Projects are not containers

Ariadne Marques

So in our rapidly expanding and changing digital world, standard contexts are meaningless to me. Energy is a much better way (and the amount of time estimated for completion of an action) for separation and that is quite useful.
I've been thinking a lot lately about contexts and if I get value from them. I like having the ability to quickly shift between the Grond level view (next actions in contexts lists) and Projects (one of the reasons I like the Nirvana app). In my work, I'm usually responsible for 3-4 projects at a time, and they are all fast-paced 2-4 weeks long. They come and go quickly so I'm constantly adding new actions to my list based on phone calls, meeting updates, etc. Sometimes it's overwhelming and it's crucial for me to have a "container" for all the actions related to a project.
I thought about doing an experiment and letting go of the need to link next actions to projects, but the mere thought of it makes me shiver (and creates "pre-anxiety"...).

I feel like I benefit from fast processing (spending less energy thinking about contexts) and focusing more on indicating the sequence of actions. What should I tackle first? What should be my focus now? And what's next?

@Longstreet comment about energy and time estimated to complete a task clicked with me and I think I wasn't giving too much attention to this way of grouping next actions to help my decisions. I'm still thinking about it. I could live with only 3 contexts: @calls, @home and @errands, as long as I can see separate lists for Work and Personal (that's what I have in Nirvana for Areas and the global filter is perfect for that). All of my work is done at the computer or making phone calls, anyway.

I also took the Kairos cognition assessment and I'm predominantly a Sequential Thinker, so I think that explains my need to have actions in sequential order. Long lists with next actions from too many projects at once distract me, I work better if I see a curated list to work from.


If I’m understanding correctly, people are interpreting a “sequential” preference as preferring to work sequentially on context lists, and an “associative“ preference as doing next actions associated with the same project, but on different context lists. That seems to me to be an artifact of how you look at your.contexts and projects. If I am using Omnifocus, Todoist or Nirvana, I have the option of working either way. If I’m working sequentially through a project, that’s sequential, right? But if I do the same thing by thumbing through context lists, it’s associative? This all seems a bit facile. Am I missing something?
Well, the part that I care about is whether I'm changing projects--whether I'm dumping all the thoughts and ideas flying around my head about one project, and shoveling in the thoughts and ideas about another project. I don't like to do that if I don't have to.

Let's say that I'm writing a scene in my novel. I start out in Scrivener, typing away--we could call that a context. I reach a point where I need to know whether something is possible in my kinda-18th-century-technology setting. I Google--we could call that another context. That doesn't work out, but I have a faint memory that an episode of that great series, Connections, by James Burke, might be relevant. I go hunting for the old videotapes. I watch half of one. That's another context. That gives me a mishmash of tantalizing ideas--some of which are actually about the problem, some about other things that can enrich the scene in other ways--so I go take a walk to let those ideas dance around and listen to my characters talk to each other. That's another context. I get home and settle back in front of Scrivener and finish the first draft of the scene.

Now, I could instead have stayed in the Scrivener context. When I got stalled in my scene, I could have entered an action, "Research (whatever) in 18th century," in my lists and, since that would require changing contexts, look for something else to do in Scrivener. Maybe I have an idea for a blog post, so I dump the entire context of the novel out of my brain and pull in the context of my blog. But that, to me, would be a waste of a lot of useful mental marinating.

(Edited second paragraph slightly.)


I took the survey and am an Associative Processor. I also was diagnosed with ADHD (inattentive). I’m curious how this style maps to those with ADHD as many of the characteristics seem to be the same.


I took the survey and am an Associative Processor. I also was diagnosed with ADHD (inattentive). I’m curious how this style maps to those with ADHD as many of the characteristics seem to be the same.
Please don’t be offended, but I first thought that you were an “Associative Professor.” :)


I wish someone at GTD would create a detailed demo project, a text file with bullet points, and GTD veterans would implement it in their systems and post screenshots. It may not even need to be a multi person project But it should have subprojects, contexts, next actions and whatever other elements where different nuances can be applied.


It seems to me this is once again the situation were the distinction of conventional versus existential can come to the rescue.

Suppose I have three projects. All of them require emails, phone calls and an occasional visit to Home Depot.

Having the shopping at Home Depot actions/tasks show up altogether as the context of shopping is useful because shopping is a conventional task ... it is more about doing than being.

That is, unless you need to do the shopping in-person, wit another person involved with each project, there’s a lot less mental gear switching than with a Pomodoro to do emails for multiple projects.

Emails for different projects is a more existential task because each phone call or email involves communicating with different parties, likely in different contexts. That would be like a 25 minute one person show where you had to switch characters three times. The trip to Home Depot is one character even though it’s on the behalf of multiple parties.

(Yes, technically making a phone call is also a conventional action, but the existential aspect of the phone calls is where the bulk of the mental energy is spent.)