What is the purpose of contexts?

Suelin23

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I find contexts useful, particularly as it takes me about 90 minutes to get to work, and I also work at another site apart from the main office (also 90min from the main office), and have another field location I visit regularly (about 2 hrs from the main office). Obviously contexts help reduce travelling, but I find this works just as well in home life as well as work.

Also I find that priority is too simplistic. Tasks can be important or not, but also urgent or not. There are tasks that are important but not urgent, like filing, I like to accumulate a list of these type of tasks and do them in one go when in the city office. Also same with field visits, a field visit usually takes 2-3 hours due to the driving distance required, so if I have a list of important but not urgent tasks I'll put them on my context list and do them in one go. If I have an important and urgent task in a particular context, I'll put it on my calendar, but while I'm at that context, also check if there's any other tasks I can easily do at the same time.
If you have on your list tasks that can wait for a while, why not put them on a context list rather than do them straightaway, or there will be too much travelling.

Don't split your contexts if you don't have to. If you always have your phone and can make calls, a calls list probably isn't that helpful. However I work in a shared office, and only like to make calls when the office is quiet, so I have a calls list and when it's a good opportunity to talk, I'll check my calls list.
Also the errands list is great. I also have an internet surfing list, for websites and forums I'd like to check out when I have some free time, these are not important or urgent but I'd like to do them so it's good to have a context list for them.
 

May

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Paola52;87726 said:
In this scenario you would cut you gas costs. And it can happen that you start from your @home list. Your action would appear to be longer then expected. You spent the whole day at home. You didn't do your @work action and was fired :D

Another comment on 'all actions are the same priority and have to be done anyway'. You had 10 dollar opportunuty. At some point 1 mln customer appeared. Who is more important at this point of time? And imagine 1 mln dollar customers keep coming and you have no time for 10 dollar customer. Why to bother about 10 dollars when there're millions? You can just move this 10 usd to someday or not?

Yeah I'd move 10 dollar customers to someday then, don't want to clutter my next actions. I would probably assign a "@focus" context to 1mln customer too to make sure it gets done asap

And about staying at home and doing home actions all day, I've covered that in my previous comment but in short It doesn't make sense for me to do all my online actions in a batch because the list is kinda endless and I can basically spend all day online.
So you have to decide yourself how much time you want to spend in different areas of focus during the day. For example how much work you want to do during the day and how much fun you want to have during the day. And maybe even how much time you want to spend on a certain most important project a day.

My day doesn't have any hard landscapes most of the time because I work for myself and don't have to go to work because it's online.
So when I want to stop doing work and start doing personal projects I will filter by personal area of focus, I can also filter the result by context too then.
So of course your next actions list filtered by context doesn't have to be done completely in one go, it's up to you to decide when and how often to switch areas of focus (or contexts).

Again
There are two purposes behind a context: limitation (I can only do X in/with Y) and batch processing (it's easier to make 3 calls in a row).
But sometimes it doesn't make sense to batch process.

Here is quote from StevePavlina
The problem with sorting actions into context bins is that you scramble actions from different projects together. Perhaps you make 5 phone calls in a batch, each of which is associated with a different project. That’s fine if you’re out of the office, and you want to put your cell phone to good use, but what if you’re at your desk in your office? Does it still make sense to batch phone calls just because they all involve physically picking up a phone? If the calls are unrelated, then I’d say probably not.
...
Taking on too many projects at once and switching between them often during the day will limit the complexity of the projects you can handle. This is fine for simple projects or if you do cog-like work, but it kills productivity on large projects where you need to keep a lot of information in your head at once. Some examples of the latter would be designing a new computer game or a web site, writing a book or screenplay, or doing strategic planning work for a business. In order to work productively on such projects, you can’t keep switching between projects, or the work will take forever.
...
Sometimes the mental context is a lot more important than the physical one. Sticking with a single project and moving all around your office building to perform the different physical actions may be better than staying at your desk and doing desk work from 5 different projects. Getting up to do something in another room may cost you a couple minutes, but switching projects will often cost you a lot more. When are you working most productively on a project? Definitely not during the first 15-30 minutes.
source
http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2005/04/dynamic-planning/

He dumped context completely, I personally still use contexts the way the are suposed to but I don't rely on them either of course. I have more of a balanced system where I have lots of easy short projects and also some huge complicated projects.

The downside to working like this is that once I’ve loaded up a particular mental context, it’s hard to let it go. I become semi-obsessed. My phone will ring, or my wife will walk into the room and talk to me, or my son will be crying in the next room, and I’ll automatically tune them out. It’s as if my brain has allocated all available RAM to the given project, and nothing else will fit.

