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StefMercury 2011-06-01 02:07 PM

Multiple Contexts or people as attributes - Asked a 1000 times - Humour me!
So, OF doesn't support multiple contexts...and from the raging debates I have read elsewhere, GTD doesn't seem to support them either. I know the whole tagging / multiple context has been debated...debated some more...and then some more again. Please humour me:

So, can anyone give me a real world explanation as to why the following fails:

Phone Bob about XYZ --- @Phone

So, this single action task appears in the @Phone context.

But - in the real world Bob calls me for something else. Now that I'm on the phone to Bob, I check OF to see whether or not I should be talking to him about anything else -- makes sense, right, as I have him on the phone.

The natural thing would be to check @Bob ---- of course, nothing would appear.

And of course, if the task above was put on @Bob, the next time I am sitting by a phone and look at my @Phone contexts, the task above doesn't appear!

It seems to me that, at the very least, if GTD does not support or advocate multiple contexts, then almost certainly people must surely be an attribute (optional) of any task and recognised as such. Using hierarchical contexts seems to me to make the entire context thing overly complex.

In the real world example above, I cannot see how GTD cannot support multiple contexts OR make people as an attribute of those tasks? Unless I am being thick, I cannot see how OF, as good as it is, allows for the scenario above which is completely real world...searching an OF database is not the answer....

I am not advocating tagging...

So, if Bob happens to call me, why will OF make me choose between putting this task on the @Bob or @Phone context, in which I will miss this task in both of the scenarios above?

A lot of real world tasks will often involve some form of communication - whether sending something physical (a letter), a text msg, phone call, email, face to face....but as communication can cross many boundaries * AND * the communication can be in reverse (they happen to bump into you or call you), it seems to me contexts fall flat on their face.

I guess I am saying when it comes to other people being related to a task in GTD, ONE context fails unless the system recognises people as not being a context but rather an attribute or group.

Or - put another way - contexts fail because they focus on YOU doing when in fact an event can occur in reverse (e.g. someone calls you) whereby you don't have a context in which to look for related tasks to that individual who has called you and whilst you have them on the phone, wouldn't it be nice to use that time and clear any tasks that involve that individual?

Brian 2011-06-01 04:16 PM

Our attitude isn't "multiple contexts is not true GTD and therefore is verboten by the word of Davidco" or anything. We just think that the current approach, combined with the search field, covers the majority of our customers' workflows sufficiently well [I]for the time being[/I].

There are absolutely some edge cases out there - and for some folks, those edge cases are the majority of their work, so I can see how the current situation could be irksome. For the customer base as a whole, though, we don't think this feature should cause us to ignore what is by far the most common feedback we've gotten over the last couple of years: "make the app simpler and easier to use".

In our opinion, the additional benefit for some people isn't worth the additional complication this would add for everyone. (Either the feature is enabled for everyone, or we give the folks that don't use it another preference to look at/worry about/accidentally enable/be confused by. We dislike both of those approaches.)

Our plan has been and continues to be to stick with a single-context approach, but make the database even more search-friendly. See [URL=""]this post[/URL] by Ken for a description of what we'd ultimately like to do.

Jay6821 2011-06-01 05:55 PM

I agree with StefMercury on this one. A people function, much like Things implements would be very useful to me. I have a lot of projects and actions and have learned to manage them with 1 context. However, I also have over 100 people who report to me, so it would be very useful to find stuff by "people" also and not just context.

DrJJWMac 2011-06-02 05:40 PM

I would also like to have a better way to incorporate people as done in Things. My approach now is to create specific folders for the people that I oversee, mentor, and otherwise have assigned projects. In relation to the question of having to call Bob about XYZ, that would go in Bob's folder under the Single Action project with the @phone context. Should Bob call, my approach would be to say "OK, let me just check your folder to see if anything else is pending ...". A better approach would be to be able to assign the task the @phone context AND a team-member Bob, where I would then be able to check the team member Bob instead of the folder Bob.

