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What are Contexts, how does GTD work and do I need tags? Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
I bought a mac after 20 years of Windows and DOS. Now I am figuring out how to make my mac do everything I was doing on my PC. For the past few weeks I have been looking at how to replace MS-Outlook as a task management tool. After researching different task management software for macs, I have heard a lot about somebody called David Allen and the "Get things Done" (GTD) method. So I want to find out more about this, and how the GTD method differers (or is similar) to my own method for task management. I know practically nothing about GTD so I am looking for somebody to tell me what the differences are.

In Outlook I used several 'primary' categories ("groups") of tasks, these are 'exclusive' categories since all tasks are in one category only. I guess these primary categories would be the equivalent of contexts in OmniFocus. However, I also have a few 'secondary' categories, which I use to identify some tasks within the 'primary' categories. So then I have the ability to search on a secondary category name to see only those tasks belonging (i.e.: tagged)*to*the secondary category.

Outlook doesn't have the ability to make sub-tasks, so I am looking (finally) for something with more functionality, even though I could simply buy the OS X version of Office and save myself the the trouble of all this research.

Here is more detail about how I am organizing tasks.

Many years ago I attended a half day seminar about work productivity. I didn't absorb much from it but I remember they talked about dividing tasks into a four quadrant system with importance on one axis and time to complete on the other axis. So there are four categories that a task could be classified as:

1) Important - Long time to complete
2) Important - Short time to complete
3) Not important - Short time to complete
4) Not important - Long time to complete

The idea is that a person should prioritize tasks in the order shown above, with "Important - Long time to complete" the first tasks to work on, and 'Not important - Long time to complete' the last tasks to work on. It isnít a strict rule, but generally more time should be spent in the important - long time to complete quadrant.

So using this system I came up with the first four 'primary' categories to classify my tasks:

"To Do - Important - Long Tasks"
"To Do - Important - Short Tasks"
"To Do - Not Important - Short Tasks"
"To Do - Not Important - Long Tasks"

The categories hold various miscellaneous tasks for no specific project.

I separated tasks involving shopping in to similar categories as follows:

"To Buy - Important - Research Required"
"To Buy - Important - No Research Required"
"To Buy - Not Important - No Research Required"
"To Buy - Not Important - Research Required"

As above these categories hold various miscellaneous shopping tasks for no specific project.

I also have several categories for specific projects currently being worked on:

"To Do - Mom's Stuff" - these are tasks for things I do for my mother.
"To Do - Taxes" - tasks related to my personal income tax filings.
"To Do - Mutual Funds" - tasks related to a project I started working for mutual fund investing.
"To Do - Non Residency Preparation" - tasks related to a project to become a non-resident.
"To Do - Condo" - tasks related to a condominium that I own.
"To Do - Career/Education Related" - tasks related to my career or education.

A rather unusual thing about my job is that I work overseas, but I live in Canada. Most of the year I am overseas, but about five or six times per year I return to Canada for a week or two to take care of personal business. So I have some special recurring categories of tasks related to visits back in Canada (to make sure I don't forget to do something before returning overseas):

"To Do - Immediately"
"To Do - Three Days Before Departure"
"To Do - Two Days Before Departure"
"To Do - One Day Before Departure"
"To Do - On Departure Day"
"To Do - On or Shortly After Departure Day"

So the above are all of the 'primary' task categories that I have been using, which, as I mentioned, are exclusive with respect to each other, meaning a task only appears in one of these 'primary' categories at a time.

The few 'secondary' categories that I have been using are:

"Very Important" - tasks that I flag across all categories as most important of all.
"To Do - Only in Canada" - tasks that can only be done when I am in Canada.
"To Do - Only Overseas" - tasks that can only be done when I am overseas.
"To Do - Mom's Place" - tasks that can only be done in the town my mother lives in.
"To Do - Work Days" - tasks that can only be done during working hours during the week (like visiting a dentist for example).

As I mentioned, I use the 'secondary' categories to 'tag' tasks residing in the 'primary' categories so that I can bring up only those tasks belonging to the secondary category in a search.

Ok, so this is essentially how I have been organizing tasks for the last ten years. If I was to follow the GTD method, can you tell me how I would be organizing my tasks differently? If I knew the answer to this question I might see how I wouldn't need to use multiple categories, or tags, in a task management software that doesnít have this functionality, like Omni Focus.

Thanks for reading, if you got this far.

