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Too Few Contexts?

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  • Too Few Contexts?

    Regarding the process of next-action lists for projects:

    I currently have a context labeled @computer. However, the majority of my work is done at the computer and a decent portion of the other things I do in life are done on the computer as well. As a result, I have a long list of next actions in this particular category, meaning, every time I check this list, I must read through a large number of next actions and decide what is most important. I'm thinking that it might be best for me to break down my contexts into more descriptive categories. What do you guys think? Thanks!

  • #2
    Prioritization problem.

    Originally posted by Dano85 View Post
    I have a long list of next actions in this particular category, meaning, every time I check this list, I must read through a large number of next actions and decide what is most important. I'm thinking that it might be best for me to break down my contexts into more descriptive categories. What do you guys think? Thanks!
    Will it solve the prioritization problem?

    If you hide an important Next Action in a context not important at the moment - you will not see it!


    • #3
      I have:

      @Thesis Writing

      These contexts work really well for me. Coding and thesis writing take a lot of energy to switch between so they get their own context. The internet stuff can be too distracting. It's so easy to open a browser and start looking things up. It then takes a lot of energy to get back to the real work. @Internet keeps those tasks out of the way until I want to spend a chunk of time on them.

      I also have @Computer which is for all the other computer tasks like backups, spreadsheets, burning CDs. I'm considering doing away with it and splitting the tasks between @Home and @Desk.

      Some of my @Calls are computer tasks too. I use this context for calls, texts and emails.

      So in summary, I think splitting @Computer up is a very good idea but be ready to revise the contexts you end up with if they stop working well for you.


      • #4
        Originally posted by Dano85 View Post
        I currently have a context labeled @computer. ...I'm thinking that it might be best for me to break down my contexts into more descriptive categories. What do you guys think? Thanks!
        Best way is to try it and see. I break down my computer tasks by machine (@Computer Mac, @Computer MacBook and @Computer iPad) and by software package (@Computer Grassroots, @Computer Scrivener or @Computer LightRoom) and sometimes by location (@Computer GoDaddy) and also by network status (@Computer Internet). I do not live where Internet is always available and the mental energy for changing tasks from one software package to another is also a drag.

        Feel free to create, use and then delete contexts on a whim. My contexts frequently change as my needs change. Right now I have a bunch of specific contexts for different fields and farm buildings. In winter they tend to contract into a generic @Outside context.

        I like to try to split a context when I get more than about 35 actions in it. That is about the limit I can effectively review quickly when deciding what to do next using the rest of the decision model of time, energy and priority.


        • #5
          Originally posted by Oogiem View Post
          Feel free to create, use and then delete contexts on a whim. My contexts frequently change as my needs change.
          I would second this advice. I'm still working on my @Computer context. Currently I have (in Toodledo, my personal list manager):
          @Computer-Grange (can only be done on my home computer)
          @Online-R&D (this is stuff I can do wherever I have an internet connection, but it's not just surfing stuff; it's research I'm doing)
          @Online-Surf (just "whenever" curiosity stuff)
          @Email-Rosewalker (things that need to be send out of my business email, but can be sent either at home or on my iPhone)
          @Email-Personal (things I can send out of my personal email, either at home or on my iPhone)

          My "day job" contexts are much simpler, and are in Outlook only at work. All I need are @Next Actions
          Waiting For

          Pretty simple!

          The beauty of this system is that it is totally flexible and can be customised ad infinitum (this can also be one of its seductive rabbit trails!)... I think, if there's one key (besides the Weekly Review! ) it's to always keep the end in mind. When you're tweaking your system, have it be because you want to re-think things as little as possible, and not just because you want to make it as sexy as possible!


          • #6
            Seems to be a pretty good consensus that it's ok to break down contexts if it makes Next Action reminders more visible. I will try breaking down my @computer context into more descriptive sub-contexts and modify them as necessary. Thanks guys!


            • #7
              How you split your context should align broadly with your various physical-spaces and head-spaces. The example about re: computer splitting into coding and thesis writing is a great example - ie, presumably all of that is at the same physical location (eg @work or @home), but moving between them is a big 'move' still.

              Certainly I'd suggest trying a few different things, but probably put on your NAs to review the success of your trial contexts for as long as it takes until you feel either comfortable with your settings, or familiar with what drives the need for change.