In this regard, my thought is, the next big step in GTD apps could be bringing the masses a clean approach to GTD interactively as part of a team. Consider this idea in the context of a family wanting to track multiple tasks cooperatively. Everyone in the family (even the dog and cat) has an iX device of some sort. OK, make it work. Some of the higher end apps that I looked at for team-work seemed to be very intense in this framework, almost to the point of needing a personal software trainer just to keep up with it. Reading between the lines of the forums for Things as well as the blog posts, Things seems to have a team-work app in mind for its future development. So, again, having a better way in OF to map PEOPLE as team members would seem to be a good thing.

Otherwise, as far as multiple contexts (aka tags in Things), they certainly broaden the scope of what you can do for filtering tasks. However, for my personal use, the lack of multiple tags in OF is more than made up for by the ability in OF to organize my tasks by parallel or sequential groups.

StefMercury 2011-06-03 01:31 PM

Thanks Brian - I do fully understand what you're saying - I think the meta data would be really useful for lots of people and I hope you implement this.

On the subject of complexity, surely this type of stuff could be something in preferences that you have to switch on first...then those of us that want the extra complexity have the choice :)



clayc 2011-06-05 11:43 PM

what i do is have a context folder called 'communicate' in there I have - email, talk, & phone contexts etc. if you look at the communicate folder context, it shows all forms of communication you might have with someone. bob would show up if you needed to communicate with him somehow if it was to talk in person or by phone or via email. you can search for Bob in your communicate context. that might help?

imlad 2011-06-07 08:56 AM

Brian, I think what happens is that people find imperfect workarounds. The way I deal with the inability to have multiple contexts in the very situation that started this thread is to use the person's name prettiest with $ which is my convention for indicating an additional "person context." So, I create a search on $bob and save it as a Perspective named "Bob" and so, when I have a task that involves calling Bob, I create the task, make @phone the context and Type "Call $bob" in the title.

Thus, once I actually do call Bob, I can go to the $bob perspective and check to see if there was anything else relating to Bob I may want to bring up.

The workaround works with the caveat that I need to make sure I type the search identifier correctly, which I usually do, but would much rather select from a drop down list, as I would in the case of the Context, Project, or date, for that matter.

Based on the discussions in the various threads, and the personal conversations I have had with friends (let alone my personal experience) I really, really, really don't think this is an outlier case. I think the contrary is true.

OF is a great product, and the type of person that persists with it is most probably the type of person that requires the depth of functionality OF provides and actually takes advantage of said depth and said functionality. Some users would come up with the type of workaround to accommodate this very common need, but many others would not. Even for those who do, the workaround always feels like a workaround, a somewhat kludgy compromise.

By not providing a way to relatively easily (little flowers around relatively) categorize a task under more than one category, you are losing potential customers (that I know for certain - again, these are people I know who would not go for the product for this very reason), and probably some current customers as well.

Allowing access to user defined metadata would force intelligent usage (unlike tagging, which would be easy and probably relatively indiscriminate, achieving the opposite of the original intent of the user) since it would require setup and give someone the opportunity to think through his or process, as well as whether an additional category is REALLY necessary. Hand on heart guys, sometimes it is, and by giving it to the user base you would be offering a much better and more powerful product than you already do.

awlogan 2011-06-07 09:19 AM

I have to agree as well. There are numerous times where it's not so clean cut as phone, email, etc. Waiting for is my personal problem. Do I use waiting for or the person's name? I end up using the name, but it would be much cleaner if I had a tag field where I could add the person's name and leave the context as waiting for.

