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-   -   Struggling with Contexts? Start here! (http://forums.omnigroup.com/showthread.php?t=12774)

leanda 2009-04-10 08:17 AM

Struggling with Contexts? Start here!
 
I've been using OmniFocus since the beta but I still struggle to work from context mode. I generally focus on the project I'm working on, complete as many actions as I need to or want to and then switch focus to another project.

I can't help but feel that I'm not getting the most out of OmniFocus or GTD by working from the planning mode in this way rather than the context mode.

I reviewed my perspectives and context list a few months ago and reduced the number of contexts I had to see if that would help, but I still naturally went back to working in the planning mode.

Does anyone have any tips to help retrain my brain to use context mode?

Thanks
Leanda

keone 2009-04-10 09:13 AM

Leanda, probably the best way for us to help you would be for you to list your contexts. If you have too many to list here, then give us your top five or six. Also, how do you use start and due dates? Do you assign them only to projects, or also to tasks?

Thanks.

leanda 2009-04-10 10:08 AM

I trimmed my context list a few months ago to:

@home
@work
@Errands
@Chores
@Read
@Email
@Waiting

I work at home, always have a computer and internet connection so don't break those down any further.
I don't really use due dates. Most of my projects don't really need a fixed due date except for maybe the five or six client projects I have at anyone time.

It could be that my contexts are not working very well for me, but it's difficult because so many of my actions are completed when I'm at physically at home which is also work and a lot of the actions could also exist in two different contexts.

Thanks for the reply.

whpalmer4 2009-04-10 10:11 AM

It may be that you are one of the people who don't have much need for the context notion. There's nothing wrong with that, if it is true, but even people who are always in the same place with all of their resources at their fingertips can often get some value from contexts.

The most obvious use of the context idea is to separate out the tasks that can only be done in a given set of circumstances. For example, one might have a Calls or Phone context which would be assigned to actions like "Call gallery about new show". You can only act on those actions when you have a phone available. Another might be "Studio" for actions which can only be completed in the studio, or "Computer" for actions which can only be done on the computer. Those are what one might call hard-edged or physical contexts, because the definition what is or isn't in the context is easy to see. If you don't have a phone with you, you won't be making any phone calls!

Another potential use for the context notion is for what I think of as "virtual" contexts. These are classifications that don't have the same physical restrictions as the ones previously mentioned. These might be used for grouping your work to be more efficient. An example might be "Scanner" for things done on the scanner (which is attached to your computer, so it might go in the "Computer" context). Warming up the scanner, clearing the space around it, etc. all takes some time, so it would be nice to scan everything that has accumulated when you scan something instead of repeating the setup work over and over. So, when you sit down to scan something, you can see if there is other work you could profitably do in that "context" to amortize the warm up time over several items. Or you might set up such a context for online shopping, to help you group your purchases to save money on shipping.

I have a bunch of contexts for parts of my home -- garage, kitchen, office, etc. I can easily move between these contexts in a few seconds, so there isn't necessarily a huge time/effort savings by working in just one context at a time. Where the payoff comes is in deciding which areas might need more attention. I can fire up Curt Clifton's [URL="http://www.rose-hulman.edu/~clifton/software.html#WhereToFocus"]WhereToFocus[/URL] dashboard widget and pick one of the contexts that has the biggest pile of work to do. I find this useful for the large quantity of tasks I have which have no real time pressure but nonetheless need to be done on occasion.

For me, much of my work could be done without the traditional GTD context notion, but I find it more productive to use it in the somewhat more flexible ways suggested above.

leanda 2009-04-10 10:28 AM

Thanks for the great reply. I think it might be time to rethink my contexts.

One of the problems I can see with having a great big @work and @home list is that I become overwhelmed in context mode because there are so many things on the list and I end up creating a flagged view or working from the planning mode. I reduced my context list last year because I seemed to be spending a lot of time in my reviews deciding which context something should be in.

I also think I have to develop a new technological habit of simply clicking on the context mode button and working from these lists rather than in planning mode or in flagged view.

Thanks again.

Brian 2009-04-10 01:13 PM

I also use "Desk" and "phone" contexts; additionally, I have contexts for the various folks here at Omni. Discussions I need to have and tasks I've delegated and need to check back on are the main things that end up in those people-contexts.

I know Ken has contexts for his "coder" headspace vs his "ceo" headspace, so he doesn't distract himself with tasks from one while working on tasks in the other. I get the impression you're self-employed; maybe separating out the "work on this design task" actions from the "run my business" ones would be helpful in cutting down on the apparent size of the Work list?

Lucas 2009-04-10 08:45 PM

Along these same lines, I also make special "email" and "internet" subcontexts of the "work" subcontext, which I use for emails that I have to write or stuff that I find online but that takes a bit more attention or care than my other general email and internet contexts. These are useful for working on some email or internet stuff that is still work but is kind of a break from the more straightforward work and helps break up a big work context.

Lucas 2009-04-10 08:48 PM

Another good way to break up a big work context is to have that context selected but then group by project. For me that makes it easier to get through all of the available work for a particular project at a time.

whpalmer4 2009-04-10 08:53 PM

Another point worth considering is that just because you [b]can[/b] work on something doesn't necessarily mean that you must do so right now. You may have 37 things available in the @Work context right now, but scattered over a dozen projects. You might not need to make progress on each of those projects every day. If that is the case, you can temporarily put some of them out of sight and mind by selecting a group of one or more projects and using the Focus command to narrow your view to just those projects. At that point, you can flip the window over into the Context mode view and work as normally, except without the overwhelming quantity of tasks staring you down. This tactic allows you to have a more manageable workload without having to actually change your data around by subdividing contexts or anything like that. When you have completed all of those tasks, or you want to rebuild the list, you just use the Show All command to undo the Focus and you're back to seeing everything. And of course if you find yourself building up the same window time after time, you can use the Perspectives feature to give you one click access to it.

leanda 2009-04-10 11:40 PM

Thanks for your fantastic responses.

