Forget about contexts.

G

Guest

Guest
The thing that struck me as genius when I first read David Allen’s Getting Things Done was the idea of contexts.
But many are realizing that Allen’s original contexts of @work, @computer, @phone, and so on, don’t make as much sense today as they did in 2002. Contexts are really outdated now .

I got rid of contexts except for errands context, but, let's be honest, this list has nothing to do with GTD or David Allen, it's a shopping list for crying out loud! It's been around for so long, everyone uses it.

@computer: When are you not at your computer nowadays? Or how many times have you been in a context where you're really pressed to get things done but don't have your computer, and really can't stand looking through all those tasks that involve a computer? I seriously can think of zero situations like this.

@computer-internet/nointernet: Are you really on a plane this much? Please.

@phone: Don't even start.

@agenda: Compared to the three above, this has slightly more use, but I still don't think it's necessary. Chances are, there are fewer than 2 or 3 people in your life whose time is so valuable that you need to make a list like this for when you're with them.

@email: This is useful under one and only one circumstance: if you've become so disciplined as to check your email only a few scheduled times a day, then by all means make a list of the email you need to make when it's scheduled email time.

Deciding a context for an actions was always a useless waste of time and effort for me.
I always have iphone and ipad with me and I can do anything anywhere so contexts were really useless.

I also tried to use mental contexts, e.g. @Research, @writing, @focused thinking, etc. but it didn't help either, it actually made things worse. It was too much time spent deciding on the context for each task. I was over organising because I was following gtd by the book and/or someone else advice.

Contexts are simply unrealistically complicated and to tell you frankly, for most people whose main jobs and main sources of stress involve work done in an office or any other single setting.

I'm not simultaneously running 6 businesses and constantly on the road with 10 kids. I don't have 200 projects because I don't fill my lists with tonnes of random stuff just for the sake of it anymore. If I forget to buy butter when I'm at the grocery store, I don't stress and it doesn't stay on my mind. If I forget to surf or read something on internet, I don't care. But the large project that involves simply sitting down, closing Gmail and Facebook, and getting it done, will stress me out and will stay on my mind if I spend the day ticking off all kinds of less important tasks on my list.

I treat my projects, especially my work projects, as contexts. This system has the advantage of simplicity. I never have to think about the appropriate context for a task. Forget labeling tasks by context and focus on getting that big monster task done and you're on your way to real stress-free productivity.
 

mark1968

Registered
Last week, I attended the Mastering Workflow seminar in Toronto. The values and principles that govern GTD are very sound - inspiring even. Some of the workflow suggestions are - to my mind - better suited to the well travelled salesperson and/or cubicle dweller.

You are one of many who finds the context idea in need of an upgrade, or relegated to the history books circa early 90s.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
mark1968;106923 said:
Some of the workflow suggestions are - to my mind - better suited to the well travelled salesperson and/or cubicle dweller.

You are one of many who finds the context idea in need of an upgrade, or relegated to the history books circa early 90s.
I'm neither a clerical worker nor a salesman. I'm a university professor, and I think I am pretty busy. I think I've read most of the proposed replacements for contexts that try to convey priority, duration, and/or energy level. I've tried some of them too. In my experience, they require too much work to maintain. My estimates of priority, energy and time required are not reliable, and sometimes these estimates are a barrier to getting things done. Breaking things up into @desk (home or work), @study (home desk), @university, and @home just works for me. I have recently broken things out a bit into @email, @web, and @calls. Of course, I can do these a lot of places, but they can often be done quickly and easily in windows of time. By grouping them functionally, I can batch them and I don't have to think hard about where they go. But if contexts don't work for you, by all means don't use them.
 

vbampton

Administrator
I get where you're coming from - I work from home so almost all of my contexts are always available.

That said, I do still use contexts. Why? Because it makes it easy to batch similar tasks. If I've sat down at my computer and opened a specific program (perhaps web design software) then I might as well knock out the 4 other similar tasks from 3 other projects at the same time, while I'm in that 'mode' of thinking.

For me, there's no extra processing involved - if I haven't decided whether a task requires a phonecall or sitting down at my computer, then I clearly haven't finished clarifying the nature of the task.
 

oliver_r

Registered
I'm with vbampton on this one. Even if almost all contexts are always available, you can still get a lot of value out of them.

Usually many contexts are available to me, too, and I look at all of them. They do help with focusing and batching tasks. If I don't want to make any phone calls right now, I can close the list and don't look at the phone calls I could make.

