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My life's tasks transcend physical locality and available persons Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
This is the biggest problem I have with GTD. And I'm sure it relates to habits that I simply do not have, and not only do I not have them, I don't want them! I am proudly in a situation where anything I need to do I can do wherever I want to. As a Software Engineer I am quite well equipped to do my job wherever I want to do it. And things like shopping or errands don't work well with concrete contexts either because frankly, I often find myself buying online or shopping around. I don't log on to Amazon.com every day and then see if there's something to buy. I log on because I want to buy something.

I have, however, begun recently a new purpose for contexts. Instead of thinking about places, or people as is commonly the example, I am thinking about *WHY* I am doing things. I find this is far more "honest" when I review a task I added to my inbox. For every thing I decide I need to do, I have a motivation, and to my surprise I found it relatively easy to categorize these motivations down to about 10 categories. Some of those categories are sub-categories of more obvious ones. The tree has three main roots: Work, Family, Myself. Under Family I have my primary role responsibilities as a father, accountant, husband. Under my self, I have my personal timeless goals, which are mainly my hobbies, Gaming, Photography, Self-improvement, etc. And under work, I replicated my roles there as well. I do work in multiple sub-departments so I use a context for each of those. I also use the root contexts for more general tasks, such as tasks I must complete for HR at work, for example. Though I could make a new context, I don't want to clutter up my tree with a bunch of contexts I rarely concern myself with.

Now, I feel much, much better about this organization for the concept of contexts vs. actual places. Though I still face some challenges in applying the tools, OF or even alternatives to this system. For example, the location-based context listings in OF for iPhone is effectively useless. I have no thought-free mechanism to decide what set of tasks I ought to be focused on. But my lax schedule of availability at work coupled with my highly centralized "living range" (I don't have to travel far from home to do anything I must do) it never really gave me much help anyway. I mean, my office is 5 miles from my home, and due to the inaccuracy of GPS on the iPhone I frequently had the location service telling me I needed to be working on Home tasks at the office :)

What has happened, though, I think is interesting. Instead of my location driving which tasks I want to do, the opposite happens. The combination of due dates, flags for priority items, and my personal prioritization of Family -> Work -> Self actually drives where I will be for any given time period. If I have a lot of priority items in the work context, I'll schedule my day to be at the office, or at least, somewhere where I can focus on work. If I have urgent family matters, I will simply deal with them, wherever they must be dealt with, and spend little or no time at the office.

I realize not everyone works this way, as most people seem to have fairly fixed schedules and locations, so I don't expect there to be tools designed around my personal habits or needs. That said, OF has been mostly helpful. I have the most struggle trying to come up with an effective listing of what's next. I am currently most interested to know what is due soon, and what have I decided I really want to get done (that's what I use flags for). Then I want to see them for all contexts, ordered by my prioritization of contexts. That actually almost works. I can't figure out any way to make a perspective that will do "Due Soon and Flagged" there is only a choice for "Due and Flagged" or whatever, and that shows me things that aren't due for a very long time, and I'm definitely not concerned about those things on a daily basis. However, while on OF for Mac I can select a context to filter for a priority area of interest to me at the moment, I can't do the same thing in the iPhone. I get a single listing with list dividers for contexts, and it's up to me to scan through and find where I want to be looking.

Besides the difference in applying contexts, I use a single catch-all SAL, projects for any well defined set of tasks that I have (some are really goals but I believe I can complete the goal so it gets a project) and I make heavy use of subtasks, usually in sequence mode, especially with work projects as I tend to outline the entire project as I see it, and make adjustments as time goes by, so I'll often have several levels deep of subtasks. This is the #1 reason I continue to use OmniFocus actually, the ability to be an outliner and task manager at the same time is nice.

There is one last function that I sort of wish I could more effectively use OF for, especially in the mobile context, which is information gathering. Right now I'm trying to use EverNote. But frankly, it's a whole gaggle of low quality software with more bugs than I'm comfortable with, and I'm not a huge fan of cloud storage of such private data anyway. I do like the basic functionality like being able to clip web pages into synchronized storage copies, as well as the tagging/searching functions. I could live without the OCR even though that's a nice touch. I'd really like to see OF come up with some feature enhancements that would make it practical to do this sort of notekeeping alongside my task tracking, as there is almost always an affinity between information I care about keeping and the tasks I need to complete.