I would also like to have a view based on my reports and my bosses, where I can simply pull up everything I need to talk to them about no matter what context I'm in, phone, IM, or in person.

flyingdesigner 2011-06-08 11:05 AM

+ 1 for making a way to assign people as well as a context to an action.

devastat 2011-06-08 02:08 PM


focusedphil 2011-06-10 12:15 PM

+1 (although I don't think it'll do much good....)

uberchet 2011-06-15 07:23 AM

Yeah, I agree - they seem set in their direction, but the simplest implementation for many would just be the ability to have multiple contexts. I definitely need that -- it's not clear how else I can easily capture, within projects/contexts, the need to follow up with Joe about something Sam is doing. It's a matrixy org, so I need that to also be easily findable under "Sam" as well. Having to do one thing to find Joe-context items and another to find Sam is awkward. Shoving them both into saved searches is irritating when a perfectly cromulent feature _almost_ solves the problem.

Another example crops up when I have several developers I work with, and a couple different scrums I sit in on. Issues I want to follow up with Bob about on product X legitimately belong to both the @bob context and the @scrum context.

So, again, my vote is for multiple contexts. It's the right solution. Relying on metadata and saved searches still strikes me as a workaround, and the whole point of an app like this is to avoid kludgey workarounds.

Jody Severson 2011-06-19 03:28 PM

Perspectives solve the problem
I wanted tags for both the ability to have people contexts and to separate tasks according to whether they were work or personal.

So in my project list, I have a work folder and a personal folder, and the various projects for each underneath them.

In my context list, I also have work and personal folders. Under each I have a context for each person, along with the usual GTD contexts like "call" "email" @office, etc. If a person might appear in both work and personal for different things, I have a context for them under each.

I then created three perspectives from which I work all day long.

The work perspective includes the contexts of all the perspectives under work. The personal perspective contains all of my personal contexts. Thus all due or flagged or available items which require me to speak to Alan while I am in work mode appear in that perspective. All due or flagged or available items for which Ted is the context appear in my Personal perspective.

I have a third perspective called Peeps, and it includes the contexts of both work and personal people. So if I happen to be speaking with Ted and want to see what we need to discuss, I click to my Peeps perspective and voila, there he is. That view is grouped by context (person) and it shows all remaining items regardless of flag status.

Shortcuts to all three of these perspectives are on my toolbar.

Perhaps this may help someone.

Dogsbreath 2011-06-20 12:01 AM

I just didn't give Bob my number. If I saw him coming along the street I just hid.

Although I am an advocate of GTD, there are often cases where it only works in a perfect world, which you control and everyone else is just a drone!

otter 2011-06-27 04:27 PM

[QUOTE=focusedphil;98456]+1 (although I don't think it'll do much good....)[/QUOTE]

+ Sqrt (-1).


CGHMartini 2011-07-11 03:04 AM

my solution...
I got contexts for (1) various named Places, (2) lots of People, (3) "Think" and (4) "waiting for...". (1) and (2) are suitably hierarchical, of course.
I don't use "Phone" or "PC", as I've nearly always got a phone and my OR(MacBookAir, iPADs, Windows-NB) with me.... that context makes no sense to me - even though those contexts are examples in the tutorial on GTD.
If I need to call/email/kickass/kowtow Bob, that's context "Bob". Full stop.
Even when I'm waiting for something from Bob, that's still "Bob" - but with a start and due date. My context "waiting for..." is only for unimportant things that actually should happen automatically, e.g. getting a shipment from an online store after having completed the original action of buying something. I don't want to edit due dates there...

That having been said, I sometimes do get the urge to put actions in multiple contexts. I then split them up as a subgroup of actions.

One more thing: I try to broaden my Contexts and differentiate more on the Projects. Two reasons:
(a) I use Perspectives. Go to Projects view, select any amount of Folders/Projects you want, Focus, switch to Context, apply a primitive filter and save as a Perspective. Sync with iPad.
Doesn't work the other way round (you can't focus on contexts AND you can't sync projects-perspectives with iPad), so we need to differentiate on the only user-selectable feature, which is Projects.
(b) I use Places. For now that's iPad only - assign GPS-coordinates to Contexts and view your actions on an integrated Google-map. Nice. But gets extremely illegible if you have too many Places, so: broaden that definition, have less Places.