              • #8
                My many @Computer contexts

                I am in the same boat as you are. All my work is at computer and I always have internet connection. I manage my @email list through my email, so I do not need to put it on the lists, usually. I have been struggling with contexts for years and finally settled on basic principles.

                Here are my lists that I found useful.

                1. @inAnalytics, @inAdwords etc. I do work for many clients. Often I have to log into special tools and programs to check or run reports, etc. When I am in there, I look at my list and do all tasks associated with that tool. This works only if you have many "disjointed" tasks from many projects, but require logged in access to the tool.

                2. By time - @5min, @15min, etc. These are tasks that I have to do on the computer. I have so many of them, that it helps to split them by approximate time it will take me to do them. If I need a break from analysis or coding, I look at my tasks that take 5 min and pick one that does not require mental energy. After I am done, I am back to my project.

                3. @calendar. Often I am making appointments, consultations, and conference calls. I need to see my calendar that I can easily modify, send meeting invitations to people, etc. I have to be in front of my computer with Google Calendar open to complete those tasks. Hence, the context.

                I think, my biggest break-through was when I heard Kelly say that it is OK to change contexts. The "default" list did not fit my work pattern and now that my mind has been liberated from the concept of "set in stone contexts", I change them around often and it works well.


                • #9
                  I tried increasing the number of contexts for computer, but found that I would miss some really important tasks because I tended to only check one or two contexts lists and not all. So I went back to a reduced number of contexts (Work, Work Office, Work Network) and most of the stuff ends up on the Work context. But to help me decide I sort the tasks in order of time using tags (<3hr, <2hr, <1 hr, <.5hr, <.25hr), so I look at my calendar and focus on the biggest tasks I could fit into the time available first. After that my list app also puts them in order of priority from highest to lowest, and I also use icons to identify energy levels. I find having few contexts but advanced sorting helps the decision making be a lot easier.


                  • #10
                    I don't have @computer at all

                    Since I will have a computer whether I'm at home or at work, I don't use that as a context at all. I do have @home which includes computer tasks I can only do at home (e.g., my game development software),two @work contexts (one for "work" and one for admin/professional development type stuff) and @PersonalAnywhere which is where I'll put computer tasks I can do anywhere (at work, at home, on my mobile) For example, a lot of those are things I want to surf online.

                    I agree with the others that you should create and delete contexts as they fit your needs. Try them out for a few weeks - make a note on your weekly review checklist to think about how the contexts worked and change them accordingly.


                    • #11
                      I created an @Home-Computer context for actions that I can only do on my desktop computer at home. That way I can easily see all of my home computer actions in one place instead of having to filter out household actions like "Clean toilet" and "Fold laundry" when I'm working on the computer.

                      I also have an @Computer context for actions that can be done on *any* computer including my home computer. I usually save those actions for "reverse-telecommuting".


                      • #12
                        Internal vs External Worlds

                        In any particular situation there's an interplay between the environment and your mind. What can be done (i.e. next actions) at any moment is determined by both of these.

                        For me, contexts clearly fall in the environment realm. They simply define the environment that you're in.

                        Sometimes, like you, I am in an environment where a lot of things can be done. When I'm at home I select: @Home, @Calls, @MacBook Air, @MacBook Air Wifi, @iPhone, @iPhone 4G, @iPhone Wifi, @iPad, @iPad Wifi, and @Pencil & Paper. Obviously, I have a ton of next actions under these. And that's exactly how it's supposed to be because that is the reality of the environment that I'm in. That's what Contexts are supposed to do. Contexts don't pick something for me to do, they only define the negative, they define what I can't do.

                        So where do "I" come in? What's the other side of this equation? Where's the "yang" to the "yin"? Where does the mind come in? It's not next actions, it's projects.

                        Project categorizations are mostly "mind" related. They're what things mean to me. They're things I want to achieve. They're the "wildly successful outcomes" we've already envisioned. It's very important to have a way to simply see all your projects (maybe just by area of focus) but uncluttered with all the actions associated with them. By browsing all your projects you can pretty quickly use your intuition to decide what to work on. Opening a program takes no effort for me if it's done AFTER I've scanned my projects and decided on what's most appropriate to do at that time.

                        So I think the problem is not we have a lot of things to do in our contexts, the problem is that we can't decide what do to by looking at next actions. We decide where we want to go by looking at outcomes, by looking at projects. Next actions are simply the dumb next physical action to do to reach that goal. No thinking done there, that should have already been done when we created the next action.