I'm going to give the following contexts a try for a few weeks:
@studio
@home
@calls
@email
@Mac Desktop
@MacBook Pro
@Online
@Errands
@Read/Review
@Low Energy
@People (with sub contexts)
@Waiting

I've completely ditched the @work context and broke that down into additional contexts. I've also added @Low Energy for tasks I can do when I've run out of steam. I'd prefer not to have this as a context as these actions could potentially be from any area of responsibility, but I can't think of a better way to handle it at the moment.

Many thanks.

ade 2009-04-11 05:56 AM

[QUOTE=leanda;58358]Thanks for your fantastic responses.

I'm going to give the following contexts a try for a few weeks:
@studio
@home
@calls
@email
@Mac Desktop
@MacBook Pro
@Online
@Errands
@Read/Review
@Low Energy
@People (with sub contexts)
@Waiting

I've completely ditched the @work context and broke that down into additional contexts. I've also added @Low Energy for tasks I can do when I've run out of steam. I'd prefer not to have this as a context as these actions could potentially be from any area of responsibility, but I can't think of a better way to handle it at the moment.

Many thanks.[/QUOTE]

Hi Leander
Something that works for me is also to use sub contexts. As I spend 95% of my day in front of my Mac I have @Mac context and have contexts for specific applications under that.
@Mac
---@CODA
---@Photoshop
---@RapidWeaver
I find that, sometimes, if I'm in the context of a particular application then its makes sense for me to know what other actions are available to do whilst I'm in there.
Due to the absolutely fantastic programming behind OF it's a breeze to use these when entering data, so no worries there.

keone 2009-04-11 09:55 AM

Leanda, I see that you've already gotten a lot of good ideas here, but I especially agree with whpalmer4 re: virtual contexts vs physical contexts. Since I also spend nearly my entire workday at my Mac, here are some virtual contexts that I use:

1. I use DevonThink Pro as my database manager for all of my work projects, one database per project. And each of those databases is also an OF context. So, any ideas or issues that need to be addressed in those DT databases is dumped into OF with the appropriate context attached. Then, the next time I am in one of those DT databases I will select its corresponding OF context and handle its tasks accordingly.

2. I also have contexts for each of the websites that I frequent (for example, Staples for my office supplies, and Amazon). Again, I dump tasks into OF either by project or single action list with the appropriate website context attached. Then, whenever I am in one of those sites, I will select its corresponding context and deal with it at that time.

whpalmer4 also mentioned dividing your home into different context areas. Here is one that I use:

Our home copier and scanner are located in my wife's home office, so I have a context for her office. Then, whenever I need to make some copies or scans I just select that context to see what other documents need similar attention, gather them up and deal with them all in one go. Believe me, it saves a lot of wasteful back and forth.

Hope this helps.

jjb 2009-06-14 05:39 PM

Programmers / Developers / Creatives: What are your contexts?
 
I more or less love most aspects of GTD and OmniFocus, but I have a years-long ongoing love/hate relationship with contexts. I can never seem to settle on a consistent and complete set of them.

I'm a self-employed programmer, and spend most of my time in front of my computer or in phone meetings. I think most people go through the initial stages of "Okay, a 'computer' context is going to be useless, I need finer detail". But I can never settle on something that's truly useful to me. Sometimes I end up putting a lot of tasks in a 'Miscellaneous' single-action list with overly-specific contexts for each, and other times it seems appropriate to make a context specifically for a project, with the same name for each.

The way I am accustomed to working on things is "now i am working on this project -- what do I need to do next?". For this style of work, are contexts useless?

What am I Not Getting? Other developers and creatives who spend all day in front of the computer -- What contexts do you use?

sriggs 2009-06-15 06:40 AM

Here's my contexts. I decided to move people that I can only talk to while I'm in the office under my Office context. I still have some thinking to do about People, Agendas & Waiting. I have a day job "Office" and I also develop after hours "Mac".

Errands
--Lowe's
--Kroger's
--Book Store
--Apple Store
Home
Office
--Dell
--Fair Oaks
--SOB
--Robert
--Kelly
--Jim
Mac
--Online
--Email
--XCode
Phone
Read/Review
People
--Teressa
Agendas
--CCMUG Meeting
Waiting

whpalmer4 2009-06-15 08:26 AM

A possible variation: keep the people all in one hierarchy, but insert another level in there.

Office
--Dell
--Fair Oaks
--SOB
People
--Office
----Robert
----Kelly
----Jim
--Teressa

You can put together a perspective that just selects the Office tree plus the Office sub-tree if you want to only view the stuff at the office. Of course you could also do that to see all the people in your current setup in a single view.

The quick recognition code saves you from having to enter the extra level(s) in the hierarchy, so "that's too much typing" shouldn't be a reason not to do it if it otherwise appeals. And best of all, you can easily experiment with this and just drag the contexts where you want them, with OmniFocus doing the scut work of changing all the existing actions to match the new scheme.

sriggs 2009-06-15 09:52 AM

Thanks for the comment whpalmer4. I decided to go this route because of the iPhone app. I was getting tired of fishing through multiple, top level contexts for things I need to do. I'm looking forward to perspectives on the iPhone for sure!

whpalmer4 2009-06-15 10:50 AM

That argument applies in both cases, of course; it's just a matter of figuring out which is more likely to meet your needs. If you get a call at work from a friend, you'll have to go up to the top to drill down to their context in the People tree. In any case, I just tossed it out there as food for thought; if it works for you, great, if not, also great.