Can anyone help with this?
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by nielkfj View Post
I bought a mac after 20 years of Windows and DOS. ...
Welcome! You have an adventure ahead for sure.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nielkfj View Post
... I guess these primary categories would be the equivalent of contexts in OmniFocus. However, I also have a few 'secondary' categories, which I use to identify some tasks within the 'primary' categories. So then I have the ability to search on a secondary category name to see only those tasks belonging (i.e.: tagged)*to*the secondary category.
This is a reasonable starting point. You can make sub-contexts in Omnifocus. For example, my set up has the equivalent of this break down in a top-level context Waiting For ...

* Waiting For
-- Work
--- Colleague
--- Staff
-- Personal
--- Spouse
--- Child 1

Quote:
Originally Posted by nielkfj View Post
... Outlook doesn't have the ability to make sub-tasks, so I am looking (finally) for something with more functionality, even though I could simply buy the OS X version of Office and save myself the the trouble of all this research.
Yes. And you could also buy yourself a skateboard and use it to travel around the US continent. But, that would be a rather foolish thing when other tools are available to do the job so much better.

Omnifocus can group sub-tasks as sequential (one after the other) or parallel (any one at any time). This is an often over-whelming yet hugely powerful feature.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nielkfj View Post
Many years ago I attended a half day seminar about work productivity. ... I remember they talked about dividing tasks into a four quadrant system ...

1) Important - Long time to complete
2) Important - Short time to complete
3) Not important - Short time to complete
4) Not important - Long time to complete

...
This is not really GTD. This is more like the priorities of the Seven Habits religion. It uses two classifications (Urgent, Important) and creates a four quadrant matrix (U + I, I, U, neither U nor I).

The zealots of GTD might argue, such an approach is heresy or worse.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nielkfj View Post
... long presentation of Outlook method cut ...
Quote:
Originally Posted by nielkfj View Post
Ok, so this is essentially how I have been organizing tasks for the last ten years. If I was to follow the GTD method, can you tell me how I would be organizing my tasks differently? ...
First, you should organize in Omnifocus in a way that is comfortable for you. Secondly, you should prepare now that you will likely re-organize things in Omnifocus a few times until you find what it is that really is comfortable for you. Thirdly, you might try hard to avoid at first that you play with your new tool while you try to fit everything in to it.

With this in mind, I recommend that you pick a few key Projects to develop within Omnifocus. Avoid that you get frustrated when everything does not fall in to place right away, and also avoid that you absolutely have to have everything fall in to place right away. Have a back-up system, such as a pen and paper and calendar, that you know how to use.

Finally, I recommend the Websites

http://www.asianefficiency.com
https://store.asianefficiency.com/om...premium-posts/
http://www.usingomnifocus.com

to give far greater detail than could ever be put here.

Best regards in you new adventure!
 
Thanks for reading my post and your comments. Actually I haven't purchased Omnifocus yet. I am trying to decide between it and 2Do, and possibly also Things as a third choice.

I have a few follow-up questions, if you don't mind.

You wrote "Omnifocus can group sub-tasks as sequential (one after the other) or parallel (any one at any time)."

So do you need to enter a due date or start date or such thing for each task, so that OF can organize them? In general is organizing tasks with respect to a timeline a key concept to using Omnifocus?

I think it was the U + I method that I remember. This rings a bell. It was back in the 90's when I went to the seminar.

I am still unclear about what contexts are. Are they a GTD concept? It seems like they are supposed to be physical things which must be present in order to accomplish a task (i.e.: a person, place or thing) Is this correct?

If so, perhaps in OF I would make contexts such as:
@Overseas
@Home in Canada
@Mom's Town

But then how would i prioritize tasks within these contexts ... does OF even allow prioritization of tasks?

Probably the key question I am trying to resolve is do I need tags, so that I can categorize tasks in multiple ways. I don't yet understand why OF doesn't allow tags or multiple contexts.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by nielkfj View Post
... I haven't purchased Omnifocus yet. I am trying to decide between it and 2Do, and possibly also Things as a third choice.
In case this might help, for the most part I view the tools this way ...

Omnifocus is a PROJECT-CENTRIC tool. It is designed for you to build projects as a logical sequence of actions.

Things is a TASK-CENTRIC tool. It is designed for you to group a set of actions together in a sequential flow.

I have no basis to evaluate 2Do.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nielkfj View Post
... So do you need to enter a due date or start date or such thing for each task, so that OF can organize them? In general is organizing tasks with respect to a timeline a key concept to using Omnifocus?
You manually organize the tasks in a project in a way that makes logical or chronological sense. The logical ordering may have absolutely nothing to do with time. For example, regardless of when I start in time, I cannot paint my house until I buy the paint. Omnifocus does nothing "automatically" as far as sequencing your tasks. You can however view listings of your tasks in various Perspectives that can sort tasks by dates (among other aspects).