That's becase he doesn't have a trusted system I think. GTD is not only action lists it's about having a great reference support material too. I personaly don't have this problem at all and I don't rely on my brain RAM too much. I had this problem in the past but solved it by writing EVERYTHING down. Whatever information is important and related to a project is ALWAYS written down in project support files so I don't have to rely on remembering anything. Yeah it takes time to write it down and then you have to find it and read it but it's worth it.
My mental RAM is not enough anyway if the project is very complicated. My mental RAM have better things to do than holding on to stuff even when I work and focus on just a single project and don't get interrupted. And if I get interrupted then

from DA book

if someone interrupts you and it's
something you've got to take, "bookmark your brain" about where you just were on a piece of paper and drop that into your
inbox. You'll not only be more present with the person in front of you, since your brain won't trying to hold on to that place
you just were, but you will also have a trusted place to go back to (your Inbox) to pick up where you left off.
 

mcogilvie

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Paola52;87701 said:
Jukka,

"not possible" means never for me. My day is full of incoming calls and people. When there's 1 hour before the next meeting I would prefer to do the most important action across all the contexts instead of bunch of lower priority stuff. If the most important action is to fix the door to ensure my kids security then I will change the context to do it. And you would prefer to make 12 five lower priority actions instead? ;)

What is the plus of doing low priority stuff for one hour when you can change the context and do something of more value for you?

It's possible gtd has nothing to offer you at this time. David Allen has always said people should try out the methods he advocates and see what the results are for them. If you have done that and it has no value for you, fine; if you are unwilling to try it, fine. In either case, let the nice people who have been patiently trying to explain contexts get on with their lives. I will say that I have studied and tried many methods of time management, and gtd is really the only one that made sense in light of my experience, and works well pretty much all the time.
 

May

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mcogilvie;87742 said:
It's possible gtd has nothing to offer you at this time. David Allen has always said people should try out the methods he advocates and see what the results are for them. If you have done that and it has no value for you, fine; if you are unwilling to try it, fine. In either case, let the nice people who have been patiently trying to explain contexts get on with their lives. I will say that I have studied and tried many methods of time management, and gtd is really the only one that made sense in light of my experience, and works well pretty much all the time.

I don't think that gtd has nothing to offer for the topic starter. IMO gtd is essential. He asks valid questions and it's just that the simple contexts are not enough for some people and it doesn't mean they shouldn't use gtd either.

another quote from Steve Pavlina

To put it very simply… standard GTD will teach you how to do things right. It’s extremely effective at that. But before you concern yourself with doing things right, you must first figure out what the right thing to do is. This is commonly said to be the difference between management and leadership: Managers do things right; leaders do the right thing. Standard GTD is a personal management system. But it’s essential that you also have a personal leadership system. If you master GTD without the life leadership elements, your life will be like a ship that’s very well managed, except that it has no captain and no destination. It will bounce around randomly with great efficiency.

The lack of a GTD personal leadership element is also prevalent in David Allen’s second book, Ready for Anything. Take note of the title. You’re ready for anything. But what is that anything? You’re ready to act, ready to get stuff done. But what’s the stuff? Who chooses it? Where does it come from? What kind of person would value the state of readiness above all else? Perhaps a martial artist. But perhaps a slave too.
...
Before you can get things done, you must consciously choose those “things” you want to be doing. Before you put yourself into a state of readiness, you must consciously define what you want to be ready for. Knowing your life’s purpose is the answer.

Yeah and the problem with the high level purpose is that you have to master the runaway level first... But he makes a really good point.

While it's true that GTD is more focused on doing whatever comes at you rather than doing what you should be doing it doesn't have to be that way if you use areas of resposibility more instead of contexts.
OP asks about how to choose what to do and my answer is that contexts are not the only end all, be all criteria basically and it doesn't mean you have to dump the whole gtd either.

Context is low level criteria. It helps you to do things right. But if you are a leader then it's not enough. You need to also do the right thing. You need more to choose from than just context and you are not limited by context - low level criteria.
There are criterias like Areas of Responsibility( aka area of focus/ area of constant improvement/ etc.) which I apply for filtering next actions too and I showed in previous comments how to connect the Areas of Responsibility and filter it down to the lower levels (next actions) and so on.

English isn't my native language so maybe it's not very clear but hopefully you get it.
 