As someone who works largely out of a perspective built on a grouping the iPod/iPhone version doesn't provide (group by start), I share your eagerness! I find myself slapping due dates on things that really shouldn't have them, just so I can use that Due Soon smart folder.

pboreham 2009-06-21 11:00 PM

If it helps (and bear in mind I'm new to OF), I've broken down my contexts into programs - like;

Mac
- Programs
-- Dreamweaver
-- Fireworks
-- FTP

Etc... so each action in the project development has to be either done in one of those (or an 'email' / 'phonecall') so I can view for example the 'Fireworks' context and know what designs I need to do.

I may have it wrong, but that works for me ATM!

intranation 2009-06-22 12:05 PM

[QUOTE=pboreham;61508]If it helps (and bear in mind I'm new to OF), I've broken down my contexts into programs - like;

Mac
- Programs
-- Dreamweaver
-- Fireworks
-- FTP[/QUOTE]

This would never work for me. The most granular I can at work is "Mac : Email" and "Mac : Work". I'm a web developer, so I'm constantly switching back and forth between various browsers, my Windows VMs, and TextMate. The context switching would drive me mad.

As a result I have loads of non-work contexts, but only 2.5 that I use at work (the "Mac" super context just being for when I'm in front of a computer).

jjb 2009-06-22 12:08 PM

[QUOTE=intranation;61554]This would never work for me. The most granular I can at work is "Mac : Email" and "Mac : Work". I'm a web developer, so I'm constantly switching back and forth between various browsers, my Windows VMs, and TextMate. The context switching would drive me mad.[/QUOTE]

Yeah, what you're saying is very much in the spirit of the problem I'm posing-- that contexts just don't seem to be useful for work.


[QUOTE=intranation;61554]I have loads of non-work contexts[/QUOTE]

Would you mind sharing them (Or at least, their general structure)?

pboreham 2009-06-22 02:06 PM

[QUOTE=intranation;61554]This would never work for me. The most granular I can at work is "Mac : Email" and "Mac : Work". I'm a web developer, so I'm constantly switching back and forth between various browsers, my Windows VMs, and TextMate. The context switching would drive me mad.

As a result I have loads of non-work contexts, but only 2.5 that I use at work (the "Mac" super context just being for when I'm in front of a computer).[/QUOTE]

Well, I'm a web developer too and I'm finding it works for me. If I want to see all my Mac actions, I click on "Mac" - if I want to see what needs to be done in Fireworks - then I can drill down to just that.

Perhaps I've got OmniFocus wrong!? LOL

villan 2009-06-22 07:33 PM

While I'm not a developer, I did run into a similar problem when I started with GTD. I work remotely, and 95% of my communication and work is done via email. This of course lead me to have a huge email context, which was relatively worthless to me.

These days, I use contexts more detailed than just a location or an available communications medium (phone / email etc). The system I went with, was breaking it up into topics, in such a way that when I was talking to a relevant team, I could use a particular context to see everything related to them, eg.

Infrastructure
- Web
- Email
- IVR
- CRM

Operations
- Training
- Escalations
- Performance Reviews
- Hiring

tigernt 2009-07-02 04:04 AM

I am in the same situation. This is how I setup my OF.

When I have a few hours to work on/test a specific project I go directly to that project context under work. I also have project contexts nested under phone and people.

Work
-----urbanrenters.ca
-----adeepbite.com
-----ohters projects you have

Phone
------urbanrenters.ca
------adeepbite.com

People
------Mom
------Joe
--------urbanrenters.ca

gshenaut 2009-08-02 11:59 AM

Mental contexts
 
For my purposes, I tried using geographical/personal contexts but they just didn't work for me, since I work at home and my schedule is very open. Instead, I tried to divide my world into very broad "mental" contexts: Writing, LabWork, Computer, Chores, Interests. (I'm an academic researcher.) I tend to do things in chunks of a day, so on a given day, I might spend the morning on lab-related work (e.g., setting up an experiment), and in the afternoon turn to writing-related work (reading literature, analyzing data, writing a section of a manuscript, editing a manuscript). In the evening, I'll work on personal interests (music, learning something, genealogy).

I also recently added a feature to this: each of my contexts has a subcontext called "hold", which is on hold. I put things I'm not ready to work on in the hold subcontext of the corresponding mental context. So a future writing project would go into Writing:hold, but a future landscaping project into Interests:hold. This helps me keep track of both active & inactive items.

It's not perfect but it seems to work OK for me.

Greg Shenaut

intranation 2009-09-28 11:34 AM

[QUOTE=jjb;61555]Would you mind sharing them (Or at least, their general structure)?[/QUOTE]

Whoops, very late to reply, sorry (probably need to be more organised).

I've whittled mine down to this:

Phone
Email
Places
- In between
- Home
- Work
Errands
- Supermarket
- City
- Post office
- Market
Mac
- OmniFocus
- Home
- Work
People
- Girlfriend
- Work
- Parents
Waiting

I group computer tasks under the super context "Mac" so that I can get an overview of Mac tasks at all times—this is helpful when I'm on my lunch break at work, for example, and could do something online (I'm always online so not much point having an "Online" context).

Also I'm probably going to ditch some of the "errands" contexts—they were a hangover from using OmniFocus as a shopping list manager, which it's not so good at (mostly due to speed of entering data—I use SimpleNote for that now).

Email and Phone are also almost the same thing now—iPhone FTW.

One other thing: the "In between" place is when I'm getting ready to go out—it reminds me to pack library books to return, or bring that item I needed for work.

bashosfrog 2009-09-28 12:16 PM

You don't have to use contexts only in the GTD sense. I use them to define lists for my [URL="http://www.markforster.net/blog/2009/9/5/preliminary-instructions-for-autofocus-v-4.html"]Autofocus[/URL] implementation. That is, simply:
- Open (open list)
- Closed (closed list)
- About (short for Out & About, a shopping/to-do-in-town list)

It works well. So does having most of my projects in two folders: Live and Stack. I've tried granulating my workload down to specific categories, but find myself focusing on one or two and ignoring the rest. This way, I've got two categories: stuff that needs to get done promptly, and stuff that just needs to get done.

jjb 2009-09-30 06:47 PM

[QUOTE=intranation;67510]

I've whittled mine down to this:
[/QUOTE]

Thanks for sharing.

