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How to handle with more then "2 contexts"? Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes

File for your refund, as there is no chance you'll see multiple context support within the 30 day refund period.

Even David Allen and company seem unaware that lack of multiple context support renders a GTD tool useless!
Marco sent in support mail, as well - in case it helps other forum visitors in the future, here's the response I sent, slightly reformatted for the forums vs. email:

Thanks for letting us know you need this! The upside of multiple-context system is that it offers more flexibility and makes your actions findable/searchable under a wider set of circumstances. The downside is that (compared to a single-context system), a multi-context system offers longer lists of things you *might* be able to do, instead of a shorter list of things you actually *can* do.

Here's an example: assume contexts A, B, and C are theoretically required to accomplish an action. At first glance, you'd want to see it on all three lists, right? Unfortunately, that means that the majority of the time, you're seeing the action when you can't actually do it.

This image illustrates our perspective - in that diagram, the situations where you can actually do an action like the one I mentioned (A & B & C) are the dark area in the center of the graph. All the other areas are situations where you can't actually get that action done. From our perspective, they're not signal; they're noise.

Admittedly, while picking a single context doesn't ensure that you *only* see the action when you can do it, it brings you a lot closer than tagging it with all three does. In general, we feel the best practice is to choose the single context that is *most restrictive* of your ability to do the action; that gives you the best odds of actually being able to do it when you see it on your lists.

That said, we have some ideas that we think would add some flexibility without adding as much noise to customers' lists, but I can't quote you a specific timeframe when we'll tackle that problem.

In the meantime, I hope that makes OmniFocus' design more understandable. If there are tasks or situations where you're not sure how a single-context approach would work, let me know and I'm happy to assist.

And, of course, if it still sounds like OmniFocus isn't the right tool for you, let us know and you can absolutely have a refund. We always hate to lose a customer, but we don't want to profit by selling folks tools they can't use; when the two conflict, the latter wins.
Originally Posted by Brian View Post
Here's an example: assume contexts A, B, and C are theoretically required to accomplish an action. At first glance, you'd want to see it on all three lists, right? Unfortunately, that means that the majority of the time, you're seeing the action when you can't actually do it.
Brian, my take has been that the multiple contexters often want A OR B OR C, not A AND B AND C, as in I could buy this widget at the hardware store or online or over the telephone, so I want to assign contexts of Errands:Hardware
Store / Online / Calls, so I am reminded of this action when I look at any of those lists. I wouldn't be shown that action when I couldn't do it unless I was viewing a context that I'm not in. Now, I probably would be shown that action more than once if viewing multiple contexts, which leads to a bit of clutter, but I'm guessing that is an acceptable tradeoff for someone who really cannot choose just one context.

I stand by my belief that most people do fine without the ability to specify multiple contexts for an action, but I think the rationale as outlined above is not compelling for the person who wants "any of these" multiple context support, as opposed to "all of these" multiple context support. Personally, the "any of these" case is the only one I find myself wanting with any frequency.
Good point, Bill. Hierarchical contexts can cover a lot those situations, but those aren't immediately obvious to someone used to tagging or multiple contexts.

Stealing from a subsequent email in the conversation...

OmniFocus supports hierarchical contexts; parent contexts are the more general ones, with the child contexts representing more specific subcategories.

For example, I have a general "Errands" context; descending from that context, I have a variety of more specific sub-contexts, like "Pharmacy", "Grocery Store", "Home Improvement" and so forth. When I'm out shopping, I check the sub-list for the specific type of store I'm at, and then give the Errands context a look, as well, to see if there are any additional items I can pick up.

To set something like this up in the iPad app, you'll want to do the following:
  1. Tap the small circular button next to "Contexts" in the sidebar of the Home screen.
  2. Tap the "+" button in the upper right of the screen, selecting "New Context at top level" from the menu that appears.
  3. Make your new parent context.
    (If needed, you can use the "Edit" button to re-arrange the sidebar to move the context elsewhere in the list.)
  4. Once the parent context has been created and placed where you want it, select that row in the sidebar, then tap the plus button again.
  5. At this point, you'll see a "New Context under <name of parent context>" option in the menu. Tapping this will allow you to place a second context "inside" the first one you created.
However, hierarchical contexts don't cover the cases where the various contexts don't overlap at all, like in your "store or phone or online" example. Personally, I wouldn't handle a task that way - I'd prefer to figure out (probably during review) where I could get the best deal and then assign the "buy this" task to that context. Until I did that review, I'm fine with sticking the "buy this" action into my inbox and not worrying about it.

I would agree, though, that there are circumstances where more flexibility would help, and we do have some ideas for future versions. My goal isn't really to assert that OmniFocus is perfect the way it is.

I just think we do need to do a better job of explaining to folks that we think a single-context approach is better in the majority of cases, even if it's not what they're used to. Consider this an attempt at doing so. :-)

Last edited by Brian; 2010-11-23 at 02:52 PM.. Reason: 'forgetting' -> 'not worrying about'
I'm really not interested in A AND B AND C; I would just make a specific context for that. I do use hierarchical categories (Errands..., Waiting For... are the largest). I still find life would be simpler if I could employ an A OR B OR C logic in the few remaining cases--instead I check several contexts at times while out with my iPod to be sure I'm not missing an opportunity.
Originally Posted by pjb View Post
instead I check several contexts at times while out with my iPod to be sure I'm not missing an opportunity.
Do you do it by hand, or roll a perspective for the usual cases?
Closing this thread (and similar ones in the other OmniFocus forums) in favor of the consolidated thread for this topic.

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