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I'm not sold on contexts

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  • I'm not sold on contexts

    I suppose that this concept is very helpful to some people, but frankly, I am fairly mobile and there are very few things I need to be in a particular context to do.

    So, of course, I worry that I am misunderstanding and missing out on an important GTD concept!

    @Calls? I can make those anywhere. I don't need to designate things as calls.

    @Computer? Between my iphone, Powerbook and desktop it is rare that I can't do something on my computer.

    @internet makes some sense, because I don't always have access to my network.

    And there are projects where I need my file to do a task, so I tried using @file. (The file can be anywhere of course, my office, my dining room table, a courthouse cafeteria. . .)

    I've used contexts for people, i.e. @Bob, to keep track of projects I am working on with Bob.

    But, having tried those couple of contexts, plus @errands, I really didn't feel that I was getting a decent return for the effort of keeping that other data point in my system.

    Am I missing something, or just making appropriate adaptions for my own situation?

  • #2
    Originally posted by pdaly View Post
    Am I missing something, or just making appropriate adaptions for my own situation?
    Maybe, maybe not. Aside from mentioning that you are fairly mobile, you don't say anything about your own situation. I find that about 90% of my work can be done at work or in my home office. This is basically @computer, although I don't call it that. I also have @home, @work, and @errands as physical contexts. This is essential: when I'm at work, I need to see the things that I can only do there, and do them. Not too many physical contexts! However, I have other "contexts" in my list manager: Meetings/Events (these are scheduled professional meetings and lectures, which entail future projects), Outings (these are things like museum exhibitions, which have a time window), People (agendas), Responsibilities (ongoing job responsibilities), Roles and Goals (20K-50K stuff in GTD), Someday/Maybe, and Waiting For. Some of these could be in a separate list manager, but there's no advantage to doing that. A lot of this has evolved with time, and will probably continue to change.

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    • #3
      A context is merely a location, tool or person that is needed to perform an action. That's the first limiting factor in deciding what you can do at any given moment, so that's why lists are organized that way in GTD. If you need to be at home to do an action and you're not, tuck that list away.

      For actions that don't require a specific location, person or tool there's the @Anywhere context. I suppose you could use that context for things that you can do with your iPhone as long as you keep it with you at all times. I wouldn't do that myself, but that doesn't make it wrong.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
        However, I have other "contexts" in my list manager: Meetings/Events (these are scheduled professional meetings and lectures, which entail future projects), Outings (these are things like museum exhibitions, which have a time window), People (agendas), Responsibilities (ongoing job responsibilities), Roles and Goals (20K-50K stuff in GTD), Someday/Maybe, and Waiting For. Some of these could be in a separate list manager, but there's no advantage to doing that. A lot of this has evolved with time, and will probably continue to change.
        Are these "contexts" more like folders or projects? I'm curious because my situation is fairly similar to yours and the OP's. 90% of what I need to do can get done at my office, so I really only have three main contexts: @work, @home, and @errands.

        But the idea of these other contexts you listed is intriguing, because it seems to hybridize projects and contexts. Is that correct? How's that worked for you?

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by pdaly View Post
          I suppose that this concept is very helpful to some people, but frankly, I am fairly mobile and there are very few things I need to be in a particular context to do.
          .....

          Am I missing something, or just making appropriate adaptions for my own situation?
          Well, I think you may be missing the power of contexts. I live and work in the same place. I can basically choose a context to be in. I may have to adapt based on weather (can't do outside tasks easily when it's a blizzard) but in general I can do most everything at any time. I also carry a phone with me all the time. Yet I find contexts very powerful and use them a lot. I create, use and then delete contexts as my needs change.

          The power for me is to keep me on track and focused. There is a huge waste of effort when you change contexts frequently. A graphic example is if I have a bunch of inside tasks and a bunch of outside tasks and I decide to do one outside task. So I get my insulated coveralls on, my boots, my hat, gloves etc. Now I can go outside and work. I finish the one task I had and then come in and do an inside task. I have to take off all my cold weather gear. Now I want to do another outside task so I put it all back on again. If instead I get ready, go outside, do the first task AND WHILE I AM STILL IN THAT CONTEXT take a quick look at my @outside by myself list I can then pick one or more additional tasks that need to be done outside and save myself a lot of wasted time getting ready and cleaning up.

          Now my inside/outside example is obvious, but you may not realize the same level of get ready and clean up sorts of tasks happen when you change contexts even in one place. Sometimes it's only mental get ready/clean up that causes the problem not physical stuff but it still happens. Right now I am sitting at my desk. I have my computer, phone, list manager, scanner, printer, Windows machine, internet connection, paper based desk stuff and more available to me. I can sit here and write a forum message (@computer internet) then swivel around and decide to scan a file of archive material, then boot up Windows and add one lamb or I can respond here, move to the next forum message I want to respond to, check my ravelry forums and any other forums I read regularly. I stay in the mental zone of reading and responding to peoples messages. I know I will be reading and then writing and that is a similar mental task.

