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simple questions & "context" musing Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
greetings,

i'm new to OF... i have a few simple questions and then a more involved conundrum...

my simple questions are:

1- i've noticed that people put "@" in their contexts, like "@work", "@computer", or something... is the "@" a special character for OF that makes it do something or interpret the item differently? sometimes the posts have "*" or "..." too in the contexts. are those just fillers for posting or are they also some kind of special characters for OF? or are these just use for alignment or some other visual appeal? i didn't find anything in the help about this yet...

2- in projects mode, OF shows either series or parallel icons for the project in the content pane... but the inspector pane has a 3rd symbol for projects besides the series/parallel that looks like a little cardboard box... i didn't find it in the help... what is that?

3- can a project or task have multiple contexts? for example if i have something that i'd put in the "admin" context, can i put it in a context called "this week" also, so i can find it by selecting the "this week" context... i might post this question in the other thread about "things", since that is the way "things" works, e.g. the "today" topic... i have more explanation down in my long thread below...

-- my long topic is on "contexts".

i understand there is not "correct" way and that each person ultimately has to find what works for their needs or system. but i've been struggling with "context" for a week... and decided to just put this out there and see what happens...

i read a number of threads in this forum to know how to use contexts better and am stuck still... the thread that was most meaningful to me was "Context Lists for IT" from a year ago... since it hasn't been updated in a year, and i'm not in "IT", it seemed logical to start a new thread...

the difficulty i'm having is the following... anything about "context" that i come up with is something that is always available... for example, everything is on my macbookpro and i have it with me practically always, home, work, lunch, waiting in dentist office, even in my car when commuting... so a "context" of "computer" doesn't make sense to me since i will always have it anytime i'm referring to OF or working anything in my OF lists... it is "necessary", but so is "breathing" in order to get things done. and i will always be breathing anytime i get things done... so "computer" doesn't seem to help me anymore than "breathing" would... i do my work both at home and at the office, day, nights, weekends, whenever... so locations contexts don't seem to fit for me either since anytime i'm referring to OF i will be a place i can do the work, by definition...

i'm an engineer working in aerospace... i basically do a variety of types of things:
- work on a variety of design analyses,
- develop templates to organize my work,
- make my templates and tools available for other to use,
- train others on how to do the work, usually 1-on-1 but sometimes as a group,
- make presentations which can be either a technical presentation such as a design review or a tutorial to train others on certain topics,
- develop written instructions, and am working on updating our handbook for how to do the work...
- advise other designers about how to handle problems...
- update our web site with updates to the technical info,

the 1st item is my primary work and the other topics are background tasks that i do in order to do my primary work and to help others...

in addition to these larger projects, i want to keep a reminder for some of the administrative things that tend to get dropped when i'm very busy, like clearing out email, etc...

for the larger projects, i work on the tasks based upon when the tools i'm working on will be needed in the engineering design and development cycle... most of my work i do by myself and doesn't require anyone else, with the obvious exceptions of meetings, which are already in my calendar...

i've entered many of these projects and tasks in OF in the projects view... i'm stumped on how to come up with useful contexts to work them of in a context view... they are all "work"... anytime i'll be looking at OF or doing this work, i'll be on my computer, so "computer" doesn't really seem to help... i work on many of these things virtually anywhere, waiting room for a dentist or doctor, laundromat, library, cafeterias, etc... (i admit i don't have much of a life besides work...). so location, or weekend, or workweek don't make any sense...

when i think about how to group them or sort them to work them off my list, the "necessary and sufficient resources" that occurred to me for the majority of the items are basically "development time"... during days with lots of interactions with people, then i don't have "development time"... so i can't do any of those "development" tasks... someone said in one of the threads in this forum that "time" and "thinking" are not good "contexts", but it is one of the few things that comes to me in terms of a resource that is available only sometimes and not others... it is also the determining factor about whether or not i can work on many of these tasks...

something that has me uncertain about "development time" category is that the tasks have a "duration" field in the inspector pane... so maybe i should be using that instead of a context of "development time", which for me is large enough blocks of time to make meaningful progress but not necessarily enough time to finish a task... anything less than a couple hours is generally not sufficient to make progress on the development tasks, since a particular step may take a couple days to complete in actual elapsed time... on the other hand, some steps can take a week or more to complete, like updating one of the databases... so the duration would not match if i were looking for what i could get done in a 3 hr block of time...

