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Multiple Contexts or people as attributes - Asked a 1000 times - Humour me! Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
So, OF doesn't support multiple contexts...and from the raging debates I have read elsewhere, GTD doesn't seem to support them either. I know the whole tagging / multiple context has been debated...debated some more...and then some more again. Please humour me:

So, can anyone give me a real world explanation as to why the following fails:

Phone Bob about XYZ --- @Phone

So, this single action task appears in the @Phone context.

But - in the real world Bob calls me for something else. Now that I'm on the phone to Bob, I check OF to see whether or not I should be talking to him about anything else -- makes sense, right, as I have him on the phone.

The natural thing would be to check @Bob ---- of course, nothing would appear.

And of course, if the task above was put on @Bob, the next time I am sitting by a phone and look at my @Phone contexts, the task above doesn't appear!

It seems to me that, at the very least, if GTD does not support or advocate multiple contexts, then almost certainly people must surely be an attribute (optional) of any task and recognised as such. Using hierarchical contexts seems to me to make the entire context thing overly complex.

In the real world example above, I cannot see how GTD cannot support multiple contexts OR make people as an attribute of those tasks? Unless I am being thick, I cannot see how OF, as good as it is, allows for the scenario above which is completely real world...searching an OF database is not the answer....

I am not advocating tagging...

So, if Bob happens to call me, why will OF make me choose between putting this task on the @Bob or @Phone context, in which I will miss this task in both of the scenarios above?

A lot of real world tasks will often involve some form of communication - whether sending something physical (a letter), a text msg, phone call, email, face to face....but as communication can cross many boundaries * AND * the communication can be in reverse (they happen to bump into you or call you), it seems to me contexts fall flat on their face.

I guess I am saying when it comes to other people being related to a task in GTD, ONE context fails unless the system recognises people as not being a context but rather an attribute or group.

Or - put another way - contexts fail because they focus on YOU doing when in fact an event can occur in reverse (e.g. someone calls you) whereby you don't have a context in which to look for related tasks to that individual who has called you and whilst you have them on the phone, wouldn't it be nice to use that time and clear any tasks that involve that individual?
Our attitude isn't "multiple contexts is not true GTD and therefore is verboten by the word of Davidco" or anything. We just think that the current approach, combined with the search field, covers the majority of our customers' workflows sufficiently well for the time being.

There are absolutely some edge cases out there - and for some folks, those edge cases are the majority of their work, so I can see how the current situation could be irksome. For the customer base as a whole, though, we don't think this feature should cause us to ignore what is by far the most common feedback we've gotten over the last couple of years: "make the app simpler and easier to use".

In our opinion, the additional benefit for some people isn't worth the additional complication this would add for everyone. (Either the feature is enabled for everyone, or we give the folks that don't use it another preference to look at/worry about/accidentally enable/be confused by. We dislike both of those approaches.)

Our plan has been and continues to be to stick with a single-context approach, but make the database even more search-friendly. See this post by Ken for a description of what we'd ultimately like to do.
I agree with StefMercury on this one. A people function, much like Things implements would be very useful to me. I have a lot of projects and actions and have learned to manage them with 1 context. However, I also have over 100 people who report to me, so it would be very useful to find stuff by "people" also and not just context.
I would also like to have a better way to incorporate people as done in Things. My approach now is to create specific folders for the people that I oversee, mentor, and otherwise have assigned projects. In relation to the question of having to call Bob about XYZ, that would go in Bob's folder under the Single Action project with the @phone context. Should Bob call, my approach would be to say "OK, let me just check your folder to see if anything else is pending ...". A better approach would be to be able to assign the task the @phone context AND a team-member Bob, where I would then be able to check the team member Bob instead of the folder Bob.

In this regard, my thought is, the next big step in GTD apps could be bringing the masses a clean approach to GTD interactively as part of a team. Consider this idea in the context of a family wanting to track multiple tasks cooperatively. Everyone in the family (even the dog and cat) has an iX device of some sort. OK, make it work. Some of the higher end apps that I looked at for team-work seemed to be very intense in this framework, almost to the point of needing a personal software trainer just to keep up with it. Reading between the lines of the forums for Things as well as the blog posts, Things seems to have a team-work app in mind for its future development. So, again, having a better way in OF to map PEOPLE as team members would seem to be a good thing.

Otherwise, as far as multiple contexts (aka tags in Things), they certainly broaden the scope of what you can do for filtering tasks. However, for my personal use, the lack of multiple tags in OF is more than made up for by the ability in OF to organize my tasks by parallel or sequential groups.

Last edited by DrJJWMac; 2011-06-02 at 05:47 PM..
Thanks Brian - I do fully understand what you're saying - I think the meta data would be really useful for lots of people and I hope you implement this.

On the subject of complexity, surely this type of stuff could be something in preferences that you have to switch on first...then those of us that want the extra complexity have the choice :)


what i do is have a context folder called 'communicate' in there I have - email, talk, & phone contexts etc. if you look at the communicate folder context, it shows all forms of communication you might have with someone. bob would show up if you needed to communicate with him somehow if it was to talk in person or by phone or via email. you can search for Bob in your communicate context. that might help?
Brian, I think what happens is that people find imperfect workarounds. The way I deal with the inability to have multiple contexts in the very situation that started this thread is to use the person's name prettiest with $ which is my convention for indicating an additional "person context." So, I create a search on $bob and save it as a Perspective named "Bob" and so, when I have a task that involves calling Bob, I create the task, make @phone the context and Type "Call $bob" in the title.

Thus, once I actually do call Bob, I can go to the $bob perspective and check to see if there was anything else relating to Bob I may want to bring up.

The workaround works with the caveat that I need to make sure I type the search identifier correctly, which I usually do, but would much rather select from a drop down list, as I would in the case of the Context, Project, or date, for that matter.

Based on the discussions in the various threads, and the personal conversations I have had with friends (let alone my personal experience) I really, really, really don't think this is an outlier case. I think the contrary is true.

OF is a great product, and the type of person that persists with it is most probably the type of person that requires the depth of functionality OF provides and actually takes advantage of said depth and said functionality. Some users would come up with the type of workaround to accommodate this very common need, but many others would not. Even for those who do, the workaround always feels like a workaround, a somewhat kludgy compromise.

By not providing a way to relatively easily (little flowers around relatively) categorize a task under more than one category, you are losing potential customers (that I know for certain - again, these are people I know who would not go for the product for this very reason), and probably some current customers as well.

Allowing access to user defined metadata would force intelligent usage (unlike tagging, which would be easy and probably relatively indiscriminate, achieving the opposite of the original intent of the user) since it would require setup and give someone the opportunity to think through his or process, as well as whether an additional category is REALLY necessary. Hand on heart guys, sometimes it is, and by giving it to the user base you would be offering a much better and more powerful product than you already do.
I have to agree as well. There are numerous times where it's not so clean cut as phone, email, etc. Waiting for is my personal problem. Do I use waiting for or the person's name? I end up using the name, but it would be much cleaner if I had a tag field where I could add the person's name and leave the context as waiting for.

I would also like to have a view based on my reports and my bosses, where I can simply pull up everything I need to talk to them about no matter what context I'm in, phone, IM, or in person.
+ 1 for making a way to assign people as well as a context to an action.

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