So, at any rate, I am wondering if anyone else has similar takes on the use of contexts and has found, perhaps, more effective methods of applying OmniFocus to a system like this.
 
Apologies, I haven't actually got any answers/information for you regarding your question, but would be very interested in seeing an example of a project and context setup in mac version OF, based on your description if you don't mind?
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by deejacker View Post
Apologies, I haven't actually got any answers/information for you regarding your question, but would be very interested in seeing an example of a project and context setup in mac version OF, based on your description if you don't mind?
Okay. I'll post a few cutouts from OF. I have redacted some private info so you will have to fill in with your imagination. It's mostly work related things, such as in the contexts view all the work stuff is cut out, a more generic replacement might be: Work, Work -> Dept. A, Work -> Dept. B. I haven't actually been using OF lately, and I've made a few minor changes to some of these things but the basic premise is shown in these examples still.

When there is something I know I *NEED* to do, I flag it. I do flagged stuff first, with priority of those items set in the order of the contexts. If I'm out of flagged stuff or can't do it, I just look through each main context root to see what I can do or want to do or whatever. The main issue I solve with these tools is remembering, the other issue is organization. So obviously I don't really subscribe to GTD, I find it is more stressful as the loss of control over what I am willing to do or consider important at any given moment just gives me anxiety.

So the basic idea is similar to GTD. It's all about collection, I use the inbox concept just like GTD. I organize, usually each night after everyone has wound down and I know I won't be expected to do anything. I have a scheduled time on my calendar each week to explicitly harvest tasks from several outside sources, like my evernote notes, defect tracker at work, email, etc. and also to do a review. I do that on Friday, so I can make the most of my weekend and have no anxiety about what I'll be doing at work the following Monday.

I put everything in Miscellaneous, and I make frequent use of subtasks as deep as I feel like I want to go in terms of describing what I need to do. I switch to projects when I have a more comprehensive concept of something I want to do but know I'll be adding/finishing/etc. tasks over time for that goal and want to keep track of it in more separate, fine detail. But strictly speaking, with subtasks, I could easily get away with not using projects at all. I just look at them as more distinctly separated task groups.

Also since I last used OF I broke down the granularity for what I"ll put into a project, for example in software development I used to make projects for version targets for releases of software but now I do projects on a per-feature basis, several of which might end up in a release, and actually do a totally separate task for the version target. I did this because the concerns of each are separate. The bosses care about release targets, I care about feature design/implementation. The due date goes on the release version target, and in the notes of that I'll specify or refer to the current features scheduled for it, which is really only used during review to be sure my projects are sorted in the right priority.

I'm always evolving my practices and looking at other tools. I'll be giving OF yet another run when the iPad version comes out, so I'm looking forward to that. I find Things a rather pleasant alternative and slightly more attuned to my current methods than OF, but I miss the outlining I can do in OF. I hate the design of toodledo but that cloud-based system is attractive for some stupid reason (even though I don't trust cloud computing systems at all.) And worst of all, I'm a big switcher. I can't resist trying other tools, even tools I've used and rejected in the past in a constant effort to improve my quality of work and productivity.

Anyway, here's some screenshots.



 
Thanks for the screenshots ZTJ, I will now dissect.
 
I hope this doesn't get turned into a "you're doing it wrong" thread, and I apologize in advance if it comes off that way.

I notice you have "Update address on driver's license". That's something that has a very specific next action, I would suppose. Do you know what that action is? Where you would need to be to do it? Do yo have to be at the DMV or can you do it online? Do you need any type of paperwork to be filled out?

Is this something you can call a friend up and ask them to do for you, without them needing to ask you for additional information?

I often find myself with many actions like this one, and they never get done because I haven't really figured out what it means. Usually it's because it's actually a multi-step *project* that needs to be broken down further, which may actually result in more specific contexts.