I use start dates for cases where something cannot start until a certain time because something limits it to be that way. For example, I could not start my 2015 taxes until January 1, 2015 because I absolutely will not get my W-2s until at least then. Also, I cannot even consider to pay my next phone bill until after about the middle of next month because the amount will not be presented until then. Both actions have respective start dates. I use due dates ONLY when something demands a deadline. Again, the submission of my taxes for next year is due April 15, 2015. I do not use start or due dates to define when I WANT to do something. I use them to define when I first CAN or last MUST do them.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nielkfj View Post
... I am still unclear about what contexts are. Are they a GTD concept? It seems like they are supposed to be physical things which must be present in order to accomplish a task (i.e.: a person, place or thing) Is this correct?
As I would understand, the general description of contexts is along this line:

* In the good, old days of strict GTD, a Context was a location where a task would be completed. I use contexts for this. Examples: Office, Home, Errands, Church, ...
* In more recent times, a Context has for some also come to mean a tool that is required. I used context in this way once but don't anymore (because I have most tools I require around with me most of the time). Examples: phone, computer, iPad, ...
* For some folks, a Context is used to indicate a state of mind or global frame of activity. I used these once but don't anymore (because my workload often demands action regardless of my state of mind). Examples: focused, idle, scattered, @browser, on phone, ...
* For some folks, a Context is a person who has to do the work. I use this in a top-level group called Waiting. Examples: Waiting - secretary, Waiting - colleague, Waiting - spouse, ...
* Finally, I have contexts that define a workflow process: consider, define, research, do, tidy up, report, close.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nielkfj View Post
... If so, perhaps in OF I would make contexts such as:
@Overseas
@Home in Canada
@Mom's Town
Yes. I tend however to use one or two words for contexts as best possible. Here is an analogous example of my set.

* Workflow
- consider
- define
- research
...
- close
* Location
- Office
- Home
- Farm
- Errands
...
* Waiting
- Work
-- staff
-- colleague
...
- Personal
-- spouse
-- kids
...
* Always
- bills
- someday
- dreams
...

Quote:
Originally Posted by nielkfj View Post
... But then how would i prioritize tasks within these contexts ... does OF even allow prioritization of tasks?
NO, absolutely not! Priorities are a different religion to the GTD mantra. You will be branded as a heathen if word gets out that you want to do this. Certainly you will ostracized if you even try to ask here in the forums how to include priorities on tasks in Omnifocus.

:-\

The above warning being given, some folks use Contexts in Omnifocus for priorities. Or they use the time-needed feature -- for example 1 h, 2 h, 3 h, 4 h -- as priorities. Feel free to ask further, perhaps after you search and read the already-posted messages in the Omnifocus forums that have keywords such as "priorities".

Quote:
Originally Posted by nielkfj View Post
... Probably the key question I am trying to resolve is do I need tags, so that I can categorize tasks in multiple ways. I don't yet understand why OF doesn't allow tags or multiple contexts.
(sigh)

This subject has been an ongoing internal debate in the forums here for at least two years. As the GTD fundamentalists will tell you, multiple contexts (i.e. tags + contexts) are a transgression equal to a mortal sin. You will be damned to a life of agony, or some equivalent life of constant confusion about how to Get Things Done in a purely sublime way. Multiple contexts or tags are one step below trying to use priorities within the GTD religion for the evil they will cause you.

Up until this year, this seemed also to be the party line from Omnigroup as well.

However, in what now appears to be a concession to the liberal wing of the GTD church, Omnigroup has included a way to have tags in Omnifocus 2 (in a kludged way IMHO).

So, welcome to Vatican Council II where Latin is no longer the required language for mass. :-)

You will have to get access to the Omnifocus beta or wait for its release to have the official implementation of tags. As I understand, it uses # hashtags in the notes field. I admit that I have not followed the developments. Again, you will find a lot of prior discussion on this by a search for keywords "tags" in the Omnifocus forums.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by nielkfj View Post
Now I am figuring out how to make my mac do everything I was doing on my PC.
Try not to do this literally. I switched from PC to Mac in 2003 and I kept tripping over this. Think about what you need to get done, rather than how you used to do it. it doesn't matter how you get to the result so long as it i the right result.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nielkfj View Post
Many years ago I attended a half day seminar about work productivity. I didn't absorb much from it but I remember they talked about dividing tasks into a four quadrant system with importance on one axis and time to complete on the other axis. So there are four categories that a task could be classified as:

1) Important - Long time to complete
2) Important - Short time to complete
3) Not important - Short time to complete
4) Not important - Long time to complete

The idea is that a person should prioritize tasks in the order shown above, with "Important - Long time to complete" the first tasks to work on, and 'Not important - Long time to complete' the last tasks to work on. It isnít a strict rule, but generally more time should be spent in the important - long time to complete quadrant.
The Quadrant I use is slightly different, the length of the task doesn't matter to me. The categories are:

1) Important and Urgent
2) Important
3) Urgent
4) Other

This is a well known quadrant who's origin is disputed, but works well for me.

