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wdiadamo, what you're describing sounds similar to what the head of our UX team was describing when he wrote his Slay the Leviathan Context post on our blog. Almost all of his work requires a computer and/or 'net connection.

It's similar to the approach that Sven describes in his post, but a different set of cuts across the task database. Our CEO uses a similar approach to separate out his CEO-tasks from his engineering-tasks.

What Arrow originally proposed in this thread wasn't a "persuade everybody to use contexts" thread, so I won't go too far down that road except to say that a more open definition of contexts as "useful categories of actions that cut across my various projects" may be helpful. While the roots of the concept were tool-based, there are a lot of ways you can use them.

Maybe it's because contexts-as-they-are work really well for me, but I have a hard time imagining a workflow where some set of contexts wouldn't be helpful. Garyo's approach, for example, would be a set of four contexts.
I very much agree that the point of my original post was not simply to complain about contexts. Rather, it was to raise the issue of using OF in a non-GTD manner. I have to believe there are people out there that have taken the flexibility of OF and modified their use of it successfully. It would be good to hear how people us it in ways other than traditional GTD.

I think the most important point in my post was that matter of the question you are answering. Classic GTD envisions you in a time and place and deciding what do I do now. This is predicated upon what tools you have at hand, what time available, and what tasks are next that can be done in that situation.

But that is not necessarily what everyone needs a task management system for. As I noted, in my case it is more of a matter of keeping a handle on projects and tasks that need to be accomplished and trying to figure out when and where to make the time to work on them. I may need to arrange my schedule, or decide to not spend time on recreation, or to put off task A in order to focus on task B. I probably have far fewer tasks and projects than most OF users, but also less available or predictable time in which to work on them. It is more about time management and prioritization. But still getting things done.

I suspect that I can continue to experiment with OF to optimize it for my needs. It just would be nice to hear of how others may have structured it for uses other than classic GTD, even if those don't apply to my needs.

I think this will become an issue for Omni Group going forward. Is OF strictly a GTD tool and if you are going to use it you need to modify your behavior to fit GTD dogma? Or is it, that while still primarily a GTD tool, its power and flexibility can be used in creative ways to manage your life and tasks without adhering to GTD?

The sense I have at this moment is that there are apps out there that may be ok for my needs and cheaper. But there aren't any that are currently better. (and I've already paid for OF so cost isn't an issue for me)
A pretty interesting thread I must say. I probably should have spent more time on this, but here goes a few thoughts:

Regarding priorities, my recollection from GTD and Making It All Work (David Allen's books), is that priorities shift so quickly, you should be nimble and constantly evaluate. However like many, I am lured toward the prioritization mechanism. I do use flags and ad-hoc tags in notes fields: "#focus" (and filtering on that term), at times, but when I do very regular reviews, and when needed, refer to my (GTD™) horizons of focus, I find can manage less with those kinds of things. Just sharing my experience. Quoting from several in this thread (without attribution):

"I frankly HATE context mode in OmniFocus, because you can't see groupings"

This is related to one of my few OF complaints; the "Due" filter being removed from Planning Mode. It can be quite useful to view actions by due/overdue in Context mode, however I've found it problematic to see and modify the due date of a project, SAL, or action group, in Context mode. I.e., I see a bunch of Due dates for actions, but they're inherited. I can switch to Planning mode, but that is slow, and an extra step.

"You really HAVE to use contexts to use OmniFocus effectively."

"Again I'd like to never use it but the unfortunate reality is that OmniFocus forces it on you, because many of the view options ONLY WORK in context model"

Perhaps (but I'm not quite sure on the former, for me, anyway), but I get along very well for the most part working in Planning mode in OS X. When I'm out and about (iOS OF), I use my "remote" context and its various subcontexts (plus the map) to good effect. If I'm in a hardware/home supply store, I check that for stuff to buy I'd otherwise forget. (Also: book store, gas station, electronics store, etc.)

At MacWorld 2011, Merlin Mann said basically or exactly this, regarding associating a location with multiple (sub)contexts, like: grocery store > drug store

'Because anything you can buy in a drug store, you can also buy in a grocery store.'


I realize that isn't the same as having multiple parallel contexts, but I thought I'd mention that example.


Last edited by omnibob; 2012-01-10 at 06:41 PM..
Originally Posted by wdiadamo View Post
Re-reading my post, it does sound more critical than I meant it to.
Funny, I have much the same response to re-reading mine :-)
All this is a long way of asking, how do you break things down? I have tried the "true GTD" of where or what you need to accomplish a task, and have tried variations discussed here, such as Sven's:, but didn't love that either.

whpalmer, you seem to have things broken down into about 80 contexts, and you seem OK with having 1661 in one. How do you deal with being confident that you are working on the right thing, or more importantly, not missing something?
Well, what works for me might not work as well for anyone else, of course. That ginormous context of mine is tasks that can be done on the internet, that needn't be done on any particular machine. Quite a few of them are pointers to Omni Forum posts that I want to read or answer, or Omni bug reports. Even if I took those out, though, there's still a big range of tasks in that context.