I love my "Anywhere" list, where I put things I need to think about or brainstorm. Perfect list for my daily bus rides to and fro work and when going for a walk.

As part of my job I have to do a lot of copywriting, so I have a Writing context, which is my favorite list. I associate that list with "Yes! I get to write!" :) . I usually don't write in my office, so having that context made sense. I can sit outside in the sun or a quiet spot in the nearby forest with my iPhone, look at my Writing list and start drafting and brainstorming in an app, in my journal or on a legal pad.

Last week we got a new hardware firewall installed and I had no access to the internet for the whole day. I could immediately close the Online list and work on a couple of less important offline tasks without feeling guilty.

Also, I find that GTD is very flexible. If I want to try out a new experiment, for example "no contexts", it's easy to pull off with my list manager. It's never a 100% commitment and if it doesn't work out, I can quickly move back to contexts. You can have lots of creative fun with this!

The last few weeks where very fast-moving and it was easy to lose track. So I created "Weekly Wins" and "Daily Wins" contexts and put them at the very top to help me stay focused. I asked myself "If I got to the end of the week, looking back, no matter how hectic and stressful the week has been, what do I want to be true in order for me to be happy with the week?". Now that I don't need it anymore, I deleted them.
 

cfoley

Registered
I can partly see where you are coming from. I'm a computer programmer and I really struggle to put my programming jobs in my GTD system. It's not a problem for me because as a rule, I don't forget to do these projects. It's interesting that David Allen uses (paraphrased) someone who is paid to just churn out code as someone who doesn't need GTD.

On the other hand, @DIY is a great context for me. It's one that I don't work through much but once I get my toolbox out or my painting gear set up, I want to work through as much as I can
 

TesTeq

Registered
I own my computer, my computer doesn't own me.

supergtdman;106922 said:
But many are realizing that Allen’s original contexts of @work, @computer, @phone, and so on, don’t make as much sense today as they did in 2002. Contexts are really outdated now .
Many? How many? Most of the GTDers I know use contexts successfully. Many people I know use 2 GTD systems: work and personal. I call these areas of action "supercontexts".

@computer: When are you not at your computer nowadays? Or how many times have you been in a context where you're really pressed to get things done but don't have your computer, and really can't stand looking through all those tasks that involve a computer? I seriously can think of zero situations like this.
I'm not @computer when I'm windsurfing, gardening, shopping, running, at the meeting, reading...
 

Myriam

Registered
you give the answer yourself

supergtdman;106922 said:
I got rid of contexts except for errands context,

I treat my projects, especially my work projects, as contexts.
Summary: you didn't get rid of contexts, you adapted them to fit a form that works for you. Not so different from those who adapt them trying to put energy level etc in them.

Bottom line is: if this works for you, keep on doing it.

Myriam
 

Oogiem

Registered
COntexts Vital but must be adjusted

I think you're missing the point.. You are still using contexts, they are just different.

For me I can't even figure out how I managed to get stuff done before GTD and the concept of contexts and I work from home and usually have all of them available at any given time. Except when the net goes down due to weather, or it's too cold to work outside.

Contexts help reduce the brain switching time to move from one mode of thinking to another. That is their value to me. And occasionally the move from one location to another but that is rarer. I also use them to define things that take more than one person to do vs things I can do by myself. That is a very useful context for me.
 

mark1968

Registered
supergtdman;106922 said:
I treat my projects... as contexts.
In 2003, I tried to organize my workflow by @computer, @phone, etc., and it felt like an off-the-rack suit that didn't fit properly. So I went back to a Covey-esque type of planning, marrying next actions with projects. And I've, more or less, worked this way for over a decade.
 

AndrewGM1

Registered
Contexts still matter

Like most people using GTD these days, I did question at least certain contexts, like @computer, when I'm basically at a computer most of the time (including a smartphone).

But as others have said, one value can be in batching tasks. @phone, for example, works for me because even though I'm at a phone (desk or cellphone) pretty much all day, I may have downtime where I want to sort all next actions by @phone, and then do a whole bunch at once (thus advancing the progress of many different projects in one shot). Conversely, even though I have a phone within reach at all times, I may not want to use it for hours, as I'm focusing on other things.

Also, I have to disagree on the agenda context. It all depends on your situation. I'm a manager of 11 people, and have kids. Including my boss, that is over a dozen people who I must catch up with on a regular basis on specific projects or questions. It's absolutely critical for my job, and often for home life, to maintain active @agenda lists. If agenda lists don't work for you, then don't use them. But it doesn't mean agenda lists have no value on an absolute basis.