the other "context" that occurred to me in terms of helping me organize the material into a working list is a "admin" category for administrative type things that don't need a large block of time... so, i can put a block of time in my calendar, like 1st thing in the morning or last thing at the end of the workday for things like timecards, clearing out email, etc... i know "admin" seems more like a "project" category, but there are tasks in separate projects that are "admin" in nature, like posting the current templates to the web site which is not like "development time" at all... and i'll keep the "posting" task organized under the project for the individual template so i can check it of when it is done (i have forgotten sometimes to post a template that has been updated because i can be interrupted a lot)... so an "admin" category for me would be analogous to an "errand" category... no real thinking, just doing... maybe "chores" would be another way of describing it...

when planning or working on things, i tend to think in terms of time... so i was considering making a few contexts of "near term" vs "long term" or "this week" or "later" to help me sort things out that way... i'm not quite sure how i'll use them... this is related to my question #3 about having multiple "contexts" for a task... (i played a little with "things" for a day and found that i could sort things by "this week", "later", "near term", etc... that seemed to be a practical way to find items in the database... to focus on only those items that are "this week" and filter out all the other distractions...) i find the "chandler" calendar program also very helps because it as a view mode that displays the calendar and "to-do" grouped by "now", "later", and "done", which i find very practical for reducing the clutter and providing an efficient working list... i know there has been a bit if discussion about the "today" concept... i plan to work on that more when i understand the OF software better... so that may be the best way to address this issue, when i get there...

perhaps the best way to articulate this is that when i think of "contexts", i think of how i need to use the "context" in order to find what i need to do, since the context is a way to make things show up in a list... i know there are "perspectives" too, but i'm not there yet...

at this point, i feel like i should just try what i've come up with and see how it works, then refine as something new comes to mind... i feel like i'm really spinning my wheels trying to set up this system and i probably need to try something to understand it better... at least i can start "doing" again using trial and error... i've been out sick and have had the luxury of time to tinker... but i have to get back to accomplishing things... am getting a little stir crazy otherwise...

i'm really surprised at how hard this is for me to absorb...

thanks for reading and any suggestions...
 
1. @ was a common way to identify Contexts vs Tasks or Projects when writing, but in OF there is little need for a typographical indicator.

2. The blue icon is a shoe box for stuffing all those Single Action Project (aka, project-less tasks or single task projects) that don't need to be otherwise organized. My biggest shoe box is the Chores project since the actions and sub-projects are independent and there can be many blue "single" next actions from that one collection.

3. No on the multiple contexts, but tagging is promised and may be used as such. I am hoping to use it for time or condition sensitive tasks (must be light out, a rainy da, M-F, etc).

From the way you describe your work focus, you might be better off using OmniPlan for the work project details and let OF help you keep life's other demands under control. I use OF to manage some work related tasks in detail, but big projects use OmniOutliner. OF reminds me when to get going on a work project and who needs to get back to me about something I'll need. I have a Context to remember that thing I promised last week to take with me on my next run to town. Chores and construction/repair projects for the house, car, and boat keep OF busy enough. There's also the higher level organization to help you have more of a life, and the social bits like following up on old friends.

My favorite idea from DA is (I paraphrase) "that's a nice thought, but why would you want to have it twice?" When I'm driving and think it's time to catch up with a distant friend, that idea becomes a task in @Phone. I don't want to recreate the chores list in my head every Saturday morning, but just do what needs to be done. By Friday afternoon I have a pile of things to do on Monday, but I don't want to worry all weekend about forgetting one.

Dump EVERYTHING into OF, organize it later and then refine that organization every day for a few minutes at review time and once a week with a more lengthy review. Your Contexts will change over time.

Use Perspectives. When it's time to pick away at a work project, that's all I see. Printing chores is a few clicks away from the Perspectives panel. I can focus on quick next actions and squeeze in a few while waiting at the dentist.

I hope you feel better soon. OF would be a great place to keep track of all those things you might be thinking of now and can do when you have the strength later.
 