FatalError 2011-07-11 03:15 PM

Multiple Contexts + people as contexts has been my long time request since I first used OmniFocus. This question arose at the second or third day I used it and I never understood why that never was implemented. Would make my life much easier.

Here's hope that Apple Reminders puts some fuel into the OF mac development.

Jody Severson 2011-07-12 02:49 PM


Natedog 2011-07-17 11:11 PM

Multiple Contexts as an option/preference... yes please!

Wouldn't it be great if it linked to people into your 'contacts', as in... I have time for a bunch of calls, lets see... who do I have to call??? Ah there's my list. All I have to do is press the name, my contact opens and I can call (or text) from within OmniFocus.

Ok, well yeah, I'm told it's good to dream...

Harold Ollivier 2011-08-15 09:56 PM

Multiple contexts
That would be a definite plus:

In real world, a task or anaction is defined by a priority if due in the future, a person responsible / necessary to the task, some extra resources, location, and some more such as a reference to the kind of action performed (phone call, email, etc).

No matter what you do, at one point you will bump into the trouble of assigning a single context to an OF task while you would need several.

You can work around for a while, but that always seems to be like a sort of hack. Besides making things clean, it would keep focus on performing the tasks and not on managing the list in OF (which is why I personally find OF superior when not needing multiple contexts).

In addition, I would need these multiple contexts (or tagging capabilities, call it the way you want) for reporting: OF is a document repository for me, as well as a holding the minutes of meetings, keeping track of business lunches and so on. I now want to be able to review the efficiency of my different actions, the way projects get accomplished... and for that I need a better way of tracking the attributes of tasks / actions as explained in the 1st paragraph than having a single context.

That makes things more complicated, but is it finally to complicated to use # with twitter or gmail tags?


scottympg 2011-11-24 03:38 PM

+ 1 for me to. Give us multiple contexts. I came from being a "microsoft outlook" user and seriously having multiple contexts or"tags" as microsoft calls them is a no brainer. Listen to your customers then give us the option to use or not use them. Surely this is the best solutiion.

FatalError 2011-11-28 12:46 AM

[QUOTE=scottympg;104420]+ 1 for me to. Give us multiple contexts. I came from being a "microsoft outlook" user and seriously having multiple contexts or"tags" as microsoft calls them is a no brainer. Listen to your customers then give us the option to use or not use them. Surely this is the best solutiion.[/QUOTE]

I couldn't agree more. And I am not sure what argument speaks against this move.

Brian 2011-12-01 03:02 PM

Please refer to [URL=""]this post[/URL] for a short accounting of our thoughts on this subject. If anything changes in the future, we'll be sure to announce it.

Cameron 2011-12-02 08:47 AM

For people, I like to just use the search feature. So, if I run into Bob, I just search for "Bob" and all related tasks appear.

Some people like to use hashtags for this, but I think it's unnecessary as I will always use the person's name in the title, but hashtags may help in another's workflow.

I don't like using Contexts for people as I don't like names of people floating in and out of my life always appearing on my Context list, and I don't think managing them by adding and dropping is worth the time.

Just use search in that case.

Stargazer 2011-12-02 10:22 AM

+1 for multiple contexts and/or tags.

rogbar 2011-12-02 01:30 PM

I too use Search for peoples' names, as a substitute for an additional "People" tag. The convention I use is the person's last name - followed by a first initial if that's necessary - enclosed in brackets at the end of the item. So it would look like this:

Waiting for estimate [smith]

Then I just search for the string "[smith" and all the items assigned to that person show up. (BTW, I use brackets because they look good, and don't require the shift key as parens or # do.)

I'd prefer to have a drop-down menu column with programmable names, but until that's a feature, this works okay for me.

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