Jupiter 2009-10-03 04:13 AM

[QUOTE=jjb;67674]Thanks for sharing.[/QUOTE]
Well, I have struggled with context since 2 years.
Since the beginning i used usual GTD contexts as David Allen suggested in his book. But there was a problem about action.
OF was and is perfect for project planification but on the rush there is a real heavyness wich blocked me. I finally found the solution. I may say my solution thanks to THINGS and THE HIT LIST .
The solution is tags. As OF accept searching on the rush every where instead of doing @Call, @Wait, @ Out, @Mac, and so on i could do :
@Today, @Na (next actions), @Scheduled, @Someday (suspended), @Delegated (for things i am waiting from others).
I usually write my tasks like this
@Call John Ridlesteam for negociating our contract / Na send the contract.
The RESULT is incredible. It's much better. I can work efficiently and now i have the tiem reserved for my PROJECTS (Thinks, plan, erase, add tasks...) which is intellectual, and ACTION where i rush act and use regularly the function FOCUS which is indeed a great Idea.
What is interesting with this way of doing things is that i am focus on what i have o do at the moment and nothing else and i can work project by project very fastly. Hope this will help some of you
Best regard JUPITER

BevvyB 2009-10-05 10:42 AM

I'm having a review of my contexts at the moment. Hope this helps some people think about their contexts a little different.

COMMS

I agree that having 'email' and 'phone' is kind of ridiculous in this day and age. If you were going to have those, you'd also have to have 'message on facebook' and 'tweet' in my life...

So basically I have one context called 'Comms' (for communications) - anything that involves communicating goes in there. Nowadays the life of a conversation moves from Facebook to email to phone to email...

So that's it. Comms context. Made my life a lot easier.

CHORE

I used to have a context called errands for general 'stuff'. But errands always felt to me like I had to go out to 'run an errand' whereas a chore feels to me a better description for just doing something rather humdrum. Like washing socks, or doing someone a favour across the road. So I use Chore context for that stuff.

NOTE

I started a context called Note. Lots of discussion on these forums about what to do with notes. Usually I think of something when I'm out and about and want to put it somewhere - so I put it into OF on my iPhone and give it context Note. It can still be in the relevant project, but at least marked Note I know it's just something I've put in there to use later.

DECIDE

Decisions decisions... I created this because I realised a lot of the time I had to 'figure some stuff out' about something before I could even approach actioning something. 'Decide on what colour curtains to get' is something like research, but it's not quite like that in my mind because at least 'deciding' sounds like you get to some outcome. I do use a separate Research context, but that context tends to be less action driven or urgent. So for me, Decide context seems to be working.

COMPUTER

Oh no! Everything I do is on the computer! (almost everything) So like many people here, I have a context 'Computer' and sub-contexts 'Music', 'Graphics', 'Web', 'Video'. At least this way I can split my use of the computer into 'modes' of working.

ONGOING / WAITING FOR

I have two contexts which are always set to 'hold' - Ongoing and Waiting For. If a process starts (i.e. I've set the wheels in motion for something, but I can't tick it off as done yet) I drag it into the Ongoing context. If the process involves waiting for someone to get back to me, I drag it into the Waiting For context.

RESEARCH / REFERENCE

I have these two contexts as a place to store stuff which is approaching being actionable but needs research, or has yet to be tied in to some actions.

WITH

I have a context under which I create sub-contexts with people's names. I only create the names when I need to, and I delete names when I'm not using them. Some things can only be done with other people, so when the need arises I create the person's name as a sub-context of With, and use that name context. When I no longer need to keep using someone's name (for instance because they're no longer involved in a project) I remove the context.

SOMEDAY / SOMEDAY M

I don't tend to start off with things in Someday. What tends to happen is when I notice that I am continually failing to do a particular action I give it the Someday context if I think that I've proved to myself that it isn't quite as important as I thought it was. So in many ways this is a place that next actions go to die. When I do my review the things that have ended up in Someday either get re-hashed / re-worded and put back into my action lists, or they get killed.

Someday M simply means 'Someday when I have the money'. There are things you want to do quite often that simply won't start happening until you've got the cash. So those things go in there.

HappyDude 2009-10-06 02:02 AM

Lately since getting an iPod Touch i've been considering adding a context...

Currently I have

1.Mac:
A. Online
B. Offline

This has served me well, allowing me to research projects while online and allowing me to write essays while offline and of course all the other little tasks from other projects.

Since getting the iPod Touch these online/offline contexts can go with me now, offline def. But rather than revamping everything drastically i'm concerned out Mac & iPod Touch...

I can't really do research on the iPod Touch (as I like to have numerous webpages open, etc.) unless its very light research.
I also can't type up a report though once emailed myself a few paragraphs of an essay I typed out on the touch. Not the greatest though.

Well, rather than feel unproductive when i'm 20 miles away from home where my macbook is resting i'd like to be able to tackle some of the tasks that can be done while i'm away from my mac.

Suggestions? Thoughts?

Or should I just leave things alone?

