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Are contexts superfluous? Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Contexts are a sticking point for me, and I would really appreciate your perspective on their use.

I understand the point of contexts in limiting one's to-do list to what can actually be worked on here and now. It makes perfect sense for someone like David Allen who is always running here and there and, quite often I imagine, finds himself with time on his hands and needs to know what he can do, there and then.

I never find myself in that situation, and I'm curious how many of us do. Personally, I feel like my use of contexts is artificial. "Errands", for example, is often used as a context but how often do we find ourselves out and about with time on our hands and so, upon checking our "errands" lists, discover there are a number of things we can do? Personally, I compile a list of what I need to do before leaving, then go and do it, then come home.

As technology marches on when DON'T we have access to a phone, to our email, to the internet? Are contexts indicating what tasks depend upon those resources necessary when we have them available to us 24/7?

As a wedding photographer working from home, just about everything I need to capture, process and do takes place in one physical location (my home) in which are present all of the resources I need to accomplish the actions on my list.

I'm finding myself using contexts as a sort of tagging system, dividing tasks by type of work, but this seems redundant to using folders and working out of the Planning view.

So... does anyone find themselves in a similar situation? What effective uses have you found for contexts? Is anyone else beginning to feel they're superfluous as more and more resources are available to us at all times?

I appreciate your input.
 
Check this thread for some ideas. I agree with you and use contexts in a different way, mainly because I work out of my house as well:

http://forums.omnigroup.com/showthread.php?t=8416
 
I find it helpful to think of contexts in terms of places, tools, peoples, and mindsets. Some of my contexts are places where I can choose to be (home, study, office, library, errands). Others are tools I might have (phone, computer--divided into Internet, offline, and email). Some are people I need to discuss things with. And then there are concepts or mindsets (reading, reflection, decision).

I find contexts useful not just for determining what I can do now where I am, but also where I should go--literally or figuratively. To take your errand example: I'll usually look over my errands context list before deciding to do errands; if the list is short I'll wait unless some errands are due soon or flagged as important. Similarly, I'll go to the library when my @library list gets long enough to merit an hour or two there. I'll meet with people on the subcontexts of my @agenda list when I can get several things done at once with them, or when something needs to be done with them soon.

In short, I find context lists useful for planning my day/week as well as for doing things. Those of us who have a lot of flexibility in where we can be at any given time can benefit from contexts not just as a way of getting things done where we happen to be but also, and perhaps even more so, as a way of planning where we have to be, physically or mentally.
 
I live in semi-rural area, with pretty much a minimum of 15 minutes of driving to get anywhere of interest. I use my various errand contexts (nearly 20 of them, all told) to accumulate both critical and non-critical errands until there is something that needs to get done, NOW, or a big enough collection of "at my convenience" tasks to make it worth taking the better part of an afternoon and mowing down the list. My errands context hierarchy is set up with subcontexts for things like the library, grocery shopping, hardware store, etc. My county library system has online catalog access, and so when I come across mention of some book that interests me, I use the clipping service to drop a URL for the catalog entry in my action list, in the context for the nearest library that has a copy of the book on the shelf. Grocery items go in the grocery store subcontext for the preferred supplier, or the top-level context if any source will do (or getting it today is more important than getting the ideal brand or price). This setup makes it straightforward to make sure I'll get the most out of the time (and gas) invested in a trip "into town" without being particularly onerous to implement. There are some cases that aren't a perfect fit (what do I do if two branches have the book, and are equally convenient? duplicate the item or arbitrarily pick one seem to be the obvious choices, the latter being mine) but for the most part it works well.

In another example of somewhat artificial contexts, I have one for things that need to be scanned. Most things I scan don't have any particular urgency, and it's always a nuisance to clear off enough space around the scanner to scan things that don't fit easily on the scanner bed (books, for example) or to make room to set up the lightbox when scanning negatives. Assigning tasks a context of "scanner" allows me when I do fire up the scanner to be sure that I know what else I should consider doing to amortize the overhead of doing some scanning. It's certainly an artificial context in that any time I want I could walk over and use it, though it would be less artificial if I spent more time working away from home. It also serves as a container of tasks that can be done in the background while doing something else, or in a low-energy, low-concentration period; move the scanner and laptop out into the family room and feed the scanner while watching television.

Similarly, while I do almost always have a telephone handy, most calls that are going to get put in OF are going to be calls to some business or another. I can probably not bother looking at that list of actions at 11:30pm, except when scoping out what I'll need to get done the next day.

So, I find it quite useful to have the context notion, even though I wouldn't attempt to argue that I'm using them in a "by the book" fashion. As BrianOgilvie put it so well, it becomes a planning tool as well as an execution tool.
 
Contexts are simply a way of grouping actions that could be done more efficiently if done at the same time. That includes trips to the grocery or hardware store or library, but it also includes ordering stuff from frequented e-commerce sites (so I don't waste time checking in and out), or even just activities that require a particular mental state such as writing email or writing software. It's inefficient for me to shift back and forth between writing email and writing software, so for me it's useful to split those activities into separate contexts even though I do both activities in the same locations using the same tools.

Make sense?
 
I'd like to thank everyone for your clear and well thought-out responses, your insights have been very beneficial. Changing my view of contexts from a physical location to a logical grouping makes organizing so much easier and OF so much more useful.

Now I just have to adjust my ADD mentality to working on related tasks within a contiguous block of time.

OmniRitalin, anyone?
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ryangoldman View Post
I'd like to thank everyone for your clear and well thought-out responses, your insights have been very beneficial.
My advisor likes to say that if you really want to understand something well yourself, try teaching it to someone else. It has been at least 20 years since he told me that, and I have yet to come up with a counterexample. Makes it easy to rationalize spending time contributing to the forum, too :-)
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by whpalmer4 View Post
My advisor likes to say that if you really want to understand something well yourself, try teaching it to someone else. It has been at least 20 years since he told me that, and I have yet to come up with a counterexample. Makes it easy to rationalize spending time contributing to the forum, too :-)
That's good pedagogy--and a good excuse for wasting time on the forums instead of getting things done....
 
True enough. Now to hijack my own thread, I can't help but wonder if tags wouldn't be more useful than rigid contexts. If contexts are just a means of logically grouping items for efficiency, then tagging would provide that with more flexibility than contexts. Things implements tagging quite well, but I find the rest of the product too incomplete. If OF could offer tags I'd be over the moon.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ryangoldman View Post
If contexts are just a means of logically grouping items for efficiency, then tagging would provide that with more flexibility than contexts.
The flaw in this reasoning is the assumption that flexibility is always preferable. There are big advantages to settling on a controlled vocabulary. In the Oxford Guide to Library Research, Thomas Mann explains the advantage of controlled subject headings for library cataloguing. Many of the same advantages accrue to categorizing other things. I can think of a lot of tags I might apply to my actions, but being forced to choose from a restricted set of contexts--or, if necessary, to explicitly define a new one--makes it much easier for me to retrieve my actions later than if I could give them arbitrary tags.

If you don't buy my brief sketch, read the first couple chapters of Mann's book and then come back and argue if you think he's wrong.
 
 


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