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GTD @computer dilemma

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  • GTD @computer dilemma

    Having been using the Getting things Done system for a couple of months now I feel like it is helping my personal organisation. I still have some way to go in terms of working out a complete weekly review and I could probably do with doing the ‘collection’ stage again.

    However, my main query at the moment is around ‘contexts’. i.e. the context of an action such as @call, @email, @computer etc).

    What do I do about the ‘@computer’ context? Most of my work is on the computer; most of my work can be done anywhere thanks to my Macbook and most of my work uses a combination of offline and online computer work.

    It is getting to the stage that most of my contexts are @computer which doesn’t really help decide what to do next in any given context!

    I did try '@online - home', '@online - business', '@computer - home', '@computer - business' but due to the merging of internet and computer a lot of my work is a bit of a mixture of both as it didn't really seem to differentiate - hence moving to just '@computer - home' and '@computer - business', but it now feels a vague and daunting having so many @computer tasks. I’ve started using time to try and split these tasks up but I wondered if anyone had any bright ideas about other ways of differentiating context whilst working on the computer?

    I’m using Things for Mac & iphone

    Thanks in advance.


  • #2
    My @work list is about three pages long. All my other contexts (@computer, @home, @phone, @errands) have three to five active items on them each.

    My advice is don't worry about it. I know, easier said than done, but part of the whole GTD thing is to have an overwhelming number of things to do. Otherwise, why would you have adopted this system? The key is that you've captured all your next actions, that you can review them, and you can make a decision on the next action to take based on your energy, priorities, and time available to you. The contexts are only there because, for example, you can't do any of your "errand" next actions when you're sitting in your office.

    Now, if it helps your productivity to split that context up into multiple lists, go ahead. But I don't think that's your problem. If you split it up into multiple lists just to feel less overwhelmed, you risk losing visibility of an important task because it's on one of multiple lists.

    I have found it helpful to batch up my actions - for example, work in a technical field and I have to write up logs of users I help. Documenting this is time-consuming, so I recently created a new list. Every time I help a user, I put them on the list, and at the end of the day I go through that list and write up all the documentation. There may be actions you can "batch" like this.

    But again, it sounds like you just want to divide up your context because it has significantly more actions than other contexts, and I don't think that's necessary. It's normal to have more going on in one area of your life than another.


    • #3
      I've found that 'home' and 'office' distinctions are the best level of granularity, though I've also used due date or priority to help focus within the context (and avoid being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tasks).

      - MB


      • #4
        I'm experiencing the same issue

        Hi Matt,

        I'm glad you posted on this as I have the same problem, as I work in IT and it's not as clear cut.

        I have just left things with @Work, @Home contexts at the moment, which seems to work, but whether I'm splitting things down enough, I don't know!!



        • #5
          In my @computer I try to group similar things together, so for example I start my tasks with Mail, or Web so when I'm writing email, I can write all the email, if I'm browsing I can browse where I like to go....


          • #6
            re: Granulating Contexts

            The key to making location contexts work for you is ensuring that they do more to move you toward action than they do to encourage you to categorize and organize. This is even more true for those of us who use our computers and tinker more with the various options to display our tasks than we do in getting things done.

            Here's a good example. You have a laptop. There are times when you will not have an internet connection. So having anything that is @ Computer that needs to be done online when you don't have a connection is a drag on your attention. You should have at least @ Computer and @ Online to divide your computer-related tasks. But further, what if you have 50 online items and at least 6 of them you need to be at for because that's where you buy your books? Having an "@ Online ( Next action to do" category makes it easier to see these tasks and ensures that you have your list of books to order when you are online and at The parentheses provides the sub-context.

            The same is true for Home. Home where? Home office? Then @ Home (Office): Next action.

            You only specify what is needed to move you more toward action. There's no need to add @ Home (Kitchen), @ Home (Yard), etc. just to organize actions by categories. It all comes down to action. Start with the generic ones first, then add sub-contexts as necessary when you realize you wasted your time looking through 10 actions that you couldn't do because your context needed more granularity.

            Hope that helps.
            Last edited by Todd V; 04-07-2009, 03:23 PM.