Brian 2009-10-06 05:20 PM

I think you make a good case for adding a useful 'iPhone' context to your list. :-)

HappyDude 2009-10-07 09:18 PM

[QUOTE=Brian;67957]I think you make a good case for adding a useful 'iPhone' context to your list. :-)[/QUOTE]

:]

I'm now wondering what would now go into this new "iPod Touch" context.
Initially after getting the iPod Touch I created an "Anywhere" context in which anything could be done either on my Macbook or iPod Touch (i.e Online) went into the new "Anywhere" context...but this new "Anywhere" context hasn't been the easiest to use. Mainly because I threw just about everything that was on my Mac contexts. However I quickly realized that such actions that can be done on my Mac Online of Offline can't be done on my iPod Touch.

The iPod Touch however still serves as a great tool for productivity, though before creating this new iPod Touch context I need to know the rules for what is to go in there.

Examples:

(Currently Under "Mac: Online")

1. Pay CitiCards Bill

2. Log into Mint Account

3. Google Teotihuacan Photos & Save

4. Research USC Scholarships Info

5. Google New Pair of Shoes

#1 I do only on my Mac, since the site is easier to navigate, plus I use 1Password and most importantly feel safer using my Mac than a random on campus PC. #2 I can do on the iPod Touch with the Mint app, but [U]something important to consider when creating this new iPod Touch context is that I'm not always online with the iPod Touch.[/U] #3 is best suited to be done on my Mac or any random PC (I'll save it to my Google Notebook). #4 as well, I can't do research for something like this on an iPod Touch; maybe when mobile Safari gets multiple tabs. & finally #5 I'd prefer to do it on the Mac.

Rather than bore you with the Mac Offline Contexts i'll mention the "Anywhere" context

Anywhere:

1. Review Checklist in Omnioutliner (Daily Morning Reoccurring Action)

2. Review & Revise This Project (Multiple Projects have this)

3. Write down 2 Ancient civilization ideas & place in Anth 202 Folder

4. Read The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

5. Write Down Gym Routine For The Day

#1 is reoccurring, a checklist detailing to check my email, empty OF inbox, etc and can be done in either the iPod Touch or Mac. Review & Revise, i'll do anywhere and sometimes on the iPod Touch if I'm bored in class. Read The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown is an PDF book that is currently on the iPod Touch using the Stanza application. & Write down gym routine can as well be done anywhere.

The dillema right now is how i'm going to have certain contexts only appear under either Mac or iPod Touch, then even further offline and online for each, while i'm sure some actions will have the freedom to be done on either device.

Don1 2009-11-15 08:27 AM

I am still not feeling comfortable with the program. I can see it does so much more than what I have been able to get it to do. One such thing is the "context". I think I understand the concept: a person, place or thing required to accomplish a project. I guess I am confused on how to choose what goes where as many of the default contexts do not seem to be of use to me. For instance let's say a project in my inbox is to return a form to a client. Is that an errand, something to get accomplished in the office (that is where the form is), or a person? There are projects that have to do with managing employees, selling jobs, scheduling jobs, billing clients, maintaining/fixing things, paying vendors, writing memos, returning calls and emails, posting on the blog, etc. Where do they go?

OF then gives me the option of linking theses contexts to iCal calendars. Argh! I have those set up to represent company departments (Sales, Development, Support, Events, Personal, etc.). Do these even seem to be in the same realm?

I wish there were a hands on training program for this program. Let me ask this: What are some of the contexts you use? Maybe I can get a better feel and use some of the suggestions.

curt.clifton 2009-11-15 10:09 AM

Don,

Contexts are for [I]actions[/I] not projects. Setting a context on a project only provides a default context for the child actions within the project.[I]*[/I]

A project is something that takes multiple steps to complete. Consider your project to return a form to a client. What's the first concrete action you have to take to finish that project? Do you have to complete the form? If so, then that's probably the first action and the context is Office. Or do you have to collect more information before you can complete the form? If so, that's your first action and the context is where ever you have to be to collect the information.

Once the form is complete, your next action is probably to return it to the client. How will you do that? Do you meet with the client regularly? Then the client probably warrants their own context. Or do you have to make a special trip to deliver the form? Then that probably belongs in an Errand context. Or perhaps you have a scheduled meeting with the client? Then put the meeting on your calendar with a note to hand back the form.

I'd encourage you to pick up David Allen's Getting Things Done. You don't have to follow the GTD methodology to use OF, but I think familiarity with the methodology makes the program easier to understand. The ideas of project, context, and next action have simple definitions, but they convey a lot more meaning than their simple definitions would suggest.

Cheers,

Curt


[I]* Currently OmniFocus only shows actions in context mode, not projects or action groups. Omni has promised that a future version of OmniFocus will show action groups and projects in context mode once all their child actions are done. At that point, contexts on projects will serve as more than just defaults for the child actions.[/I]

Warwick 2010-01-30 10:07 PM

I am currently having my regular (every 3-6 month) crisis of confidence in my contexts. So I was reading this thread for inspiration and an idea popped into my head. Hopefully a bit of input from everyone else will fine tune it.

My situation - Self employed and work from a home office so as with many others every context is available almost all the time. I have tried [I]hard landscape[/I] - calls, online, out and about and [I]work modes[/I] - billable work, marketing, admin ..... and a mix of both.

Generally I find the [I]hard landscape[/I] approach the best because for some reason I find it hard to leave one [I]work mode[/I] like billable work and move to say marketing. I also like getting a tool and cranking - phone calls, emails, web research etc.

However I have always felt uncomfortable when I need to communicate with someone about a range of things. The communication could be done by email, a call, text message etc. Do you spread the Next Actions relating to them across calls, online etc or put them under agenda ? If you do the former you don't have a concise list of everything to discuss with them when you have their attention, if you do the latter you lose the benefit of cranking.

So my idea is to drop agenda as a context, put the Next Action into call, online context etc with the persons initials in the NA (i use first letter of first name and first two letters of surname to make it more granular) and have a perspective that filters everything related to that person when I have their attention.

