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The problem with contexts. Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Problem

many/most OF users are at their computers most of the day, making the appropriate context for most of their tasks "Computer" or maybe "Computer :: Email" etc. Since most of the time we are working on a single project at a time, it is often (at least for me) appropriate to look at tasks in Planning mode. This is not how OF is meant to be used. It does not provide a sophisticated view of tasks.


Possible Solutions

The forum is filled with discussions about solutions to this problem.

Many involve elaborate contexts and sub-contexts built around the idea of "work modes". But work modes aren't what GTD contexts are for. Contexts are meant to be associated with a resource (tool, person, place), and this is how they work best.

The solutions that do work usually involve a combination of elaborate contexts, and project-specific perspectives. These sometimes work well BUT, require setting up perspectives, and/or contexts for each individual project. Sometimes multiple perspectives per project. Sometimes Contexts with funny markup in the names. Sometimes AppleScripts.

This is difficult to maintain and results in a fragile system and inflexible workflow.


OmniFocus needs to fix this

Our beloved OmniFocus needs to fix this problem. I don't know exactly what the solution would be. (In fact, I probably didn't describe the problem very completely either). A lot of people want tags. I think tags can be useful but not necessarily a solution to this problem.

Something I just envisioned while writing this: Some sort of hierarchical task browser. You click down through "views" that are relative to the parent view. So:

MyProject -> available actions -> flagged

MyProject -> available actions -> >15 minutes

With the usual sorting still available (and, hopefully, the ability to reverse the sort order, which we still don't have…)


Feedback

Let me know what you think
  • help me describe the essense of the problem
  • let me know if you have your own workable solution for the current OF
  • brainstorm how a future OF could solve this problem
 
I'm wondering what you mean by "a sophisticated view of tasks" — having a hard time understanding what you think the problem is.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by eurobubba View Post
I'm wondering what you mean by "a sophisticated view of tasks" — having a hard time understanding what you think the problem is.
Using strict GTD, the only context for all my software development tasks would be "Computer". I can cheat a little and make subcontexts for each client.

Computer
- Client 1
- Client 2

So, the problem now is that these contexts exactly correlate with parts of the structure of my project/planning hierarchy -- which is completelya gainst the spirit of GTD contexts, not to mention ineffecient -- if I'm accepting this correlation, then I should be able to set a flag on a project or a folder that says "let this project also have its own context".

Maybe the simple answer is to have a perspective for each client. Hmmm. I'm going to have to think on if that. Maybe I've been making a bit fuss about nothing. Thanks for asking eurobubba :-)
 
I don't really see how using different client contexts is cheating. If you set aside blocks of time to work on different clients to save your brain having to switch all the time, it's no different than say having a desk context to save you running all over the place at home.
 
The problem is that I'll then be tempted to have subcontexts per client… phone, computer, email… AND/OR… bugfixing… communicating… development… plus, maybe even need to make contexts per-project.

There is a dimension missing. The dimension might be mostly taken care of by perspectives, i'll have to reevaluate that and report back.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by jjb View Post
Computer
- Client 1
- Client 2

So, the problem now is that these contexts exactly correlate with parts of the structure of my project/planning hierarchy -- which is completelya gainst the spirit of GTD contexts, not to mention ineffecient -- if I'm accepting this correlation, then I should be able to set a flag on a project or a folder that says "let this project also have its own context".
You might want to try grouping by project in context mode.
 
Most of software development my tasks are computer, but I still divide them into subcontexts like:

- Design
- Coding
- Testing
- Documentation
- Mindless
- Network

(To explain the less obvious ones:

"Network" is for anything that involves babysitting a bunch of slow network copies; it's handy to check the Network list when I'm doing something else and I might as well have something copying in background.

"Mindless" may really be any of the other contexts, but the defining characteristic is that it's mindless work that I can do when my brain isn't interested in starting up. This is one of the places where I'd like to have a tags capability.)

If I wanted to further subdivide "Coding", I would probably divide it into the nature of the coding, like:

- Debugging
- Drafting (Writing whole new features with big sweeps.)
- Finalizing (Cleaning up the missing bits of what I created during Drafting)
- Modification (Making minor fiddling changes to what already exists in production.)
- Moving (Moving hunks of code, generally from the "drafting" sandbox to the official codebase.)
- Visual (Designing reports and screens and pages - I have lousy visual skills, so I have to be at my best to do this.)

All of these treat my mental state as the primary resource/context, because that is the primary limiting factor. So that's how I'm getting past the "resources" versus "work mode" issue.

Sometimes I can breeze through writing big chunks of functionality in Drafting mode and I have no patience for Finalizing or Modification. Sometimes I have patience but no view of the big picture, so I can go through my Modification tasks and knock off bitty things one by one. (Change that label, widen that report column, add a filter to that report.) And so on.

In fact... Hm. I haven't used that second set of contexts, and I haven't included all possible coding tasks in my available GTD tasks, because there are too many of them and I get lost in the flood - I stuff a lot of the less urgent ones into Someday/Maybe. Maybe adding these contexts could solve that problem. I might give it a try.

Gardener
 
I'm not sure I understand your problem, but this seems to be what you are asking for...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lucas View Post
You might want to try grouping by project in context mode.
Having said that, what's wrong with having most of your tasks in the Computer
context?
 
I think what the original poster is asking for is to have more than one way to regard/categorize a task. The concept of Context in GTD is clearly defined as the unique/most significant tool/person/setting that is needed to accomplish the task. So if I am taking my wife's phone to Radio Shack, the Context is clearly Errands : Radio Shack (if RS is the only place I can take the phone to get fixed).

So if I view the task in a Context based view/Perspective, I will see this particular task under the Errands : Radio Shack context. But maybe I want to look at all the tasks that I am doing that have to do with my wife. I could, of course, have a folder or project for my wife. This would not really resolve my problem, as:

1. I still won't be able to use the more powerful Context view
2. I am limited to 2 ways of looking/regarding a task. What if I also want to look at tasks that involve spending money. If the repair the phone requires is not covered by warranty then I might want to have a third context/category/tag.

I agree that this need is not adequately addressed, and OF users need to go through sundry roundabout solutions to address this functionality.

Omni Group has mentioned having user defined meta data, which, in my opinion, would address the need without violating GTD nomenclature (provided the meta data can be used to filter, group, sort, etc., in both Context and Project views and Perspectives).
 
Agreed. For me, contexts are more than just seeing one task in two places: it's about cross-cutting. One good example I can think of is:

@errands+@9to5

Some things can only be accomplished during business hours: I want to see the things I can accomplish on my lunch break, which can't be done after work.

Time of day is one context (@9to5, @evening)
Time available is a context (@15min, @1hr, @pomodoro)
Mindset is another context (@easy, @challenging)

These are all parallel, and separate from the physical context. Being able to see cross-sections of these, and not worry so much about which unique box you have to put it in the first place is powerful & important.
 
 


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