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Much of GTD makes good sense, but I've found the notion of contexts to be a pernicious distraction. It doesn't matter how cleverly I devise them, they always prove to be a waste of time. And because OmniFocus is built around contexts, I keep feeling that I'm wasting OF's horsepower.

I recently came across the "personal kanban" concept, and it rang all my bells. To me, this is a much better way of processing the day's work than contexts. Because I'm solidly invested in OF across a Mac, iPad and iPhone, I decided to see if I could bend OF to a kanban-style system.

Without going into a lengthy explanation, kanban is a system for visualising the work you have stacked up, and ensuring that you only have as much work as you can reasonably handle in front of you. The simplest system is to have three categories: backlog (for work to be done), doing (for work in progress), and done (a list of completed work for that warm inner glow of accomplishment).

I keep my backlog of projects in a folder euphemistically called "Later". Anything that has to be on my radar is in a folder called (even more euphemistically) "Shipping".

I use OF's contexts & perspectives to kanban-ise the work I have in Shipping.

Here's an early draft of the system.

The perspective "Hotspots" is to check for upcoming due dates and items I've flagged as a warning to myself:
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"Starting" is a scan for projects not yet in motion, but coming onto my radar:
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While reviewing the previous two perspectives, I mark tasks of importance with the contexts "today", "week" or "month", to give me a sense of where they are loaded into the system.
The "Kanban" perspective then shows me what's on my plate, and what's coming:
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"today" is what I'm committed to doing today. If I clean up these tasks, or something is stalled (and thereby given the "waiting" context), I can promote a task from "week".
"week" shows what I must do, or would like to do, over the next 5-7 days.
"month" tells me what's coming down the pipe. In a weekly review, I promote things out of "month" into "week".

So far, this simple system works very well for me. It accomplishes the two rules of personal kanban: visualise your work, and limit your work-in-progress.

OF isn't always well disposed to this sort of workflow, though. For instance, in 'month" or "week", I'd often like to have projects, rather than tasks. But if I assign either context to a project, the project will appear in the kanban perspective along with all its tasks, filling the view with unecessary crud.

I'm floating this concept to see whether others have suggestions to improve it within the confines of OF. I'm constantly surprised at how the OmniFocus hive mind comes up with new ways of doing things, and would appreciate its high-voltage input.

Last edited by bashosfrog; 2012-11-02 at 04:21 AM..

This is a very interesting post. I totally agree with your comments regarding contexts. I have never heard of Kanban before but I'm going to read into it. Your workflow description sits very well with me. I'm going to give it a try because GTD just does not suite me. I don't have constructive suggestions yet but I'll let you know if I come up with any. Thank you for this great post.....
This is pretty much how I do it as well. I use my folders differently than you, so I have a folder for Personal projects, another for home & family, another for organizations, etc.

My contexts are Waiting, Today, This Week, This Month, Later, Someday, and Traveling. The last is because I travel a fair amount, and it is an easy way to keep track of the stuff I plan to do while I am away.

I also have an Intown context subdivided into a list of stores so that when I am in town, I can easily check and see what I need to buy.
FWIW, I use a Kanban style board in a different app (Curio) and pull tiles that represent project tasks across it. The tiles are linked via URL calls between OF and Curio. The implementation is presented here ...

Scroll to the very bottom to see the most recent iteration.

Man, this was a breath of fresh air to read!

I keep pulling away from OF, and veering back. I've grown very fond of Workflowy's simple, fast tags, which I've been using for Today, This Week, This Month, just as you describe here.

The concept of "contexts" is so beaten into us, it didn't occur to me that those tags could be contexts in OF--so I'm off to give this a try!
...found this blog post that covers some of the same territory. (Not the kanban, but the contexts).
I have been using OF for "Personal Kanban" for several months now. While I have been using GTD and OF for years (and even before OF), I had two shortcomings in my system. One was the growing issue (like many others) that the concept of contexts was not very meaningful to me. With my laptop, iPad, iPhone, and the internet, most of my traditional contexts had all melded into a "just about anywhere" context.

The second shortcoming of my GTD/OF system was in "getting stuff out of my mind and into my system" the nagging thoughts of what I should do next, as well as what tasks and projects were becoming more (or less) important or urgent. I had tried all sorts of perspectives, flags, durations, etc., and nothing quite captured my thoughts correctly - as well as being quick and easy to revise when needed.

