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I've started and stopped using OmniFocus too many times to count. Every time I read something about how someone is using OF, I end up taking what I like and incorporating it. This means I have a mess of contexts. I'm curious what contexts others use. Is it better to use more or less? I know everyone's different, but I was curious what commonalities exist. Here is what I have:
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I have four top level contexts and then numerous sub-levels. The outcome/energy specific contexts remind me that work-related projects start with planning (putting ideas together), planting (sowing ideas), or fishing (looking for ideas); typically require some harvesting (collecting information) and/or cooking (creating outputs); and end with either eating or tidying-up (consuming the results or cleaning up after them). Otherwise I explore (look for fun things to do) or play (do fun things) -- those tasks are for my free time. I set personnel specific contexts to pull up in a Waiting For context view. My Someday context holds future ideas. I've found that tool specific contexts (computer, phone, email, ....) are generally not useful for me. As someone or many folks here have said ... I have the phone, computer, ... tool with me almost always anyway.

@ (location specific)
- Lecture
- Work
- Errands
- Home
- ... (others)

☼ (outcome/energy specific)
- Eat
- TidyUp
- Cook
- Harvest
- Plant
- Fish
- Plan
- Explore
- Play

➤ (personnel specific)
- Colleagues
- Students
- Family
- J Smith
- S Ride
- ... (others)
- Waiting For

? Someday

There is likely no one "right-way" to set up contexts for efficient use, though I imagine there can be many wrong ways. Your's seem reasonable enough.

Hope this helps.

--
JJW

Last edited by DrJJWMac; 2011-10-03 at 11:03 AM..
 
I like that second grouping quite a bit — seems like an excellent post to refer to whenever someone trots out the old "I'm always in all of my contexts, contexts are useless" line.
 
I like it too, but I can't see how it works in OF, because you are not allowed to assign multiple contexts and cannot use tags. So either you assign a location context, an outcome/energy context, or a personnel context - but you can only choose one. At least when I try similar things, the result is a mess. For example, I have 20 minutes free, I'm at home, and my wife is in the next room if I need her. But I have to search three different context lists to see all available tasks. By the time I've done that, I might as well not bother with contexts at all and just scan the full task list. It's also maddening to think you've finished every errand item in one trip, only to realize that you assigned an "energy" context to an errand item and so missed it.

This isn't really a criticism of the posted list, but rather of OF itself. This post provides a perfect example of how useful it would be to be able to assign tags to items (or multiple contexts, which I see as substantially the same thing). I'd love to see this implemented.

EDIT: Just to add, allowing only one context is defensible, I guess, if "context" has a highly particular meaning and you're trying to encourage bright lines. But one you loosen context to mean "attribute that I'd like to be able to filter tasks by" then it's obvious that there are lots of creative attributes that it would be useful to be able to filter by.

Last edited by Stargazer; 2011-10-03 at 02:06 PM..
 
You don't have to search the lists separately! You can cmd-click on several different contexts in the sidebar to get a display that shows you the union of the available actions in those contexts. With iPad/iPhone, you'll have to have made a perspective to do that, but I suspect the time it takes to prep a few is dwarfed by the time one would spend tagging everything in the database in the long run. The various programs I use where tagging is supported as a primary way of getting your stuff back all seem to involve large amounts of time tagging, even when adjusting for the larger number of items to be tagged.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stargazer View Post
I like it too, but I can't see how it works in OF, because you are not allowed to assign multiple contexts ...
I have rehabilitated myself off of multiple contexts / tags by this point (although I did use them a lot back in my Things days).

Basically, my location specific contexts are for those tasks that MUST be done at that site, no exceptions. These can be Activated or put On Hold as the case needs. For example, I have the context for my father's house On Hold right now because ... I am not there.

The personnel specific contexts are the ones that get called up on my Waiting For perspective. These are all of the tasks that someone else has to do before I can move forward. Some of them can be Activated or On Hold. My colleague J Smith goes on vacation ... so much for keeping his tasks active until he gets back.

My outcome/energy contexts are first the meat of my work in setting up a project. They focus me to be sure that something will always be achieved by a project, especially as it might relate to an objective for the project or a life goal for the given area of interest (folder level). I find no sense any more in setting up a set of tasks that just have me going on multiple fishing expeditions as the end result -- I do enough distracting daydreaming as it is :-p. Those same outcome/energy contexts then become defining when I do my daily reviews using my Kanban sheet. I look for what task(s) I need/might do to pull a project forward or ask myself such questions as ... does some other project have task(s) of greater outcome/energy that can/should be done right now?

The outcome/energy contexts have never yet been put On Hold. If I wanted to, I guess I could sub-divide them perhaps further in to Work and Play. However, sometimes my play involves harvesting information or cooking up a backyard barbecue plan for example ... so the boundaries are not always as clear cut.

--
JJW

Last edited by DrJJWMac; 2011-10-03 at 05:44 PM..
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by whpalmer4 View Post
You don't have to search the lists separately! You can cmd-click on several different contexts in the sidebar to get a display that shows you the union of the available actions in those contexts. With iPad/iPhone, you'll have to have made a perspective to do that, but I suspect the time it takes to prep a few is dwarfed by the time one would spend tagging everything in the database in the long run. The various programs I use where tagging is supported as a primary way of getting your stuff back all seem to involve large amounts of time tagging, even when adjusting for the larger number of items to be tagged.
I appreciate the response, but I think you may be wrong here. IF multiple contexts were possible, then the kind of thing you describe would be very useful. Indeed, it's another example of the power of being able to apply multiple tags.