As a "knowledge worker" myself, who spends more time in front of a computer than away from one, I understand the difficulty in having these "people and places" contexts. I often end up spending time writing out a couple of sentences that describe how I would go about doing something, and in doing so, end up with the actual actions I need.

Sorry for the ramble. This is something that's close to home.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ztj View Post
As a Software Engineer I am quite well equipped to do my job wherever I want to do it. And things like shopping or errands don't work well with concrete contexts either because frankly, I often find myself buying online or shopping around. I don't log on to Amazon.com every day and then see if there's something to buy. I log on because I want to buy something.
I am in a similar situation, I'm a contract software developer who is working from home a lot at the moment, and I have gone through a lot of iterations with contexts but I have found myself mostly coming back to the 'default' contexts of 'places' and people.

When I'm at home, sat in front of my computer working I COULD do almost every task in Omnifocus, but I don't WANT to. If I'm in the mood to work I want to see work related tasks only, I don't want to see that I could take out the rubbish, even though there is no reason I couldn't do it. If I need a break, I turn my chair and it's then that I look at the home context. So I have contexts for Home and Computer.

I have an Online context for stuff that requires an internet connection, whether that be my Mac or my iPhone, eg, researching webhost pricing, paying my credit card bill, buying that book from Amazon etc.

I have an Email context that is mostly reminders to reply to emails I have received. Sure I have email tasks as part of my work projects, but occasionally I will block out some time to spend just on sending emails.

I have recently added an Aperture context. I have found that when I do photography related tasks it usually takes a reasonable chunk of time and while I'm in the mood I find myself becoming engrossed in photo processing tasks, not just the task that required me to launch Aperture. I have found it useful to group all the photo processing task together.

These have almost become the name of the application I need to use to get the task done and even though these contexts all require a computer they each require my brain to be wired slightly differently. Changing what you are working on requires a context switch (excuse the pun) in your brain which you don't want to do very often so focusing this way is helpful for me.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ztj View Post
Besides the difference in applying contexts, I use a single catch-all SAL, projects for any well defined set of tasks that I have (some are really goals but I believe I can complete the goal so it gets a project) and I make heavy use of subtasks, usually in sequence mode, especially with work projects as I tend to outline the entire project as I see it, and make adjustments as time goes by, so I'll often have several levels deep of subtasks. This is the #1 reason I continue to use OmniFocus actually, the ability to be an outliner and task manager at the same time is nice.
I do something similar to this for software projects. I usually set up a folder for the customer then add projects for the systems I'm working on, eg. website, iphone app etc. Then I add tasks for each feature that I have to implement. As I begin work I'll add sub tasks which are the actual next actions that I need to do. They can be as banal as "Write tests", "Commit it", "Deploy", "Tell X that the code is live". These sub tasks are changed/adjusted all the time as I work through them.

[QUOTE=ztj;76522There is one last function that I sort of wish I could more effectively use OF for, especially in the mobile context, which is information gathering. I'd really like to see OF come up with some feature enhancements that would make it practical to do this sort of notekeeping alongside my task tracking, as there is almost always an affinity between information I care about keeping and the tasks I need to complete.[/QUOTE]

I sort of use Omnifocus to do this already but I agree, it's a bit cumbersome, though I don't think OF is the best place for this. If I think of something or see a web page I want to remember etc I often put a clipping in the inbox. Then at review time I decide what to do with it. It could become a someday/maybe project or get filed in some other storage system, pinboard.in/ or somewhere on disk. I'm using OF as a processing system rather than a storage system. It would be nice to have a single app for this but I don't think OF should be this.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ztj View Post
For example, the location-based context listings in OF for iPhone is effectively useless.
I think this is a bit of a gimmick. I set up locations for some of my contexts but I rarely use the feature.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by henry View Post
I have recently added an Aperture context. I have found that when I do photography related tasks it usually takes a reasonable chunk of time and while I'm in the mood I find myself becoming engrossed in photo processing tasks, not just the task that required me to launch Aperture. I have found it useful to group all the photo processing task together.
Yep, I do this too, especially because for me, running Aperture really is a physical context (not all my machines can run Aperture 3, nor would accessing the library via WiFi be pleasant). Similarly, scanning (especially film) is a context because of the overhead of setting up the gear and the endless supply of work.