I rely on dates, flags and reviews to keep the right things bubbling along. Those tasks have to come from some project (I have the CLI option set that makes my Inbox tasks not actionable, and the preferences option that requires both a project and context to be set before sweeping a task out of the Inbox). If I keep doing my reviews every day or so, that keeps my eyeballs on the projects and I know what I should be doing and what is or isn't going well. Projects or tasks which need attention now get flagged and possibly have their review interval shortened. Due dates are used for anything that has a due date associated with it. This is all pretty much independent of the number of contexts in play.
Finally, as for the tweaking, I think my frustration comes from the fact that Omni was pushing out developments on a regular basis and that has slowed; Ken Case himself discussed this somewhere, when he said, in essence, that the development of the iPhone and iPad versions took precedence. That's fine, and I understand and appreciate the need to allocate resources effectively; I would, however love to have the forecast view on my Computer. As for the flagship product remark, that was based, perhaps erroneously, on Case's comments, that OF was not the company's biggest revenue producer. It was not meant as a slam, or a suggestion that OF was somehow the red-headed step child of Omni, but just acknowledging the fact that Omni was, apparently, assigning their resources in the most effective, and presumably, profitable, way possible, as they should. It's a business, and I want them to make money. My rant above was, ironically, that I wish they would come up with a 2.0 so they might propel me out of my self created malaise and take more of my cash.
I interpreted things a bit differently than you did; my take was that Ken was saying it was more important to get all of the various iPad apps shipping, but that he wasn't necessarily saying that the iPad apps were now more important than the corresponding Mac apps going forward. I think you want to get the iPad apps all out there regardless of which of iOS/OS X you see as being more important to the bottom line. From a business perspective, it broadens the customer base, and from a customer perspective, it gets new blood into the products (Forecast view, for example, even though it isn't yet in the Mac product, has gotten such a warm reception that I don't think there's any chance it won't make it to the Mac).

Again, whpalmer, I want to express that I do appreciate your comments and input, and will continue to use, and appreciate, OF. I am just trying to learn to use it better.
You're welcome, of course! I like helping people, but I've got my own selfish motivation, too — as Seneca said, "by teaching, we learn". Having a vigorous discussion of what others dislike about OmniFocus provides more food for thought than a thread where everyone is reporting "yup, works for me!" :-)
Originally Posted by Arrow View Post

I think the most important point in my post was that matter of the question you are answering. Classic GTD envisions you in a time and place and deciding what do I do now. This is predicated upon what tools you have at hand, what time available, and what tasks are next that can be done in that situation.
I certainly use ideas from the GTD playbook, especially where traditional contexts make sense, but I wouldn't call what I do a slavish adherence to GTD. Surely people were reviewing their projects before anyone ever heard of David Allen, though he contributed some interesting ideas on organizing those reviews. I find the "Next Action" notion to be something that is near genius in its simplicity, and applicable no matter what your preferred task management style might be.

Getting back to your original post, do you have any ideas about what a better tool for you might look like, or do? Estimate your upcoming workload? Show you which tasks will get you the most return for the time invested? Build a work schedule or punch list for you?
Just a quick reply for now; I am in the middle of giving this some thought, actively trying out some of the alternative organization methods discussed here. I will post again shortly when I have clarified my thoughts. Again, thanks for the thoughts and feedback.
I was using GTD (poorly) after reading The Book so I had some inkling of what a Context was meant to represent before I started using OmniFocus. But I remember being as confused as hell about what a Perspective was.

I have a suspicion that these days more and more people are coming to OmniFocus without any clear idea of what GTD is at all, but they will have used (and outgrown) some other task manager or TODO app - even if its just some crappy toy built in to their phone.

People who've taken this path will probably have an instinctive understanding of Projects (task lists) and be expecting some variant of a tagging scheme - if only because tagging is becoming a common feature of much task/note/photo management software these days. This is common currency now.

What they find instead are a ton of new concepts - Contexts, Perspectives, Focussing, Parallel/Sequential groups, next actions, inspectors and more modes than they'd ever thought possible - all bound up in an initially terrifying user interface that does inexplicable things to the uninitiated.

(I ask you, if a cat sat on a new users keyboard when OmniFocus was running, how long would it take them to undo what happened?)

Though these concepts are undoubtedly powerful and fully consistent with the vision of GTD, they do require that many users abandon their ingrained and often cherished practices in return for what may seem to them like questionable rewards.

It seems to me that OmniFocus is being pulled in two different directions by two large sections of the user base: the old guard GTD Purists and the more recent pragmatists (which is where all the new sales are coming from after all).

The endless Tagging vs Contexts debate is emblematic of this.

It's going to take some nifty footwork from Omni to keep both camps happy.

Last edited by psidnell; 2012-01-12 at 05:24 PM..
I am a logical person for the most part. I cannot for the life of me see why there can't be a hybrid context/tag scheme that will make everybody happy. I think either three contexts per item or 2-3 tags will make 98% of all members of both schools of thought happy. The settings section of OF for iPad for example is very sparse. There is plenty of room on the screen for a setting to enable / disable these features :)
Let's say I have an action with 3 contexts assigned. What does context mode view look like?
I should have mentioned that I was talking about the iPad specifically, I now realize that this would have to work equally on all three platforms. I have never used the Mac version so I am sorry if I am missing something obvious to those who do.

Well, without thinking about this as deeply as the developers would have to, I would think that the views would be the same. The content of the views would show more. An action with three contexts would show up under each context. I suppose this would be at odds if those contexts were also tied to locations.


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