Another way I look at contexts (and I'm not the first to say this), is to look at the contexts I actually am in during the day, rather than try to follow a pre-packaged set of contexts. So that led me to create an @commute context, as I'm on the train for a set amount of time each day. And there may be certain things I want to do during that time (like read, catch up on work email, or think through something).

I pretty much have dropped the @computer and @errands contexts, as they are too general for me. I keep a "Grocery list", with no context or other info, as I know to just go to it when I'm shopping for groceries. I also keep a Household Items list for stuff I need from the hardware store or similar, and where the grocery store doesn't have those items.

Good topic to bring up, and I'm finding the comments very interesting.
 

Oogiem

Registered
Errands is not Shopping

One additional comment. @Errands is a lot more than just a shopping list, in fact for me my actual shopping list is in a separate SW package.

@Errands also covers things like stop at dry cleaners, go to bank, check brat status at brewery and restock freezer if necessary, take some item back to the neighbor, go pick up something from the conservation center, and so on. I also use it to make a list of the various stores we plan to go to when we do go shopping. Shopping is a once a month event and it's a 75 mile drive one way to get there so I had better know what stores I need to go to or we waste time and fuel.

The actual list of the items I need to get is contained in a SplashShopper list. Many of our items are recurring ones. I't a lot easier for me to note what's getting low as I use stuff during the month. Then when we do go shopping I already know what I need to get.
 
S

supergtdman

Guest
Summary: you didn't get rid of contexts, you adapted them to fit a form that works for you. Not so different from those who adapt them trying to put energy level etc in them.
Keeping track of your tasks is a matter of bookkeeping and I’ve moved from a double-entry to a single-entry system. It also cuts the review time in half trying to decide context assignment.

This is, I think, part of the problem with GTD. It overloads us with silly analysis over what the next action is — “Move hand forward; Pick up pencil; Move pencil over paper; Lower tip towards paper …); or what “@Context” a given action belongs to. And so on.

To each his own: If your larger life goals are to be the quickest email-processor, bill-payer, and errand-completer that your friends and family have ever known, then by all means make sure those tasks are organised and completed with the utmost efficiency.

What GTD doesn’t acknowledge well is that the really important stuff gets done. Automatically.

Contexts are poor discriminators for deciding what to do (too many things can be done in my office, online, etc.); far more importantly, CONTEXTS ARE PLACES I GO TO IN ORDER TO EXECUTE PRIORITY ACTIONS, not the reverse.
 

manuelhe

Registered
multiple contexts

Like tasks applied at different levels of horizons. Contexts can be applied to multiple states of being.

Contexts will find you in different geographical locations, mental/energy states, social situations, current momentum (being in the zone), and in different focuses of horizon.

You could say that at any given moment your current is actually a combination of several sub-contexts. At that moment any combination of such contexts might trigger a particular best next action.

So I don't think its time to forget about contexts. Its time to realize that you are probably better able to describe the particular context you are in, and should recalibrate your organization appropriately.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
supergtdman;106944 said:
Keeping track of your tasks is a matter of bookkeeping and I’ve moved from a double-entry to a single-entry system. It also cuts the review time in half trying to decide context assignment.

This is, I think, part of the problem with GTD. It overloads us with silly analysis over what the next action is — “Move hand forward; Pick up pencil; Move pencil over paper; Lower tip towards paper …); or what “@Context” a given action belongs to. And so on.

To each his own: If your larger life goals are to be the quickest email-processor, bill-payer, and errand-completer that your friends and family have ever known, then by all means make sure those tasks are organised and completed with the utmost efficiency.

What GTD doesn’t acknowledge well is that the really important stuff gets done. Automatically.

Contexts are poor discriminators for deciding what to do (too many things can be done in my office, online, etc.); far more importantly, CONTEXTS ARE PLACES I GO TO IN ORDER TO EXECUTE PRIORITY ACTIONS, not the reverse.
I'm going to try to explain this as nicely as I can to you, and to mark1968. It's certainly true that a lot of people have made GTD very complicated. It's really not a complicated system, and I think the David Allen Company does a very good job of explaining and modeling universal best practices. Like you, I've done away with "double entry" lists where next actions are linked to contexts and projects. Unlike you, it's the explicit project connection that I've dumped. Every next action is associated with a context. I didn't dump the project connection lightly. I understand very well the natural human desire to plan and prioritize, and the emphasis that traditional time-management places on these activities. However, I found that I absolutely needed a system that was fast, where it was absolutely clear where new items went and what needed to be done. The system also had to be leakproof. It turns out that I am pretty good intuitive judge of urgency, importance and time required if I have a system that meets those requirements and use it faithfully.