Basically the perspective is a third dimension to give the benefit of both approaches. Thoughts ?

pjb 2010-02-01 05:17 PM

You've made a nice case for tags. Ghost actions would also help here, where you have a task in both an agenda list or SAL as well as in a phone context, for example.

jjb 2010-02-02 12:30 PM

The scheme you describe sounds familiar to many schemes I've dreamed up for various OF problems, but they always seem like they would take too much maintenance.

I agree, this is a place where tags could help -- although tags kind of introduce infinite dimensions and ambiguity of purpose… which is good and bad.

Writing this inspired me to start this thread, [URL="http://forums.omnigroup.com/showthread.php?t=15206"]The problem with contexts.[/URL]

Brian 2010-02-02 01:25 PM

I'm not actually on the OmniFocus team, so I don't have info on when tags may make an appearance in the app. When they do, I'll re-evaluate my workflow, of course, but I can't think of any shortcomings in my current system that tagging would address. Other folks may have different needs, of course.

Anyway, in case it helps someone between now and whenever tags appear, here's my substitute-for-tagging system:

I have a parent "People" context, with a bunch of child contexts for the various people I interact with frequently. I also have a few communication-specific ones for email and phone.

If the person is the critical element and I don't care how I get the information, the task gets assigned to the person's context. I check it when I see them, or I bring up the parent "people" context and scan the list of available actions when I'm plowing through my email or phone calls. The bulk of my people-actions go here.

If I can only accomplish a task using a particular communication method - I need to call some business I don't want a context for, as an example - it gets assigned to the "phone" context. Far fewer actions go into these contexts than the ones I mentioned before - a dozen a month at most.

If you need even more fine-grained control, add the search tool in the toolbar to the mix to slice and dice your actions even further. Assign the context to the person, but use a specific verb when that matters. Filter on "call" and you have your phone list, etc.

Hope this helps! We're extremely busy these days (go Apple announcements) but if folks ask questions here I'll try to make it back around to the thread. You can also email the [EMAIL="omnifocus@omnigroup.com"]support ninjas[/EMAIL]; if they can't answer the question they can tackle me in the hall and pin me down until I do. ;-)

avandelay 2010-07-03 01:28 PM

[QUOTE=HappyDude;67914]
1.Mac:
A. Online
B. Offline[/QUOTE]

This is a little bit of a digression, but I've taken this concept one step further and have started a second, stripped-down OS X user account for just writing. It has no e-mail notifiers, no browser running, nothing but Celtx, Pages and maybe TextEdit. I switch to that physical context when I need to get away from the gigantic time-hole that is the Internet. And then when I switch back I see all the popups and messages and whatnot I was mercifully spared while I was (hopefully) writing.

If I do feel there's something I need to do online while I'm supposed to be writing, I fire up OF on my iPod Touch and make a quick inbox item of it rather than blowing my system by switching back to the main account.

hypotyposis 2010-07-06 04:55 PM

[QUOTE=avandelay;79666]This is a little bit of a digression, but I've taken this concept one step further and have started a second, stripped-down OS X user account for just writing. It has no e-mail notifiers, no browser running, nothing but Celtx, Pages and maybe TextEdit. I switch to that physical context when I need to get away from the gigantic time-hole that is the Internet. And then when I switch back I see all the popups and messages and whatnot I was mercifully spared while I was (hopefully) writing.

If I do feel there's something I need to do online while I'm supposed to be writing, I fire up OF on my iPod Touch and make a quick inbox item of it rather than blowing my system by switching back to the main account.[/QUOTE]

Ohh... Beautifully simple, I love this idea! Thanks for the tip, avandelay!

RobTrew 2010-07-06 11:47 PM

[QUOTE=avandelay;79666] concept one step further and have started a second, stripped-down OS X user account for just writing.[/QUOTE]

It is curious isn't it ? We are used to the idea of switching televisions off, but have become acculturated to work with the internet blaring continuously in the background, as if there was no Off switch ...

I have a couple of contexts which correspond to:
[LIST=1][*]Mac - with internet switched off [URL="http://macfreedom.com/"](http://macfreedom.com/)[/URL][*]Cheap, simple and portable text typing device - barely any software ([URL="http://www.neo-direct.com/intro.aspx"]Alphasmart Neo[/URL]).[/LIST]
[COLOR="White"]--[/COLOR]

watchit 2010-07-14 01:48 AM

avandelay, this is a digression, but I note that you are using Celtx... what kind of writing are you using it for? are you happy with it? pros & cons?

ttrapani 2010-09-24 07:56 AM

Context as 'type' and not 'location'
 
Most of how I've seen context used is as a location of work. I tried that and it never seem to work for me. I changed to using context as the type of work (with a few specific locations thrown in as needed). This was born from my @Mac list expanding to contain 90% of all my list. List now looks something like this:
@Writing
@Graphics
@Follow-up
@Study
@Decisions
@Phone
@Reading
...and so on. I only tie location if a specific resource is required. Most of the time I have my laptop with me so I can work just about anywhere. My calendar is blocked with these items. I know on Tuesday mornings I block an hour for doing my follow-up tasks. This new perspective of contexts has helped me tackle a much larger % of my action items.

This may not work for you (as it does deviate a bit from true GTD dogma) but it may spur you to more creative ways of using context.

aghorner 2010-11-05 12:17 PM

I'm struggling to find contexts useful, I guess the main problem is getting the right contexts. Depending on what job I'm doing I can be in one of four rooms. So I've set my contexts up for these. I've not got a computer context as I spend all day in front of the computer, so it wasn't very helpful. Even though I did break it down into applications.

Office
--Phone/email
--Labeller
--Server Room
--Attic
--Transcription room
--Library
People
Waiting
Post

Yours - Antony

Brian 2010-11-05 01:38 PM

Antony, one tip that may be helpful is to include the various "headspaces" you may be in while sitting at your computer doing work. For example, I keep my management tasks and support tasks separate.