          That takes a fair amount of mental energy so next I'll grab a bunch of files and start scanning. I can refer to my checklist of how to set up the scanner and only have to do it once. It's a sort of braindead action so I use it as a break between more intensive tasks. I get bored with that after a while (happens to me a lot) so I decide to turn around and lay out a months worth of scrapbook pages. I am now looking at colors and layout not written words. This also takes a fair amount of brain power so it is a more intensive task. Then maybe I need a complete break so I get up and go over and put a few pieces in my puzzle. Now I'm using the spatial and pattern matching parts of my brain. Each time I change contexts I have to reset my brain for a different type of thinking. Do that too often and you waste a lot of time and energy and never get as much done.

          So now I use contexts so I can focus better and get more accomplished in the same amount of time. That then allows me to spend the time playing with a puzzle in mid day, or taking and hour to lay out some scrapbook stuff or knit a few rows on a project without the stress of worrying whether I have done all the "work" stuff I need to. I use the time saved to do things for me. I find that because I can do a bunch of similar items at once I move forward more of my projects each time I work in a context and so I get a lot more projects done and finished.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Mischka View Post
            Are these "contexts" more like folders or projects? I'm curious because my situation is fairly similar to yours and the OP's. 90% of what I need to do can get done at my office, so I really only have three main contexts: @work, @home, and @errands.

            But the idea of these other contexts you listed is intriguing, because it seems to hybridize projects and contexts. Is that correct? How's that worked for you?
            No hybridization or ambiguity. I also have a projects list, too. The other lists are stuff I need to track:

            Meetings/Events- this is in addition to my calendar. I want a holistic picture of my scheduled professional commitments. These give rise to projects: planning trips, preparing talks, expense reports. It's a specialized list. As I recall, David Allen does something similar for his presentations.

            Outings- another specialized list. I break it out from someday/maybe because of the time windows involved.

            People- standard agendas list

            Responsibilities- I have (too many) ongoing administrative responsibilities. I think of these as sitting at "15K", between projects and areas of focus. Most of these are university commitees I sit on or chair. Some give rise to projects, some give rise to actions, e.g., read proposal before meeting. These are not areas of focus, because I don't want to focus on them. It's like using an org chart as a checklist.

            Roles and Goals (20K-50K stuff in GTD)- areas of focus and goals, standard GTD.

            Someday/Maybe- standard

            Waiting For- standard

            These lists are optimized for a professor at a research university in a large city, and it took time to find out how I wanted to track different things. My advice: when you run across something you need to track, and don't know where to put it, try putting it on a list and see what works for you.

            Comment


            • #7
              Oogie, as usual you are incredibly enlightening.
              I spent most of my time at home as well, 80-90%. I can go days without leaving the house, and weeks without going anywhere more exciting than food shopping.
              I still struggle with contexts a lot. I will have to see if i can manage to categorise my activities a bit better. You are right with the energy needed for switching tasks. It's rather hard work to find the right balance.

              Comment


              • #8
                Thanks to all for your input.

                @mcogilvie - I'm a bit confused, are these lists contexts? For instance, is the "Outings" list a list of locations you will be, i.e. @Yosemite, @Yellowstone, etc?

                Sorry if I'm being dense, my biggest problem right now is not being able to effectively granulate my contexts. When I go to my Omnifocus contexts on my iPhone, I just stare at it because: A) I can't make this phone call here because it's too public, B) I can't plan this out on paper right now because I'm on the subway and there's no room, C) I don't need to talk to Tom right now, I can always email him instead so it's on the record, etc. For some reason, I can't nail down the proper context for the majority of my actions.

                @Oogiem - Would you mind giving us a sample of what your context list looks like? Again, I think I need help visualizing how granulated I need my contexts to be, and what's the best way for me to decide which context an action needs to be under.

                Thank you again everyone!

                Comment


                • #9
                  I'm also fairly mobile and always connected to the Internet. There's no rule that you have to use a lot of contexts, but most people can benefit from at least a couple.

                  @CALLS is a good context not because you need to be near a phone, but because it allows for batch calling. Also, I find sometimes I'm in a "mood" to talk on the phone, and that's when I turn to my @CALLS list.

                  The only other context I use is @ERRANDS, which I consult before heading out on one errand to make sure I can't knock any others off on the way.

                  Contexts can also be useful for things or places you use rarely. In my case I have a @PHOTOSHOP context to keep track of the handful of little image editing tasks I have each month. Then when I do open Photoshop up, it's easy to breeze through the 4 things instead of having to hunt them down in my Next Action list.

                  But yes, contexts like @COMPUTER are silly, and I'd argue against an @INTERNET context (which is damn near everything these days) and instead make an @OFFLINE context for the bit of things you can do during the infrequent times you're offline.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Mischka View Post
                    Sorry if I'm being dense, my biggest problem right now is not being able to effectively granulate my contexts. When I go to my Omnifocus contexts on my iPhone, I just stare at it because: A) I can't make this phone call here because it's too public, B) I can't plan this out on paper right now because I'm on the subway and there's no room, C) I don't need to talk to Tom right now, I can always email him instead so it's on the record, etc. For some reason, I can't nail down the proper context for the majority of my actions.
                    Clearly A, B, and probably C do NOT belong in your @subway context.