"2. The blue icon is a shoe box for stuffing all those Single Action Project (aka, project-less tasks or single task projects) that don't need to be otherwise organized."

is that any different than a simple folder? does work in a different way? or just a different icon?

"3. No on the multiple contexts, but tagging is promised and may be used as such. I am hoping to use it for time or condition sensitive tasks (must be light out, a rainy da, M-F, etc)."

tagging has been one of the features i found very intuitive in "things" and was looking for in OF... i figured for now i can just keep some keywords in the notes and then search for the words... i tried that earlier today and it seemed like a way to do it since i didn't know about multiple contexts... i use that technique a lot in other programs, like iTunes, mail with mailTags, etc... it's hard to imagine how i found anything in the computer before the search engines became so sophisticated... it was all done with the filing system, which i still use as a primary means... but there is no substitute for searching these days... it's amazing how quickly the search engines have changed the paradigm for how to find info and use a computer... i look forward to tagging in OF...

thanks- ;-)
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by jefferyn View Post
"2. The blue icon is a shoe box for stuffing all those Single Action Project (aka, project-less tasks or single task projects) that don't need to be otherwise organized."

is that any different than a simple folder? does work in a different way? or just a different icon?
The shoe box (or single action list) acts much like a parallel project, with some small differences in how actions are displayed. In a parallel project or action group, viewing Next Actions will show only the first action listed, whereas in a single action list, all available actions will be shown. It is provided to be a convenient "container" for unrelated actions which aren't necessarily complex enough to merit being projects on their own. For example, I have one that contains reminders to do the various tasks relating to keeping our pets alive and well. Feeding the cats and cleaning the litterboxes aren't really connected (well, actually, they are :-) and so I get a daily reminder about to check the food supply, one every few days to clean the litterboxes, change the water in the fish tank, etc. It's not really a sequential project, and it isn't really a parallel project, either; it's a collection.

Quote:
"3. No on the multiple contexts, but tagging is promised and may be used as such. I am hoping to use it for time or condition sensitive tasks (must be light out, a rainy da, M-F, etc)."

tagging has been one of the features i found very intuitive in "things" and was looking for in OF... i figured for now i can just keep some keywords in the notes and then search for the words... i tried that earlier today and it seemed like a way to do it since i didn't know about multiple contexts... i use that technique a lot in other programs, like iTunes, mail with mailTags, etc... it's hard to imagine how i found anything in the computer before the search engines became so sophisticated... it was all done with the filing system, which i still use as a primary means... but there is no substitute for searching these days... it's amazing how quickly the search engines have changed the paradigm for how to find info and use a computer... i look forward to tagging in OF...

thanks- ;-)
What has actually been promised is a metadata column, which could be used for tagging or multiple contexts. By the time you can actually download a copy of OmniFocus that has it, however, I think there's a good chance you'll have discovered that the current scheme, used intelligently, covers most things pretty well. Yes, there are things that can be done more easily with multiple contexts/tags, but a decent tagging set up doesn't seem to require any less thought and care, in my experience. Haphazard use of tags on a few thousand items gets you a system you can't trust to show you everything.
 
"The shoe box (or single action list) acts much like a parallel project, with some ..."

i think i see...

so a folder icon contains a collection of projects whereas a shoebox icon contains a collection of tasks, right?

that's helpful...

yes i am careful about tagging in my other apps... i stick with very specific categories of tags, spelled identically... othwise when i search, all the items for that tag won't come up...

thanks-
 
thanks for the suggestion of omnioutliner...

i've been looking thru the web pages about it... it might be what i've been searching for to help with another set of tasks...
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by jefferyn View Post
so a folder icon contains a collection of projects whereas a shoebox icon contains a collection of tasks, right?
Yes, a folder contains projects and single action lists.
Quote:
yes i am careful about tagging in my other apps... i stick with very specific categories of tags, spelled identically... othwise when i search, all the items for that tag won't come up...
The spelling doesn't concern me so much when I'm the only one doing the tagging, as I am pretty detail-oriented in that department. If you have the discipline to always use your preset tags, you should be in good shape. Maybe Omni will find a way to use their nifty auto-complete input stuff with the metadata column, which would lessen the risk of accidentally garbling or inventing a tag.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by jefferyn View Post
i read a number of threads in this forum to know how to use contexts better and am stuck still... the thread that was most meaningful to me was "Context Lists for IT" from a year ago... since it hasn't been updated in a year, and i'm not in "IT", it seemed logical to start a new thread...
Funny, I started that thread!