Quote:
I think this (location feature) is a bit of a gimmick. I set up locations for some of my contexts but I rarely use the feature.
Sometimes one guy's gimmick is another's life-changing feature. I use the location stuff pretty much every time I leave the house (which admittedly isn't all that often :-) I have a lot of errand tasks that have no particular time pressure, so they get worked when I happen to be nearby and free to act.
 
After writing my tirade up there a while back I've given the round robin treatment to a few other task management tools, did some soul searching on how I want things to work vs. how they do, and also added some more tasks to my daily life in the form of a new hobby (Photography.)

So here's what I've learned, and please remember this is a personal experience. I'm going to give my pure opinions and you shouldn't be offended if I speak poorly of a methodology you prefer. These are opinions of methodologies for myself.

Firstly, contexts still aren't perfect for me. I have tried several different context schemes ranging from the incredibly simplistic "why am I doing this" contexts to the sprawling "primary dependency" approach. Where I've settled is sort of something in between. The important thing for me was why I wanted to use contexts. I don't need them. Nobody does. You can make a flat list of tasks and expect to get things done. But, this does impose upon you to review all your tasks to see which are best done where you are, or where you want to be.

So for me it came down to that last statement... where I am vs. where I want to be. I started to realize that I didn't want that question answered by the computer/task system. I decided that I would use both. That I would not fear moving tasks between contexts as I found them in the wrong place over time. So now I have a hybrid set of contexts mainly consisting of real things and real places as well as real people (which surprised me.)

The top of my list, and the contexts I use generally in my first attempt at organizing a task is a list of major tools I use to perform my tasks. So I've got my Work computer, my home computer, my iphone, my ipad, and the web in general. I struggled with the web the most of these things. Oh also I have my camera. Anyway, I struggled with the web the most because I knew I could access the web on most of my devices for most tasks but also, there are some tasks I can't do on my iPad because websites focused too much on mousing or use flash or whatever. But, without giving too much thought to a task that is pretty specifically doing something on some website, I decided to just toss them into "Web." I prefer to use my iPad for these tasks but as I'm doing them, or deciding to do them, if I realize I can't do it on my iPad or iPhone or whatever is convenient, I'll make a change! I'll move the task to iMac or MacBook Pro depending on whether it's a personal or work task. I don't like to do my personal web browsing on my work machine.

That was one of my biggest challenges, overcome, basically by accepting fallibility and agreeing to myself that I will review tasks over time, and rather than wait until the last second to see what I should be doing, I'd use the hotlist and always plan at least a little ahead, or otherwise reduce my expectations about any potentially doable tasks (namely, that even if I'm in the right place, and I have tasks, they might not be doable because they might be organized wrongly.)

Furthermore, I found a lot of tasks really want to be in a pretty specific place. I almost always end up with a new place for these types of tasks. An example is a plan to go take pictures of a specific area, or of an event in that area. So what I've decided was to relax, and create lots of these contexts, then just organize them under a catchall so they don't cause me problems when I'm planning or reviewing. The hope here is that over time I'll find the locations that are frequented, and iteratively build in some entropy to those locations when I'm deciding what context to put a task in. So again, this relies on review and iterative changes on the fly over time. It's working great so far though.

The last set of contexts is people which I always struggled with the most. The reason it fouled me up was that I felt like people were the thing I had the least control over. I hate having tasks that I can't get done because of other people and feel I should really just be giving them the task and waiting on whatever next task I have that depends on them. However, once I gave on perfection and started tossing in contexts all willy nilly, I found comfort in certain tasks, especially research related tasks, being assigned to people contexts. Also, I have a few people that basically need to be babysat by me so they get tasks in their context that are like... "make sure dude did the thing" and on those I will do the due date + repeat thing so that I remember to bug them weekly or whatnot.

