It’s time to make smarter lists. When you are at the office it doesn’t make much sense to have a task on your list that can only be done at your home. Would you agree? This is why you should assign a context to a task.
What contexts should you use?
This has been on my mind lately. I’ve found that if I’m sitting at my office desk the context of office is really to broad to be useful. I can do anything from my desk! Email, make calls work on a project.
David Allen recommends a basic list of contexts. They are pretty general, things like home and office. Truthfully, this was how i setup up my contexts list. For reference I’ve listed out my old context lit below.
But I found this to not really be helpful to my work flow. So I departed from this standard list in search of something better.
I really feel you are more productive when you can batch certain task like calls and emails. But the standard GTD contexts list didn’t really give any insight to my tasks.
Let’s review what makes a good context:
- The number one rule when using contexts is to use the right amount of contexts. Too many and you are fighting your system. If you have too few it’s not really a system. So yes you kind of have to be like Goldilocks.
- There maybe a little trial and error for you to find the right amount of contexts to use for your tasks. Remember there is no set rule just use your common sense and adjust by adding more or reducing them if you don’t find yourself not using them.
- The context should inform you about the task at hand. At it’s most basic you could say I can only do this task at home or at work. Here’s where I wanted to depart a little from the system. I can do anything at work. I needed a way to really help me structure and organize my list in a way that matched my workflow.
After reflecting on how I work and my tasks that i set out to do I found that I really to be solely focused on certain task. Being in a creative field some task are very time intensive and require me to be fully focused and engaged in what I’m doing.
This revelation was my first Ah Ha moment.
Being in my office wasn’t good enough as a context, I needed to know which tasks where big, hairy and needed me to clear time to really dive into them. Typically for me I hit these tasks first thing in the morning.
My first context was born – Full Focus
Once I had that context I reworked the rest to the following:
! – Important – This is a departure form David Allen, I’ll admit that. Even though my task manger app Nozbe has a priority feature that allows you to star a task sometimes I like to filter all my task with ! contexts. When I’m, planning out my day I want to make whats important to me gets done. This is different in mind then using the priority feature and checking the star off in Nozbe.
Full Focus – These are task that I need to get done with a fully awake brain and having rock solid focus. For me this might be drawings details for a project. Writing a blog post. Working on client contracts.
No Focus – These can get done when I have a few minutes before a meeting. These don’t require mental focus. Cleaning my desk. Checking on office supplies. Organizing samples in my canvas sail bag for an upcoming meeting.
The following contexts haven’t changed:
Call-Email – I like to have a list of call and emails that I can do. This one hasn’t really changed. The idea is still that you can make calls/emails when your client is running late or you finished a Full focus tasks early and you have 30 minutes before your next meeting.
Agenda w/ – I have an “agenda with” context for anyone I might need to talk to about something. Your boss, a direct report and even your spouse would be great places to start. This way, when I sit down with them I can glance at my list and filter the tasks I need to talk to them about.
Errands – So you are out and about and have to run errands. Before you go take a look at your lists. Maybe you need to pick up a part from the hardware store to fix something. Or get your dry cleaning. This is a great time saver. I keep track items I need to buy in anylist. If I’m in a store I open the app and see whats on my list that I need to buy.
Home – These are tasks to do at home.
Here’s my old list:
- Office – This is my default. As you might expect most of my work related items are categorized in this context.
- Call/Email – I like to separate out these, I like to batch them all at once. Also phone calls can be made anywhere. Is a client running late? Check your list, make a call!
- Home – These are tasks to do at home.
- Agenda w/ – I have an “agenda with” context for anyone I might need to talk to about something. Your boss, a direct report and even your spouse would be great places to start. This way, when I sit down with them I can glance at my list and filter the tasks I need to talk to them about.
- Waiting For – Do you need to delegate a task? Here’s where you keep track of them.
- Errands – So you are out and about and have to run errands. Before you go take a look at your lists. Maybe you need to pick up a part from the hardware store to fix something. Or get your dry cleaning. This is a great time saver. I keep track items I need to buy in anylist. If I’m in a store I open the app and see whats on my list that I need to buy.
With a little trial and error you’ll be able to find a system that works for you. I always try to improve my systems and I hope you also strive to constantly improve.
Organizing tasks by context is very simple to do. It’s guaranteed to give results. Remember the key is to have just enough contexts in your system to sort the tasks and not too many to make the system overwhelming.
Do you have a system that uses contexts? Let me know on Twitter.