I do not want to put words in your mouth, but it seems to me that you are trying to extrapolate from your own experiences and attitudes to something universal. My experience is that really important stuff does not get done automatically. Sometimes it gets done in a panic, and other important things get neglected. I spent some time yesterday grocery shopping for my elderly parents and then spent an hour with them in their apartment visiting. If I don't shop for them, they don't have food for lunches. However, I have a lot of other things to do that are important and/or urgent, and they all have to be done too. I need to be an effective errand-runner precisely because I have other things to do besides run errands.

Yours,
Mike

p.s. Maybe you should change your nom de plume if gtd isn't doing it for you?
 

mark1968

Registered
supergtdman;106944 said:
...overloads us with silly analysis... If your larger life goals are to be the quickest email-processor
Supergtdman - your thoughts are sound without the sarcasm and putdowns.
 

vbampton

Administrator
supergtdman;106944 said:
Contexts are poor discriminators for deciding what to do (too many things can be done in my office, online, etc.)
I'd put it a different way - contexts were designed to rule out the thing's you CAN'T do right now, freeing you up to concentrate on the things you can do.

CONTEXTS ARE PLACES I GO TO IN ORDER TO EXECUTE PRIORITY ACTIONS
If something's not important to you, GTD would suggest it shouldn't be on your lists in the first place. If it's on your lists, the assumption is you think it's important enough to do the next time you can.
 
S

supergtdman

Guest
My experience is that really important stuff does not get done automatically. Sometimes it gets done in a panic, and other important things get neglected. I spent some time yesterday grocery shopping for my elderly parents and then spent an hour with them in their apartment visiting. If I don't shop for them, they don't have food for lunches. However, I have a lot of other things to do that are important and/or urgent, and they all have to be done too. I need to be an effective errand-runner precisely because I have other things to do besides run errands.
This is an example of a shopping list as a context which is one really useful "context" though.

One premise of GTD is that as far as your mind goes, all open loops are created equal. Now, is that really true? My experience and observation over the past several years has led me to believe that it's not. Big, nasty tasks take up way more mental and emotional energy than little ones. I simply do not stay up at night wondering whether I will remember to get the butter at the grocery store.
And on the other hand if things are REALLY important to me then I will do them without any list.

The Example of Steve Jobs, he wasn't just batch processing unrelated actions based on a certain context:

Steve Jobs would set aside different days or parts of days for different focus areas. According to Isaacson’s biography, Monday morning Steve would meet with his top management team. Wednesday he would be meeting with marketing team. Friday (before he sold Pixar) he would drive up to Pixar’s headquarters and spend the day working on Pixar. And Sunday evening (according to Walt Mossberg’s accounts) he would frequently set aside to call up his contacts in the press.

The end product of GTD could itself be a problem. Instead of spending time doing important stuff, you become a slave to your lists. It’s on the list, do it. Imagine Steve Jobs just doing random calls because they're all in @calls list, then doing some actions from @computer list, etc. It just doesn't make any sense at all whatsoever. Being able to focus on what matters isn’t going to be possible if you have a list that bosses you around.

There’s a bit of irony here, though. For many folks, these unique and specialized systems for promoting productivity can actually become points of friction themselves. They end up holding people back more than they free them. And it isn’t because the methodology is flawed; it is because methodologies are stereotypes that pigeon-hole people into roles they weren’t meant to inhabit.

Nowadays there is an increasing focus on creativity and thinking outside the box, as businesses struggle to stand out and innovate, and NOT on mindlessly doing next actions from a context.

Yes, batch processing actions from a context could be more efficient than switching between contexts but not effective.
 

vbampton

Administrator
supergtdman;106952 said:
Imagine Steve Jobs just doing random calls because they're all in @calls list, then doing some actions from @computer list, etc. .
If Steve was following the GTD principles properly, he wouldn't have that problem, because he'd be doing his weekly review and the only phonecalls on his @calls list would be ones he really needed to do.

Your weekly review puts you in charge of your lists. Without the weekly review, THEN you have lists that boss you around. GTD doesn't exempt you from making priority decisions - it just gets you to make them during a quiet reflection time instead of in the heat of the moment.
 
Top