Our CEO does something similar to keep his programming/engineering tasks separate from his leadership/management ones. Even though those tasks often are completed when sitting in front of a computer, there's a productivity gain to be had by keeping them separate.

Hope that helps!

GeoffAirey 2010-11-08 01:50 AM

[QUOTE=leanda;58307]One of the problems I can see with having a great big @work and @home list is that I become overwhelmed in context mode because there are so many things on the list and I end up creating a flagged view or working from the planning mode.
Thanks again.[/QUOTE]

I broke my contexts down to a few headlines (Home, Office, People, Someday, Errands, Priorities [Which are key meetings with Directors])

I then Subdivide the contexts into more relevant subcontexts, e.g. in office I have a list of the offices I work from and then for the main office, further subcontexts of Research, Computer, Phone.

For people, I have my key staff and contacts listed so I can pick things up with them when I phone them, they phone me or I am sat with them.

Ideally (and I know this is 'anti' GTD) I would list two or more contexts against a tasks (e.g. Office Phone, Office that person works in, Mobile, [Person's name], Priorities) therefore if I'm in any of those contexts it would show up.

I tend to flick between Contexts and Due dates to ensure things are picked up.

EricMontgomery 2011-03-15 11:53 AM

1 Attachment(s)
I've been trying for some time to find a set of contexts that would fit what I need. I decided to try a little mind mapping to see what was in my head. Yikes. :)

tienlv2011 2011-04-07 03:27 AM

Yeah, what you're saying is very much in the spirit of the problem I'm posing-- that contexts just don't seem to be useful for work.

Stargazer 2011-04-08 10:01 PM

A different take
 
I also struggled with contexts because, like many others, I can usually access any tool at any time and so really only have one physical context. So I asked myself, what purpose does context serve? And the answer I came up with was, when the time comes to pick a task to do, context helps you pick from those tasks that are right for that moment while filtering out the rest. That led me to these contexts:

Errands - I want to see this tasks when I'm on the go
Weekend - I want to see these tasks when I have a chunk of hours free
Quick - these are for small chunks of time
Fun - these aren't really "tasks" but fun stuff I want to remember to do

garotasemfio 2011-06-23 05:49 PM

I found myself also struggling with contexts these days, and I use Omnifocus almost since it was born.
What happens is that we change the ways of working without notice. Today, I sat down to make a mindmap with my new contexts and found out that computer ones, @mac, @macbook air, @ipad, etc, don't make sense anymore since everything now is in the cloud -- iDisk and a 100GB Dropbox plan. I am a blogger, writer and consultant and for now on, @online and @offline are enough.
Also a new one was developed: @airplane, since I spend a lot of time in planes and airports, and @offline wouldn't be enough because some tasks are not computer-related.
I hope his tip helps you.

EricMontgomery 2011-06-23 05:50 PM

@garotasemfio The icon for ex-wife would be dynamite. No chance of having a non-destructive conversation with her so I just went with it. :)

GeorgeV 2011-06-23 06:05 PM

It seems to me that allowing multiple contexts per action item would solve these problems... or what am I missing? Ok, so maybe not an arbitrary number of contexts but how about 2 or 3?

But aren't we really talking about tags here?

psidnell 2011-12-30 02:27 AM

Just stumbled on across an interesting (and information dense) article about contexts. Not sure I agree with all of it, but food for thought:

[url]http://www.evomend.net/en/what-not-gtd-context[/url]

psidnell 2011-12-30 07:16 AM

Is it just me?
 
[QUOTE=whpalmer4;61209]A possible variation: keep the people all in one hierarchy, but insert another level in there.

Office
--Dell
--Fair Oaks
--SOB
People
--Office
----Robert
----Kelly
----Jim
--Teressa

You can put together a perspective that just selects the Office tree plus the Office sub-tree if you want to only view the stuff at the office. Of course you could also do that to see all the people in your current setup in a single view.
...
[/QUOTE]

I've found that a structure like the one above is probably the most practical and the one I always return to, but I've never succeeded in liking it - largely due to the need to represent task requirements in context hierarchies with duplicate elements for example combinations of:

Place/Category/Resource
Category/Place/Resource
Category/Resource
Resource/Category
etc. etc.

For example, suppose I have an issue with my work PC that I need help with from John. Where should I put the task?:

Office/People/John/task
Office/PC/task
People/Office/John/task
People/John/task
PC/Office/task
OfficePC/task

They're all appropriate and perhaps it's just a matter of taste or personal needs.

However, I will almost certainly want to be able to view:
- Everything I can do at the Office
- Everything I can do at my PC
- All the People I need to see today at the Office
- Everything I need to discuss with John

As long as I can do that, the task won't get lost. But whichever context structure I chose, some of these things will be easy and some will require the desktop version of OF to create custom perspectives that require constant maintenance as the structure evolves.

In reality, "Office", "PC" and "John" are all available to me in various permutations that I won't have modelled with my structured contexts.

General purpose tagging could conceptually solve this problem, no doubt cause others and has been discussed at enormous length elsewhere.

But for now I seem doomed to repeat a cycle:
1. simplify my contexts and perspectives
2. become overwhelmed by task numbers
3. add more context structure and perspectives to reduce clutter
4. become overwhelmed by the complexity of my contexts/perspectives
5. goto 1

Is it just me?

whpalmer4 2011-12-30 07:56 AM

I just accept that the list will be overwhelming in some way, and save the effort of reworking it :-)

One thing I do is to try to work on the most tightly constrained things first. If there's a collection of tasks which I need to do at the office, and two of them also require John's help, I will usually try to do those two first, all else being equal in terms of deadlines, etc. Besides the obvious benefit of getting the more restrictive tasks done ASAP (especially if John is rarely available), that means I can go up a level in the hierarchy without worrying about overlooking tasks. I usually get some extra satisfaction from emptying a context, too, no matter how narrowly it might be defined.