Paola52

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May,

Your post resonated with me. It is easer to choose an action within one area of focus then action from different areas of focus. For example, it's easier to choose between a call to setup a meeting with a new client or drafting a proposal for an old one then between playing with your small one or making a customer call.

During next weekly review I will go through my actions lists and make projects for all the actions. Delegate projects. Then sort the rest of projects between areas of focus: Sales, Non-Sales, Family, Health, Self-Development. Set a schedule that incorporates time for all areas of focus, for example: 9.00 - 15.00 Sales; 15.00 - 17.00 - non sales.

Then I will sort my next actions into the following contexts to fill in the schedule:

@Sales
@Non-sales
@Agenda
@Home
@Waiting

As a reslut I want to start my day with the most important sales activity. And I want my day to mostly include sales activities. Then I need time for non-sales as I have to move some projects there as well. On the other hand I could look for sales next actions across my other contexts like @phone or @ipad but it is easier when they are grooped together.

Do you think it makes sence?
 

May

Registered
Here is another example which could further illustrate what I mean.
I have a context @online and I have a context @computer anywhere (don't need online access). I put all the actions I can do on a computer without internet in @computer anywhere context. And all actions which need online access in @online context.

case 1.
I'm on the go and don't have an internet but have my netbook/tablet device. So in such cases I will filter by "@computer anywhere" context because I'm actually limited by context.

case2.
I'm at home and can do both online and offline context and also home context and also some agenda contexts and etc.. So do I go through all those context lists one by one? No. I will filter by whatever Area of Responsobility I want to work in. For example if I want to do work related projects I will filter by *work Area of Responsobility and see all my next actions regardless of context related to work projects. if I want to do personal projects I will filter by *personal Area of Responsobility and so on.

What's wrong with using contexts if I'm at home? Actually nothing wrong and I might still use them but not often. Alright, let's say I'm at home and look at @online context for example: I might miss important actons from @computer anywhere context and some important actions from @home contexts and etc. So I have to check all possible contexts - waste of time and energy.

But I still could use a @home context to see actions that can be done at home only. It can be an action from a weekly review project which I want to do only at home. It can be some home cleaning actions and etc.

So I will filter by context only when I'm actually limited by context or want to do actions only from certain context.
If I'm not really limited by context I will filter by Area of Responsobility ( which I do most of the time)

Paola52;87747 said:
May,

Your post resonated with me. It is easer to choose an action within one area of focus then action from different areas of focus. For example, it's easier to choose between a call to setup a meeting with a new client or drafting a proposal for an old one then between playing with your small one or making a customer call.

During next weekly review I will go through my actions lists and make projects for all the actions. Delegate projects. Then sort the rest of projects between areas of focus: Sales, Non-Sales, Family, Health, Self-Development. Set a schedule that incorporates time for all areas of focus, for example: 9.00 - 15.00 Sales; 15.00 - 17.00 - non sales.

Then I will sort my next actions into the following contexts to fill in the schedule:

@Sales
@Non-sales
@Agenda
@Home
@Waiting

As a reslut I want to start my day with the most important sales activity. And I want my day to mostly include sales activities. Then I need time for non-sales as I have to move some projects there as well. On the other hand I could look for sales next actions across my other contexts like @phone or @ipad but it is easier when they are grooped together.

Do you think it makes sence?

Yeah it does make sense, I personally would add labels as areas of focus (like Sales, Non-Sales, Family, Health, Self-Development) to projects.
And then I would filter next actions by those labels if I want to filter by area of focus (no need to manually assign those labels again to actions as contexts, it's done automatically) and I would filter by contexts too if I want (like @ipad,@home and etc.) but it really depends on the tools you use for gtd. You got the idea correctly.
 
I highly recommend reading about the Four Criteria for Choosing model in the Getting Things Done book. It does a great job describing why context is the first limitation and reasons why it can help to sort your actions that way--it sorts your choices based on opportunity to do.

Sure priority comes into play. And many times I am in the right context, have the time, have the resources to do anything, and priority is my only factor in choosing. But that doesn't eliminate the usefulness of contexts as how I organize--it just provides another vantage point for reviewing my context sorted lists to choose the best thing to do in the moment. Often I'll zone right in on my Calendar or @Computer list (where most of my work lives).

And my overall advice? You don't have to do everything in GTD to get value. Do what you can, as it makes sense, and build on it from there. It's a whole "ecosystem of productivity," but there's also value in applying any one piece of it to anything in your life.

Cheers.
 