What you are looking for is multiple contexts, and unfortunately (much to my chagrin) OF will not support this. I think that your system is much more complicated than it needs to be, but you're the person who has to use it.

With GTD, the best way to simplify your model is to use a verb as the first word of your tasks.

e.g.
Buy new Toaster
Write new Policy
Book car in for Service.

This removes this part from your contexts which should be based around being in the right 'Place' to carry out your task.

Some people have Physical Places, Tools required, people to liaise with.

e.g. Desk or Laptop could be used for Research.

Some people use Energy Levels as contexts,

e.g.
Low energy - Water the plants, Filing, fill your stapler
High Energy - Tackle your taxes

Shopping could be a context all on it's own with Sub Contexts for different types of Stores.

Regarding your Canada tasks, have a context as 'Canada' and when you know the dates you will be going home, set dates on the projects and tasks to be done at home. you can gleefully ignore the Canada context in perspectives and have a perspective set up for Canada which would mean you can ignore everything else whilst you are home (if you want to.)

I would suggest you search out David Sparks' screencasts on how to use OF and look at the Asian Efficiency website for their OF starter for 10 http://www.asianefficiency.com/omnifocus/
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by DrJJWMac View Post
NO, absolutely not! Priorities are a different religion to the GTD mantra. You will be branded as a heathen if word gets out that you want to do this. Certainly you will ostracized if you even try to ask here in the forums how to include priorities on tasks in Omnifocus.

CUT for Comedic Effect

(sigh)

This subject has been an ongoing internal debate in the forums here for at least two years. As the GTD fundamentalists will tell you, multiple contexts (i.e. tags + contexts) are a transgression equal to a mortal sin. You will be damned to a life of agony, or some equivalent life of constant confusion about how to Get Things Done in a purely sublime way. Multiple contexts or tags are one step below trying to use priorities within the GTD religion for the evil they will cause you.
So if I want both I'm officially going to Hell? Suppose that's better than trying to use things ;-)
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by GeoffAirey View Post
So if I want both I'm officially going to Hell? ...
That depends on whether you also have any inclination toward dancing. Then AFAIK by at least one religion's standards, you already have both feet firmly planted past the gate. :-)
 
Very quickly.

First, read the book Getting Things Done by David Allen and make an informed decision.

Second, your system seems to rely on predetermined priorities organized into quadrants. This type of priority assignment, strictly speaking, is not part of GTD. However, priority is part of the Four-Criteria model used in GTD to choose which tasks to complete in the moment.

Third, contexts are used as the first factor to limit one's choice of what task can be completed in the moment. They can be a person, place, or thing (nouns?); pretty much anything. I have not found reason for multiple contexts or tags to be useful in GTD, but other workflows might apply value to this type of element differently.

The factors of the Four-Criteria model are:
  1. Contexts
  2. Time available
  3. Energy available
  4. Priority

Fourth, read the book. If you are considering moving away from your current productivity implementation to GTD ó understand the tenets of the methodology by reading the book and not by requesting another's interpretation.

Good luck.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dale View Post
...
Fourth, read the book. If you are considering moving away from your current productivity implementation to GTD ó understand the tenets of the methodology by reading the book and not by requesting another's interpretation.
As a counter ... I would say, even the un-baptized should always be welcome to ask the clergy for insights before they get in to the details of a book.

But then, I am not a Baptist. :-)
 
Thanks all for the replies, and more importantly the thought and time put in to them. They have been very helpful.

Just one further question. With my current system of task management I have a few special 'tags' ('Groups' in Outlook) to identify particular tasks. For example I like to tag tasks that can only be done on weekdays during business hours. I filter on this tag so that I have a list of things that I might try to accomplish before the end of the business day, or before the weekend.

Can you explain how you would accomplish this filtering in OF using the system of contexts that you currently use? Is it even possible? Would I need to make a context specifically for this, such as @During_Business_Hours?
 
 


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