As for the which context issue, don't forget to use the project to accomplish some of this. For example, if John is your friend as well as a colleague, you might well have actions involving him in both personal and professional projects, which would seem to make having @People:John as the only context for him inconvenient. However, if you have all your personal projects in one folder, work projects in another, and perspectives that focus only on one of those folders, when you are looking at the work projects folder perspective, you'll only see the actions relating to fixing your office desktop, not the ones for planning the Super Bowl party you guys are going to throw, even though tasks from both groups have that same context.

Yes, there are definitely scenarios where it is awkward to make a single context work. One that comes to mind involves multiple people. Instead of waiting for an occasion where Tom, Dick, and Harry all happen to be in the same place, though, I would just make an action to set up such an event, turning it into a hard landscape event.

psidnell 2011-12-30 08:35 AM

[QUOTE=whpalmer4;105489]
As for the which context issue, don't forget to use the project to accomplish some of this. For example, if John is your friend as well as a colleague, you might well have actions involving him in both personal and professional projects, which would seem to make having @People:John as the only context for him inconvenient. However, if you have all your personal projects in one folder, work projects in another, and perspectives that focus only on one of those folders, when you are looking at the work projects folder perspective, you'll only see the actions relating to fixing your office desktop, not the ones for planning the Super Bowl party you guys are going to throw, even though tasks from both groups have that same context.[/QUOTE]

This maps onto phase 3 or 4 in my never ending cycle of doom :-)

omorillon 2012-01-08 08:22 PM

I am struggling with contexts.

Do each folder and project need a context? Or are contexts only for actions?

Every time I go to Context view in OnmiFocus it lists all of my folders and projects in the "No Context" section. This is why I was wondering if contexts apply to folders and contexts just like they do to actions.

whpalmer4 2012-01-08 09:12 PM

No, it isn't listing your folders in the No Context section, because folders don't have contexts and do not appear in the Context mode view.

Contexts are for everything but folders — projects, action groups, actions, and single action lists. You don't have to have a context assigned to anything, though the program works better for most people if actions get contexts. Contexts have two uses for action containers (projects, action groups, and single action lists):
[LIST][*]Provide a default context when creating new actions within the container[*]Specify where the container will appear in Context mode view when contents are completed[/LIST]The first case allows you to skip some typing if you have a bunch of actions that all have the same context. If you don't specify a context when creating an action nested within something else, the context of the parent will be given to the newly created action.

The second case is a bit more complicated. When you have a group of actions, and you complete the last one, you've got some choices to make. Are there more actions which should be added? Should the group be marked complete? Should the group be marked complete automatically? OmniFocus supports all three viewpoints. In the Inspector, there's a checkbox which allows specifying whether completing the contents of a group or project automatically marks the group complete. In the Preferences, there's a checkbox which allows specifying whether you want that other checkbox to be checked by default for newly created groups and projects. People who plan out their projects fully in advance might like the completion of the actions to complete the project automatically, whereas those who do not will want the opportunity to consider adding additional actions or completing. That's the background for the second case.

The general rule of thumb in OmniFocus is that one uses Project mode for planning (constructing projects), and Context mode for doing (choosing and executing individual actions). So what happens when you have a project XYZ with actions A, B, and C? Well, in Context mode, showing Available actions, you'll see action A. Complete it, and action B appears. Complete it, action C appears. Complete it, and now you are at the crossroads. If you've marked this project for automatic completion, OmniFocus does that for you and you're all done. If you haven't done so, it would be nice to know that you've run out of actions for that project, so that you can either complete it or add some more actions. This state is quite apparent if you are in Project mode, but not necessarily easy to see in Context mode, especially when you've got multiple projects contributing actions to the view. So, if you have the option to show Projects and Action Groups in Context mode (set at the bottom of the Data preferences in the OmniFocus preferences), OmniFocus will show you what appears to be a differently-styled action with the same name as the project or action group, and if you mark it complete, it is just as if you had switched to Project mode and completed it there. Now, here's the catch: where does that action show up in the Context view? It shows up in the context that you've assigned to it. Depending on your view settings, that may or may not be where you are looking when you complete that previous action. However, if you are looking at a view where you do see all of the remaining actions of that project, then when they are completed, you'll see the project itself pop into view. Containers are treated as not available until all of their contents are marked complete, so in a Next Action or Available action view, they are invisible until it is time to complete them or refill them. A Remaining action view will show them, but they'll be styled as unavailable.

Now, a lot of people don't make use of the second case, and that's fine. Using it does get you quicker notice that you've completed all the preplanned actions for a project or group (otherwise, you would only notice if you looked at the project in Project mode), and that's probably a good thing if you aren't doing some other systematic reviewing to bring the situation to your attention. If you choose not to use it, you may want to uncheck that option in the Preferences so that your No Contexts section only shows actions which don't yet have a context assigned (generally to be avoided, assuming you are using contexts in your practice).

I trust I've totally befuddled you by this point, but if not, let me know and I'll make it more complicated :-)

mnanda 2012-05-25 04:25 PM

That is a pretty great idea. I have a whole battery of anti-distraction tools, but that's a great idea - Referring to post about creating a separate OSX user for writing with no distractions

markybrown26 2013-07-21 11:20 PM

[QUOTE=psidnell;105474]Just stumbled on across an interesting (and information dense) article about contexts. Not sure I agree with all of it, but food for thought:

[url]http://www.evomend.net/en/what-not-gtd-context[/url] [URL="http://www.pengepungen.dk/rkilaan.aspx"]rki lån [/URL] [/QUOTE]


Great tips ..thanks a lot for the valuable information


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