May

Registered
kelstarrising;87749 said:
I highly recommend reading about the Four Criteria for Choosing model in the Getting Things Done book. It does a great job describing why context is the first limitation and reasons why it can help to sort your actions that way--it sorts your choices based on opportunity to do.

Sure priority comes into play. And many times I am in the right context, have the time, have the resources to do anything, and priority is my only factor in choosing. But that doesn't eliminate the usefulness of contexts as how I organize--it just provides another vantage point for reviewing my context sorted lists to choose the best thing to do in the moment. Often I'll zone right in on my Calendar or @Computer list (where most of my work lives).

And my overall advice? You don't have to do everything in GTD to get value. Do what you can, as it makes sense, and build on it from there. It's a whole "ecosystem of productivity," but there's also value in applying any one piece of it to anything in your life.

Cheers.

Thaks for the reply, yeah I completely agree that contexts are the first limiting factor and they are useful.
But Areas of Resposonbility are actually not priority at all.
Using contexts like @Urgent, @Important, or @A/@B/@C is an indicator that you've fallen back to traditional «time management» methods. It's not helpful to know that a next action is urgent if you can't act upon it where you are right now.

Areas of Resposonbility are 20,000 feet level of current job responsobilities.

The problem with four criteria model is that when you're not limited by contexts most of the time you waste time and energy by checking all possible context lists.

Levels above the project level are not well integrated into the system as a whole and have always been a little grey in terms of implementation, but reality is they are a part of real life and it makes sense to use them rather than rely completely on “intuition”.

Four Criteria for Choosing
1 | Context
2 | Time available
3 | Energy available
4 | Priority

When you work GTD at the level of projects and actions and use Four Criteria for Choosing there’s no connection with higher levels at all. You are always at the runaway level and can't see a bigger picture.
I think that DA didn’t really cover higher levels enough and how to connect them with the whole system in the book.
In 4 criteria model the last criteria is priority which you should figure out based on intuition but it's too vague so it makes a lot more sense to evaluate your options from actually a slightly higher perspective (20,000) first insted of using intuition right away.

So here is an example
1. context = doesn't matter ( so you haven't filtered anything)
2. time = doesn't matter
3. energy = always high energy
4. priority = ? (use intuition)

So in this example you are actually suposed to make a choice based on intuition. You haven't really filtered actions or you just have more lists to check if you did.
"While it's definitely a kind of "first world problem" to have, facing the unlimited freedom to chose from any of a bajillion similar tasks from similar projects with similar outcomes is not nearly as fun as it first sounds."
It is a lot harder than evaluating your options from a slightly higher perspective (20,000) first ( current responsobilities ).

So here is a different model which would make a lot more sense in such case

0. area of focus = work or personal or whatever ( actually filters your actions )
1. context = doesn't matter ( for example most of your work takes place at one context )
2. time = doesn't matter (don't have hard landscapes, you're your own boss)
3. energy = always high energy (for example you are very healthy person)
4. priority = ? ( now a lot easier to decide within one area of focus instead of choosing within all areas of focus)

Merlin Mann:
"Contexts can help shape your day, but they're less than useful if they don't track realistically to the demands of your work."

My advice is not to dump contexts but to use Areas of Resposonbility/focus (20,000 feet) for filtering next actions (instead of only intuition) IF you are not really limited by contexts. If you are actually limited by context then filter by context first. Or you can filter by both/all criteria of course. It's a win-win-win-win scenario
It's not about doing less in GTD, it's about making it all work :)
 

Cpu_Modern

Registered
I think what May showed us also means, that Areas of Focus can also be contexts.

Why is this so?

As already mentioned in this thread, other teachers of time-management principles also have identified the 20k-level and named it for example categories of constant improvement or roles. In fact, on the GTD Fast CDs DA aknowledges the beauty of Covey's model for the 20k-level stuff 'roles'.

The word used by Covey 'Role' hints at the fact, that when looking at our 20k-level items we possibly see ourselves engageging totally in one Area of Focus or let's say: living in one Role. Each of this Roles require a specific mindset to be fullfilled properly. And such mindset can indeed be a GTD-style context, because it is not always available or at least not too easy to create.

For example you will feel differently and talk to yourself differently when working out rather than browsing through the pages of a new bought book sitting on your couch. Similarly you will find that you need a certain inner concentration on your role as a salesman, when talking to a client or event thinking about calling a client.
 

ccoleman99

Registered
I agree contexts are of little value

I understand contexts and why they are valuable for many, but count me as someone who has little use for them. I can almost always do anything at any time. And even for rare things that require a special context, I can almost always just change contexts quickly anyway.

