office-Calls if you have lots of computer activities and calls that you can only perform when you're in the office.

                Second, pare down the list as much as possible. As Brent indicated, you simply may have too many actions. Delegate what you can and defer things that can wait for a couple of weeks to Someday/Maybe. If the list is still too long after that, identify things that could be handled in less than fifteen minutes and highlight or tag them somehow. Then attack those items to "clear the decks" and get the list down to a manageable size. You'll get some quick wins along the way, too.

                Comment


                • #9
                  These have all been very helpful answers and I reallly appreciate all your replies and guidance. They have provided me with other options.

                  Longstreet: I went back and read your posts regarding GTD and DIT and plan to purchase the DIT book to get another perspective. A combination of the two might be something to consider.

                  CPU Modern: I am also giving some thought to your comment regarding splitting up your @office list. I may need to separate mine in line with my "three hats". Two of the three are very data intensive requiring downloads from systems, data conversions, pivot tables, Excel functions, analysis, and reporting. These two (although unreleated) require extended periods of concentration and focus and I pretty much have to be the the "groove" for that specific role. They make up the "big rocks" in my work life and I think separating them from the smaller requests / tasks (pebbles) that come in from others might be helpful to me.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by cheryll1 View Post
                    Two of the three are very data intensive requiring downloads from systems, data conversions, pivot tables, Excel functions, analysis, and reporting. These two (although unreleated) require extended periods of concentration and focus and I pretty much have to be the the "groove" for that specific role. They make up the "big rocks" in my work life and I think separating them from the smaller requests / tasks (pebbles) that come in from others might be helpful to me.
                    I split my @computer into two contexts @program and @pc: those that pertain to certain programs and everything else computer. It made a big difference. When I was in one of the my programs, I could more quickly do other tasks in that context. This especially works if you want to get rid of a few smaller NAs within a particular program.

                    I have to say though that this was more important when the programs took longer to open and operate. With new pcs and connections, things move much quicker.

                    Comment

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