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Struggling with Contexts? Start here! Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
I've been using OmniFocus since the beta but I still struggle to work from context mode. I generally focus on the project I'm working on, complete as many actions as I need to or want to and then switch focus to another project.

I can't help but feel that I'm not getting the most out of OmniFocus or GTD by working from the planning mode in this way rather than the context mode.

I reviewed my perspectives and context list a few months ago and reduced the number of contexts I had to see if that would help, but I still naturally went back to working in the planning mode.

Does anyone have any tips to help retrain my brain to use context mode?

Leanda, probably the best way for us to help you would be for you to list your contexts. If you have too many to list here, then give us your top five or six. Also, how do you use start and due dates? Do you assign them only to projects, or also to tasks?

I trimmed my context list a few months ago to:


I work at home, always have a computer and internet connection so don't break those down any further.
I don't really use due dates. Most of my projects don't really need a fixed due date except for maybe the five or six client projects I have at anyone time.

It could be that my contexts are not working very well for me, but it's difficult because so many of my actions are completed when I'm at physically at home which is also work and a lot of the actions could also exist in two different contexts.

Thanks for the reply.
It may be that you are one of the people who don't have much need for the context notion. There's nothing wrong with that, if it is true, but even people who are always in the same place with all of their resources at their fingertips can often get some value from contexts.

The most obvious use of the context idea is to separate out the tasks that can only be done in a given set of circumstances. For example, one might have a Calls or Phone context which would be assigned to actions like "Call gallery about new show". You can only act on those actions when you have a phone available. Another might be "Studio" for actions which can only be completed in the studio, or "Computer" for actions which can only be done on the computer. Those are what one might call hard-edged or physical contexts, because the definition what is or isn't in the context is easy to see. If you don't have a phone with you, you won't be making any phone calls!

Another potential use for the context notion is for what I think of as "virtual" contexts. These are classifications that don't have the same physical restrictions as the ones previously mentioned. These might be used for grouping your work to be more efficient. An example might be "Scanner" for things done on the scanner (which is attached to your computer, so it might go in the "Computer" context). Warming up the scanner, clearing the space around it, etc. all takes some time, so it would be nice to scan everything that has accumulated when you scan something instead of repeating the setup work over and over. So, when you sit down to scan something, you can see if there is other work you could profitably do in that "context" to amortize the warm up time over several items. Or you might set up such a context for online shopping, to help you group your purchases to save money on shipping.

I have a bunch of contexts for parts of my home -- garage, kitchen, office, etc. I can easily move between these contexts in a few seconds, so there isn't necessarily a huge time/effort savings by working in just one context at a time. Where the payoff comes is in deciding which areas might need more attention. I can fire up Curt Clifton's WhereToFocus dashboard widget and pick one of the contexts that has the biggest pile of work to do. I find this useful for the large quantity of tasks I have which have no real time pressure but nonetheless need to be done on occasion.

For me, much of my work could be done without the traditional GTD context notion, but I find it more productive to use it in the somewhat more flexible ways suggested above.
Thanks for the great reply. I think it might be time to rethink my contexts.

One of the problems I can see with having a great big @work and @home list is that I become overwhelmed in context mode because there are so many things on the list and I end up creating a flagged view or working from the planning mode. I reduced my context list last year because I seemed to be spending a lot of time in my reviews deciding which context something should be in.

I also think I have to develop a new technological habit of simply clicking on the context mode button and working from these lists rather than in planning mode or in flagged view.

Thanks again.
I also use "Desk" and "phone" contexts; additionally, I have contexts for the various folks here at Omni. Discussions I need to have and tasks I've delegated and need to check back on are the main things that end up in those people-contexts.

I know Ken has contexts for his "coder" headspace vs his "ceo" headspace, so he doesn't distract himself with tasks from one while working on tasks in the other. I get the impression you're self-employed; maybe separating out the "work on this design task" actions from the "run my business" ones would be helpful in cutting down on the apparent size of the Work list?
Along these same lines, I also make special "email" and "internet" subcontexts of the "work" subcontext, which I use for emails that I have to write or stuff that I find online but that takes a bit more attention or care than my other general email and internet contexts. These are useful for working on some email or internet stuff that is still work but is kind of a break from the more straightforward work and helps break up a big work context.
Another good way to break up a big work context is to have that context selected but then group by project. For me that makes it easier to get through all of the available work for a particular project at a time.
Another point worth considering is that just because you can work on something doesn't necessarily mean that you must do so right now. You may have 37 things available in the @Work context right now, but scattered over a dozen projects. You might not need to make progress on each of those projects every day. If that is the case, you can temporarily put some of them out of sight and mind by selecting a group of one or more projects and using the Focus command to narrow your view to just those projects. At that point, you can flip the window over into the Context mode view and work as normally, except without the overwhelming quantity of tasks staring you down. This tactic allows you to have a more manageable workload without having to actually change your data around by subdividing contexts or anything like that. When you have completed all of those tasks, or you want to rebuild the list, you just use the Show All command to undo the Focus and you're back to seeing everything. And of course if you find yourself building up the same window time after time, you can use the Perspectives feature to give you one click access to it.
Thanks for your fantastic responses.

I'm going to give the following contexts a try for a few weeks:
@Mac Desktop
@MacBook Pro
@Low Energy
@People (with sub contexts)

I've completely ditched the @work context and broke that down into additional contexts. I've also added @Low Energy for tasks I can do when I've run out of steam. I'd prefer not to have this as a context as these actions could potentially be from any area of responsibility, but I can't think of a better way to handle it at the moment.

Many thanks.

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