I only use two contexts: errands (for obvious reasons), and weekends (for things that need several hours to do). Everything else goes into a big pile. I then sift that pile by project (because I often know what projects I want to work on) or else I just go through in the morning and star a handful that I'd like to get done.
 

Paola52

Registered
On Monday I start a new life. A new experiment.

I deleted all the contexts and sorted the actions into two main contexts: @Sales and @Other. I will still have @Agenda for set meetings and @Waiting.

I will start the day with processing new inputs into the system. Then I will work with @Sales actions till after lunch. After lunch I will do @Other.

Anyone to join?
 

clango

Registered
Paola52;87814 said:
On Monday I start a new life. A new experiment.

I deleted all the contexts and sorted the actions into two main contexts: @Sales and @Other. I will still have @Agenda for set meetings and @Waiting.

I will start the day with processing new inputs into the system. Then I will work with @Sales actions till after lunch. After lunch I will do @Other.

Anyone to join?

Do you expect more results from @Sales or from @Other?
 

Paola52

Registered
I expect more results because I will be focused on @Sales for a longer time. I will have no options to do other pleasant task or any other tasks that do not move me closer to the deal.
 

clango

Registered
Sales and results

I understand that If you could stay more focused in @Sales you can surely get more results than before. Isn't it?

In the morning, therefore, when you are @Sales what if you could focus your energy only there? If you could start the morning with a clear plan, already prepared, do you think you could get more sales? In case you get also a "prize" on the sales volume would you consider to prepare the plan the day before at least or on friday afternoon for the next week @Others?
 

Cpu_Modern

Registered
copy pasted from 43folders.com comments:

Podophile Says:
July 31st, 2006 at 10:55
I’m a writer working at home, so @computer, @phone, @home never really worked for me. Instead, I’ve matched my contexts to the way I structure my workday. The morning, from 8am - noon is for writing and editing. The afternoon, from 1 - 5 is for research, reading, email, website maintenance, etc. The evening is for entertainment and housework.

So on my @morning list, I have:
- Stories I can start drafting
- Drafts that need editing

My @afternoon list may contain:
- Research that needs to get done
- Phone calls to make
- Email to send
- Photos to take
- Website maintenance issues
- My “to read” file

My evenings are pretty unstructured, but my @evening list may contain:
- Household chores
- Adding movies to Netflix cue
- Potentially long personal phone calls

My only other context is @errands, which is basically a shopping list, which I do either on my lunch break or in the evenings, as needed.

So far, this system has helped to keep my workday structured, which is never easy when your at home sitting in front of a computer with a high-speed connection all day.
 

Paola52

Registered
clango;87823 said:
I understand that If you could stay more focused in @Sales you can surely get more results than before. Isn't it?

In the morning, therefore, when you are @Sales what if you could focus your energy only there? If you could start the morning with a clear plan, already prepared, do you think you could get more sales? In case you get also a "prize" on the sales volume would you consider to prepare the plan the day before at least or on friday afternoon for the next week @Others?

Sure, my @Sales includes only next actions to move my sales. That could include calls, drafting action plans, drafting proposals or even reading news. Just choose a next action that gives me more $$$ and start with that. Makes sence?
 

TesTeq

Registered
@context rules.

  • The first rule of @contexts is: you do not talk about @contexts.
  • The second rule of @contexts is: you DO NOT talk about @contexts!
  • Third rule of @contexts: if there's nothing to do in a given @context you relax or change @context.
  • Fourth rule: @context is followed by time available, energy and priority.
  • Fifth rule: one @context at a time, fellas.
  • Sixth rule: just cranking wigdets at @context. No shirt, no shoes, no weapons.
  • Seventh rule: doing at @context will go on as long as it has to.
  • And the eighth and final rule: if this is your first time at @context, you have to DO at least one Next Action.
 

debbieg

Registered
May;87713 said:
I personaly don't use contexts much and instead I sort by area of focus most of the time. Every project gets labeled as a certain area of focus(work,personal,etc) and then I can filter next actions by this label(so I will see next actions only from work related projects and all work related single actions too for example).
I work online and most actions have online context so when I want to do work I will filter by work area of focus and when I want to do personal I will filter by personal area of focus.

I'm also sorting by areas of focus. My question for you is this...

Let's say you have 3 high priority areas of focus. Do you have a separate list for each one where you capture ideas/future actions? How often are you reviewing these lists? If you are going to work on one next action from each of your three areas of focus on Monday, where do you keep track of these key next actions so you don't loose sight of them?
 
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