But with only one context permitted, what you are describing doesn't really solve the problem. Consider my example again - at home, 20 minutes, wife in next room. Let's say the optimum task, if I took the time to review every possible task, would be "change the air filter" - just an example, could be anything. The point is, I would want that task to at least appear as an option on my lists.

But suppose I gave it the "low energy" context, because I figured it's the kind of thing I could do without a lot of mental effort. In that case, I would never see it unless I thought to search through the "low energy" context (along with "home," "wife," and "20 minute tasks," since I would never know if I might have a suitable low energy task that I had tagged with one of those contexts instead). But if I do think to include the "low energy" context, now im fishing around trying to find something appropriate and getting lots of tasks in my list that I can't do (such as low energy items that can't be done at home, or take longer than 20 minutes, and so on).

You get the idea. The bottom line is that if you're only allowed one context, then you can only really organize along a single dimension - ie, a single characteristic. Otherwise, your context searches will always be either over- or under-inclusive. As a practical matter, it's a shortcoming I can live with, but it is definitely limiting and I'm still hopeful this will changed in some future version.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stargazer View Post
... IF multiple contexts were possible, then the kind of thing you describe would be very useful. ....

Consider my example again - at home, 20 minutes, wife in next room. Let's say the optimum task, if I took the time to review every possible task, would be "change the air filter" - just an example, could be anything.....
Sitting at home wondering what I could be doing with some "extra time" ... open OF on iPod, go to Contexts view, select Home context, filter for either Available or Next Action. Decide that changing the air filter would be a worthwhile venture in the next few minutes.

Done.

Point is, by the time I figure out in your scheme that I want to use OF to find tasks at Home .AND. that take 20 Minutes .AND. that are Low Energy (multiple tags/contexts filtering) ... I have the task done.

In a sense, what it seems you want is a way to set up tasks AT THEIR INCEPTION with all requisite bells and whistles to have OF later do the work to pick "exactly the right thing to do" at decision times. My ongoing experience is, decision times often have too many transient parameters to be able to set them all when first creating a task -- especially for decision times that arise on short order such as your example. Using the fewest possible key parameters to outline a task at its creation, and then deciding what is best to do based on the other immediate constraints when the time comes, works far better for me.

I would also get a bit confused trying to set whether a task has Low Energy because it takes only 20 min or takes only 20 min because it has Low Energy or is both Low Energy + 20 min (or perhaps I should really set it for 15 min hmmmm????) ... Besides, with my habits at doing house chores, what I _think_ is a 20 min task today turns in to an hour long exploration at the time it comes to do it ... (Coming love ... just gotta install this air filter ... {DARN! Now where DID I put that new air filter that I bought last week????!!!!} :-} )

Just my perceptions ... again, this is not about a right way of doing it.

--
JJW
 
Stargazer,

perhaps a quote from David Allen (Getting Things Done, p. 194) would illustrate why this particular concern of yours is not such a big deal:
Quote:
Just as having all your next-action options available allows you to take advantage of various time slots, knowing about everything you're going to need to process and do at some point will allow you to match productive activity with your vitality level.

I recommend that you always keep an inventory of things that need to be done that require very little mental or creative horsepower. When you're in one of those low-energy states, do them. Casual reading (magazines, articles, and catalogs), telephone/address data that need to be inputted onto your computer, file purging, backing up your laptop, even just watering your plants and filling your stapler—these are some of the myriad things that you've got to deal with sometime anyway.
The stuff you put on the low energy list is almost never going to be the "optimum" task you could do, except if the alternative is doing nothing at all. If there's some eventual urgency to getting it done, put a due date on it, which will bring it to your attention if you haven't just done it by then. Or catch it in your review process. You do use the review feature, right?

You shouldn't confuse low energy with short duration, as they are completely different concepts. A low energy task is not necessary a brief task, and a brief task may not be a low energy task, either. Though the iPad app doesn't allow you to set or view duration information about a task directly, it does allow filtering, sorting, and grouping of duration via perspective, and if you bother to put in duration estimates for all of your tasks, you'll probably want to set up some perspectives that show all available actions variously filtered, sorted and grouped by duration. Make one for available tasks, group by context, sort by due, estimated time of 5 minutes and you've got a list of things that you can quickly examine and just do something. Do a handful of them and you might find yourself back in a higher energy mindset, ready to tackle bigger things.

An important idea behind GTD and contexts is that it allows you be more productive by spending less time deciding what to do next. You don't want to lose that efficiency by spending all of your time fooling around with complicated searches, applying every conceivable tag, multiple contexts, etc. Use reviews, flags, and impending due dates to keep the important stuff moving along, and fill the remaining time with everything else.
 
Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I notice that the proposed solutions rely on old technology. In the Post PC world Mr. Jobs ushered in, neither the cmd click nor the perspectives solutions proposed are available to those of us who do not rely on the outdated Mac/PC technology

There are many of us who have the iPad or iPhone for OF but do not have a Mac. I suspect that the percentage of iOS OF users will grow as more people recognize that the iPad can replace a significant amount of the work done one PCs.

I'm not sure whether the lack of tags in OF will ever prove to be a hindrance to Omnigroups success, but it is an artificial hindrance to many people's productivity.

I've seen comments which seem to indicate that if one were to refine the use of contexts one wouldn't need tags to create a second context. For some, perhaps tags might be used as a context but it can also be used to collect similar actions where there is a context that is generally more useful

As an example, i have a screening that I have to do in every project that I have. It takes about 5 minutes and is an @office context. But once I've opened the screening tool, the 2nd screening only takes about 30 seconds. Usually because the screening must be done before any other actions the action is a one off. But there are times when I will get several projects at the same time. It would be nice to be able to pull all of those together at the same time and complete them most efficiently.
 
 


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