                    Instead, they might go in, respectively, @calls, @office, and @email.

                    The idea is to group things that can be done using similar resources. Phone calls and email are obvious choices, but you might also have @barn, @library, or @Microsoft Project. It pays to experiment a bit and see what works for you.

                    It can also help to look at contexts as a way of eliminating things that you can't do. If you're on the subway with someone's elbow in your face, you're going to be very limited in the things that you can actually do. So you don't need to worry about those lists.

                    Katherine

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by MarinaMartin View Post
                      But yes, contexts like @COMPUTER are silly, and I'd argue against an @INTERNET context (which is damn near everything these days) and instead make an @OFFLINE context for the bit of things you can do during the infrequent times you're offline.
                      It can also be useful to deliberately take yourself offline from time to time. That will be easier to do if you have a list of things that you can still get done.

                      Katherine

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by kewms View Post
                        Clearly A, B, and probably C do NOT belong in your @subway context.

                        Instead, they might go in, respectively, @calls, @office, and @email.

                        The idea is to group things that can be done using similar resources. Phone calls and email are obvious choices, but you might also have @barn, @library, or @Microsoft Project. It pays to experiment a bit and see what works for you.

                        It can also help to look at contexts as a way of eliminating things that you can't do. If you're on the subway with someone's elbow in your face, you're going to be very limited in the things that you can actually do. So you don't need to worry about those lists.

                        Katherine
                        Thanks Catherine. Actually, (A) is in the @calls context, (B) is in the @anywhere context, (C) is in @Tom. That said, I think there probably should be a @subway context, that's a really good idea now that I think about it. Planning could probably be something like @desk.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Mischka View Post
                          When I go to my Omnifocus contexts on my iPhone, I just stare at it because: A) I can't make this phone call here because it's too public, B) I can't plan this out on paper right now because I'm on the subway and there's no room, C) I don't need to talk to Tom right now, I can always email him instead so it's on the record, etc.
                          Your problem areas are good clues for potential contexts...

                          A) Sounds like you need a @PrivatePlace context for that phone call

                          B) How about @Desk or @KitchenTable or @BigOldFlatSurface?

                          C) This one is simple... @email

                          What you need to ask is "What place, tools, or people do I need to have in order to get this done?" That will dictate your contexts. The ones DA gives in the book are really just suggestions based on what he thinks most people can start with. In the end, you have to make them your own.

                          The big breakthrough for me with respect to contexts came when I was working remotely for a client. There were a bunch of things I needed to do over their VPN; it was slow and painful to wait for it to connect over our network. Before context lists, I would spend 3 minutes logging in to the VPN, do something, logout, then move on to something else. Ten minutes later, I would be back to logging into the VPN - another 3 minutes wasted. Repeat again a half hour later. Once I realized that I could group my tasks into a @VPN context, I was able to rip through a bunch of stuff all at once because my @VPN list told me everything I needed to do while I was there. Saved me sooo much time each day! It also saved me from having to look at that list of to-do's while I wasn't on the VPN.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Mischka View Post
                            Thanks Catherine. Actually, (A) is in the @calls context, (B) is in the @anywhere context, (C) is in @Tom. That said, I think there probably should be a @subway context, that's a really good idea now that I think about it. Planning could probably be something like @desk.
                            Your example just demonstrated that you really *can't* do B @anywhere, though, since you can't do it on the subway. This is precisely why I'm suspicious of the @anywhere context. @desk, @office, or @bigflatsurface sound like good alternatives to me.

                            Unless you routinely have lots of items for Tom, you may not want an @Tom context, or you might want to save it for face-to-face meetings. @phone or @email might work better for individual tasks. But that's really a personal preference.

                            Katherine

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Mischka View Post
                              @Oogiem - Would you mind giving us a sample of what your context list looks like? Again, I think I need help visualizing how granulated I need my contexts to be, and what's the best way for me to decide which context an action needs to be under.
                              Right now my contexts are fairly limited:

                              @Inside with help
                              @Outside with help
                              @Inside by Myself
                              @Outside by Myself
                              @computer Mac
                              @computer internet
                              @computer Windows
                              @Phone
                              @Phone Business Hours
                              @local town
                              @city (75 miles away, we go once a month to do shopping)
                              And then a set of contexts one each for the 4 main people I have items to discuss, my version of agendas.

                              But I will make, use and delete contexts as often s I need to. In summer I often have a context for each field & both barns and the shop as separate contexts for things I can only do in those places. Right now most are sufficient to be @outside either with or without help but that will change come summer.

                              If I have a major set of computer tasks to do I may make an @ particular software application for those tasks.

                              If you read your lists and discover that in spite of being in that context you can't do all the things on the list take a few moments to capture why you can't do them. Then when you process those notes you may discover how to create more appropriate contexts for your work.

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