            • #7
              I also don't differentiate between computer work at home or at work. That hasn't helped me, since I will do home pc stuff at work and vice versa. What has helped is to split up my computer work into @pc and @program, the latter I use for a few specific programs. This was suggested in the forum and has worked great. I don't have an @online list, since I'm always online and always have a browser open.

              I also don't include the emails I have to send in my @pc list. If I need to contact someone by phone or email or in person, I need to see that list separately (I call it @agenda). That way I can combine things I wanted to call about with what I wanted to say in an email, if I need to. This works great if they stop by or call.

              I do use an @office list which includes things that I really don't need the computer for, such as sorting some paperwork, reviewing a paper contract, etc. It mentally separates those things. Most of the items in here are busy work.


              • #8
                Maybe you could consider contexts such as @computer low energy, @computer high energy, @computer 15 minutes, @computer 2 hours, @computer no distractions, etc.


                • #9
                  I've been pondering this too, all of my actions come under @desk purely because everything I do is at my desk on my computer. I have been considering splitting it down by program or action, so @analysis, @excel, @word, @adwords, especially with programs which sometimes take a while to load, this could be useful and same me loading systems more than once.


                  • #10
                    Dirty little secret time! I only have 4 context lists: @Home, @Laptop, @Errands, and @Work.

                    And it works great! As long as each context list is effectively granular--everything on the list you actually can do in that context (the "at laptop but without internet connection" division is classic)--it'll work.


                    • #11
                      See this thread:


                      • #12
                        As said don't worry about contexts. Just don't use them and you'll see what contexts you really need to peace the mind and life. For me:

                        @Calls - to easy sort out calls while driving
                        @CallsM - to easy sort out appointments to fill in the next day (week)
                        @Home - to sort out my non-work next actions to do after office hours
                        @Office - my work related next actions


                        • #13

                          Thanks for all the input everyone. There are some really good ideas here.

                          It is clear that there isn't one way of setting up contexts judging by the range of responses! Similarly to sdann I always have a browser open so I'll try the @pc @program @office to start, and then add in separate time tags (which I've started using already - working quite well). I don't want to set something up that is too granular - I'm aiming for somewhere in the middle.

                          Thanks again for everyone's help!



                          • #14
                            If your lifestyle means you're pretty much always at a computer you probably spend almost as many hours at the computer (or PDA) as you do wearing clothes. And you don't have a context @Clothed do you? (unless there are any more dirty little secrets! )

                            If your life is like this, do you even need a computer context?

                            I've found it useful to separate context between professional and personal at the computer. At work, excessive personal use is discouraged, although I might be in the personal context for 45 minutes over lunch. So if I've got 15 minutes before a meeting, it helps me not to look at (and be tempted by the much more interesting) personal next actions.

                            Likewise sat at home tonight I could easily switch to the professional context if I was motivated to do some out of hours work, but most times I just want to focus on personal stuff.

                            In the past I've tried categorizing by estimated time to complete. Personally I ended up using this to procrastinate about not doing 4 hour tasks, so I scrapped it.

                            Some websites are almost treatable as agendas. I might have "Bob - for catch up" in my @Agendas. Have you thought about "Amazon - for next shop" for that? Or maybe it's an errand to you.

                            In an attempt to be descriptive I've started prefixing some of my @computer next actions with READ: and COMPOSE: and RESEARCH:. These seem to me to be major mental contexts I switch through in the day. I've noticed in the past that such prefixing is my mind's way of trying to figure out if I want to make those into new contexts or not.

                            Hope that's not too discombobulating!


                            • #15
                              It's interesting to read this, because I've just resolved today a similar issue - I was getting all caught up in working out my contexts, and was getting worried that something might get lost because I didn't check that context that day.

                              In the end, I really agree with what Todd V said - it's about making life easier, not categorising things. For example, I was experimenting with an @emails context, and had important work emails in there to send. But then I thought "what's the point? That's for work, so why not put it in the @work context?!". So I got rid of that! Now I'm not worried about missing stuff - I just switch to my @work context viewer, and all the stuff I have to do for work - regardless of the actual nature of the task - is there to see.

                              I suppose this comes down to the tenet that I see a lot when referring to GTD: "I'm not sure if this is strictly GTD, but it works for me!"