So what it comes down to is basically this: Different projects and tasks, different types of things I want to remember to do in different areas of my life begged for different meanings of the concept of contexts. I don't only use them to decide what I can do but what I want to do. I rely on reviews more than ever, and am so glad OF for iPad has a great review interface because of this. Under certain circumstances, such as when I know I can't leave the office until 6pm or something, I let the contexts inform me of what I can be doing. In other circumstances, such as when I'm awake earlier than usual on the weekend and have nothing to do, I sit down, relax, run my review and look at what things I may want to do. I even have a conceptual context dedicated to the things that I can't justify a priority for but would happily adjust my day a little to accommodate when I'm bored, such as watching a movie or going to a nice dinner.

Tossing together a variety of uses of contexts is only working for me because I've accepted that my daily, and weekly routine needs to include reviews. I also adopted the hotlist concept using flags, though I always push myself to set due dates instead if something is important and not simply something I wish to get done.

So each day I'll quickly review available tasks, look over the contexts where I know I have to go, look over some of the projects that I've been wanting to approach to decide on additional places or people I might need to track down, and coupled with a "Today" perspective, I end up with a list of stuff to get done, or at least try that works out pretty well.

Making constant adjustments to due dates, flag state, contexts (including adding new contexts and recombining them over time) has made contexts very useful to me despite the reality of my tasks being done mostly in a couple of places.

Oh right, one other thing, adding location contexts freely has given me much greater value from iPhone OF's location feature, and will likely derive even more usefulness out of iPad OF's added mapping capabilities. See, even though I might have 25 different location contexts, and a lot of them pretty close to one another... well looking at one of those contexts isn't going to inform me of what's happening nearby (or rather, what could be happening) but once I pull up the map on my iPhone I suddenly get a listing of all the nearby contexts. So what once was an average 2:1 task:context ratio is suddenly a nice comprehensive list of tasks that I might perform where I happen to be (or on the iPad, where I plan to be).

So my previous opinion about the location capabilities of the iOS OF releases is completely negated now. It's become a vital way to coherently aggregate contexts in a meaningful, spatial manner (for the contexts where that makes sense).

Interestingly enough, I now feel that the desktop OF is lacking in some ways for the way I've adapted my usage of OF. I get a dramatically more effective experience from the iPad version for planning and the iPhone version for momentary status checking and recording. Being able to add a context then go set the current location of it on the fly, for example. So I hope to see the improved review and forecasting interfaces as well as an appropriate location interface added to the desktop OF in upcoming versions.

I hope that wasn't too difficult to follow. Suffice to say, I'm much happier with OF now that I've tried a few ways. I also wanted to make a couple of points about the competing products I tried:

1) I didn't find it any easier to manage multiple tags in lieu of contexts. What I found was information overload, and a compulsion to tag things with what ended up being meaningless details. I found this much harder to reconcile later. Also, with, say Things, I couldn't find many ways to make tags useful. I could associate them with locations or other real life waypoints. They basically became search terms which were harder to use than just plain searches.

2) I tried toodledo coupled with Tasks apps for iPhone and iPad and I really liked the improved repeating task capabilities (I could do last friday of the month, which I can't do in OF) but still found it generally too limited. The experience only further emphasized my appreciation for my own determination of how deeply I should nest tasks and outline projects.

Now that iPad OF is out and the added features there... I really doubt I'll be switching tools ever again (assuming nothing breaks or the world doesn't end, etc.)

Though I'll still be adapting my various context/project planning strategies, I think I've come to a conclusion about what to do with contexts when the primary colors approach that is often exemplified doesn't work and it's simply a matter of relying more on the other aspect of OF/GTD that is lesser advertised: Review, Review, Review. Don't fear adjustment, and don't sweat the idea that you might've gone the wrong way with a particular context decision because you can always change it later! Couple this with always using due dates on anything remotely important and you'll never miss a task (over time) and I think (over time as well) you'll (and by you'll I mean I'll) improve the success of the tool's effectiveness in helping to actually accomplish your goals with less stress, and better timeliness, etc. etc.

Bye.
 
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and workflow!
 
 


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