Quote:
Originally Posted by jefferyn View Post
i'm an engineer working in aerospace... i basically do a variety of types of things:
You know the things that you do, aren't that different from me in IT (and I think we struggle with the same context problems):
I design and analyze systems, I come up with processes, I share them with others, I train others, make presentations, develop documentation, update the website...

And as I mentioned in my post a year ago, I always have my computer. I always have a network connection, I work from home and at work...

A year later, I can tell you this much:
*I started off with a long, complicated, heavily-nested set of contexts. I based it on a relatively strict interpretation of GTD: base your contexts on the physical limitations of the task. So if it was "update website" I used the context "@Computer: Adobe GoLive".

*That ended up being needlessly complicated, and I stepped back and streamlined my contexts. I haven't strayed too much (from this much smaller, simpler set of contexts) for a year.

I am still not comfortable with my contexts (I think because I want multiple contexts/tags)

*Being a person still struggling to completely implement GTD (based on time constraints: still have to clean my office, have years of crap that needs to be cleaned through, do the "big" collection, get new furniture, etc); I still fall off the bandwagon for a couple of weeks at a time; I also struggle with working out of context mode, and find myself spending most of my time in project mode (which is a result of not completely living in GTD); failing to do a weekly review; I think that once I am able to do all of the above, consistently, I will begin to spend more time in Context mode, and it will be clearer to me (and by then we will have tags/multiple contexts)

For what it is worth, I now have (and as an aside, these work well in iPhone view as well):

@Work (I place work-related tasks that can be done at work or at home at this level, so if I click here, I "get it all")
-----Office (this is reserved for things that I have to be physically at the office for)
-----Calls (I go back and forth between having a calls and e-mail category and not)
-----E-mail (having an e-mail category, helps keep me from "living" in e-mail, so I almost use it as a negative filter!)
-----After Hours (for server maintenance when nobody is logged in)
-----Agenda (this level captures people who are not important enough to warrant their own dedicated sub context)
----------CoWorker1
----------CoWorker2
-----Waiting (this level captures people who are not important enough to warrant their own dedicated sub context)
----------CoWorker1
----------CoWorker2
Errands
Home
Reading
Training


I also have additional contexts that are short term - for example when on a vacation or a remote city.


Quote:
Originally Posted by jefferyn View Post
can a project or task have multiple contexts?
Oh My God, don't start that again! There is a thread back in the main MF forum that has been gong on since day one, probably about 375 pages long now, that has those that are "pro tags/multiple contexts" and the "anti tags/multiple contexts" camp making the holy wars look like a vacation!

That being said OmniGroup has stated they will provide this feature in a future release.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jefferyn View Post
at this point, i feel like i should just try what i've come up with and see how it works, then refine as something new comes to mind...
I think that is probably OK. It is eventually what you are going to have to do. The great thing is that OF can totally do that, with no problem at all, as you experiment, grow, and change your mind: have lots of nested contexts, have very few contexts, want to rename your contexts, no problem! OF can flex with you very easily, and very successfully. Probably one of the best things about the program, it is very forgiving when it comes to how your "structure" your system.

Good Luck!
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by joelande View Post
Oh My God, don't start that again! There is a thread back in the main MF forum that has been gong on since day one, probably about 375 pages long now, that has those that are "pro tags/multiple contexts" and the "anti tags/multiple contexts" camp making the holy wars look like a vacation!

That being said OmniGroup has stated they will provide this feature in a future release.
Careful, now. That's not exactly what was said. Here's a link to Ken's post (which contains a link to an earlier post on the same matter). Probably best not to get too attached to any notion of exactly how the feature will look and work until they have something to show us.
 
You mentioned that many of your contexts are "I can do this anywhere" things ... here are some other ways to divide tasks into Contexts. choose some, all, or none:

- according to what tools you have with you, (online/offline, work desk, kitchen sink)
- your mental energy state (high awareness, brain-dead, etc.)
- where you are (home, shopping mall, Seattle office)
- what resources you need to do this task (car, tabloid printer, Spouse)
 
 


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