Then I found out about Personal Kanban - especially as espoused by Jim Benson on his Personal Kanban website. I have been using it and developing my version of it for several months and my system is now working very well for me. I tried several other Kanban/Agile apps for both iOS and Mac, but I ended up right back with OF as the tool that had the needed functionality for me.

When I started to set up my PK system in OF, I couldn't decide whether to use perspectives or contexts. I thought perspectives would work better, so I tried them first. But there were not enough filters or differentiators for what I wanted to do. So I then tried contexts - and the results were exactly what I needed.

This is my current set-up, which has worked well for me for about 3 months now without change. (Disclaimer: I agree fully with Jim Benson's advice that the optimum PK system will be different for different users and different situations - just like OF.) I use these contexts, listed in this order in the context sidebar:
WIP (3 max)
1ST PRIORITY (5 max) (1 personal)
2ND PRIORITY (8 max) (2 personal)

First, by listing them in this order, I can click on the Context icon in the toolbar and get my tasks in the order I want to see them - working and next-in-line tasks at the top down to backlog and not ready at the bottom. I can easily switch contexts to move tasks up or down as I get things done or as my mental priorities are changing. I no longer worry about remembering what to do next, because I can easily change it when I think about it - either on my iMac or my iPad. It just works! The view bar settings I use are remaining, context, due, remaining, any, any.

I created a DONE context, but I found that the DONE perspective I had created earlier was more to my liking. The view bar settings for this perspective are completed, due, completed, any, any. I get a continuing list of completed items in the order completed and can quickly see how I am doing on a given day or over the past week.

One deviation I made was to put all my recurring tasks in the SCHEDULED context. I tried moving them through the other contexts, but most of the time I didn't need to plus I then had to move the next instance back to the start. So I just leave them in SCHEDULED and use the standard DUE context to keep track of them.

The two PRIORITY contexts are an advanced (?) concept I found out about for PK. I use them as strong guidelines, but not rigid rules. The intended process is that when I finish a task I first pull the next desired task from the 1ST PRIORITY context into WIP, then pull the next most important task from 2ND PRIORITY into 1ST, and finally pull the next READY task on my mind into 2ND. Sometimes I do that in the moment; other times I wait until I get some time to think about it or during my daily review. But this process gives me a chance to reconsider all of the tasks and rearrange them if my thoughts have changed. Most importantly, my current thoughts are captured and I can forget about them.

Finally, the "max" and "personal" numbers are my limits for each of the contexts. This continually reminds me to limit my selections and not let any of those contexts get too large and unwieldy.

I don't post very often, so I can ramble on some. If you are interested in this concept, be sure to check out the Personal Kanban website and check out Benson's book on the subject. I got the ebook version on Amazon for $9.99.
for the detailed explanation of how you're doing this. Completely works for me (in my mind--haven't tried it yet!), for the same reasons you point out. True contexts are few a far between and the most of the made-up contexts about mindset or energy or whatever, just seem like trying to come up with something to fill in the "context" slot.

Using contexts this way seems much more valuable and useable.

I hope we can get more info flowing on this! I'm new to the whole idea of kanban, and intermingling it with OF puts into the "not much out there" category...
Originally Posted by InAccuFacts View Post
most of the made-up contexts about mindset or energy or whatever, just seem like trying to come up with something to fill in the "context" slot.
They are no more arbitrary than this is! Look, ignore the "context" label. It's another axis along which you can slice and dice your tasks by whatever arbitrary distinction you please. Mindset, energy, location, tools, whatever. The object is to be able to look at a smallish list of tasks and choose an appropriate one to work on next. Think of it like choosing a good hash function: you want something that scatters the tasks relatively evenly across all of the bins (to avoid having everything show up in the same context), is easy to compute (so you don't spend a lot of time deciding which context a task should be assigned), and so on.
Thanks for walking through your setup. I'm going to try and keep it really simple, in the later-doing-done format, although I suspect I'll need a bit more fine-grained control as pressures mount.
And I'm still tinkering with how I get an effective scan of tasks and get them into the chute. Some work to go, but to date this method of processing work has been far more effective than traditional contexts (and yes, whpalmer4, I see where you're coming from. It's just that "contexts" has become GTD jargon that interferes with experimentation in their use.)

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