Are location-based contexts actually useful?

Has anyone used location contexts in a meaningful and useful way? A lot of the tutorials and reviews I’ve seen give examples of selecting a store location so a shopping list will automatically appear there. I know these are contrived examples, but they seem useless to me since typically the stores we most frequently visit are chains not tied to a single location. For example, I may go to a Wal-Mart to get something but it might be one of two or three in the area, so a location-specific reminder is really useless – in that case a “Wal-Mart” context would be much better. Same for Target, grocery stores, etc.

I can possibly see a work-related location context, but then assuming you are doing regular reviews then you are probably aware of work-related tasks before and during work hours anyway, so I don’t see much added benefit there either. Same goes for Home.

So if you use location contexts, how do you use them, and how useful have you found them?


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No :)

I don’t like using OmniFocus for general shopping anyway, as you cannot share your list with other people. So I use OmniFocus for personal tasks, and Apple’s Reminders for a shared shopping list. And except for shopping, I really don’t know what to do with this feature.

Edit: I also work from home a lot, so I rarely have office tasks.

An example: I can work from anywhere with Internet, so I have a separate context for @office. This will auto remind me of the few things I can only do in my office when I arrive. Same with @home.

Thanks @Tomatenklempner, that’s what I meant by contrived examples – shopping lists really don’t show the power of location based alerts. I just don’t see much by way of “power” though, and the dearth of meaningful examples online tells me most other people feel similarly.

@bradwright Work and home are the only two location contexts I can possibly see. But if we are doing regular reviews like we are supposed to (i.e. morning review?) then we should already be aware of what is expected. I haven’t purchased OF yet (about to buy it for the iPhone, later probably iPad) but I expect to review my day’s tasks in the morning over coffee and/or when I first arrive at work, and I assume others do something similar, so I don’t see how getting a reminder when arriving at work is a big benefit when I assume people check a “@Work” context when getting to work anyway.

But maybe I’m overthinking it and I’ll find something useful after all. As a stupid example, I live in a state without a lottery, and even though I know the math is ridiculous its still fun to spend a couple of dollars on it if I’m in another state. Recently we returned from a wedding and drove through three states with lotteries, and completely forgot about it until we were about to leave the third state. A location-based reminder set near the edge of each state would have been sufficient. So in that case I could see it being useful, but that is an edge case for sure.

I would love to hear about other experiences with location contexts, because it seems to be an incredible capability yet I don’t see any useful examples other than the @home and @work types.


I have at least three very useful location based contexts …

🚗 @errands
🏢 @office
🏡 @home

Each of these is reserved for tasks that can ONLY be done in the specific location. For example, while I may be able to plan the project, I can ONLY paint the house when at home or I can ONLY pick up the paint when I am out on errands.

The power of these location based contexts comes because I can selectively activate specific contexts (via an AppleScript) depending on where I am or plan to be. Fewer tasks in my Next or Active or Forecast views means fewer distractions means less anxiety means more productivity. The other power of these is that, as I plan ahead, I know that I will have to make time in my schedule to be @home, @office, or @errands for the coming period (day or week).

One can almost do anything anywhere now-a-days, or even plan an entire GTD approach solely around “energy level” or “mood” or … “problem-solving method” (my existing alternative context set) or others. I find it useful however to limit certain tasks entirely to where they really only can be done.


@DrJJWMac Thanks for the response. Your use of @errands is interesting, but it seems to be a catch-all – how do you have it configured? Also, I love your “problem-solving method” context idea – can you elaborate on that? Thanks!

Errands is my “catch-all” in that it is not specific to any one location, such as “grocery store” or “drug store” or “hardware store” or equivalent. It is also a “catch-all” in that I use it more during planning to remind me that I need to set aside time to be out rather than as a reminder that I need to “do something” while I am somewhere out (specifically on errands).

An elaboration of my problem-solving context list is here …


That problem-solving approach looks fantastic. Since I’m just getting started with the iPhone version first I’ve set up “energy level” contexts in addition to a few home and work contexts, but I’ve archived your model into Evernote for review as I get more advanced.


There’s a lovely bead shop on Capitol Hill in Seattle. I sometimes think of things I want to get there, but it isn’t worth the trip (and hunting for parking) just for one or two things. However, my favorite brunch place is just down the street, and has its own parking. So I set up a Capitol Hill location and when I’m there for brunch, OmniFocus will remind me that I want to walk over to the bead store before I leave the neighborhood.

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All of my contexts are location based with the exception of a catch-all, “Do” and “Mac” (and the standard Waiting for and Someday/Maybe)

Home is for tasks I can ONLY do at Home - For instance cleaning can’t be done while I’m at work.
Work is for things I can ONLY do at Work (I’m a big believer in not doing work-related tasks outside of work hours, so this works for me)
Errands is for things I need to do outside of those two locations. If there’s a place I frequent often, I’ll add it as a sub context. For example, I just bought a house, so IKEA is a place I typically have a long list for and it requires a special trip as it’s not in the area.

When I’m at work, I open my @Work perspective which shows my tasks in Work, Do, and Mac contexts. @Home shows tasks in Home, Do, and Mac contexts. My last perspective Errands shows my errands when I’m out.

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I think it’s important to clarify what we mean by “location-based contexts” since it seems the responses in this thread are mixed into two different forms (of which I have, or have used, both).

The first type of location-based context essentially predates iOS’ geofencing and reminders features, and goes back to the days of the iPhone 3GS when all we really had was a GPS and a “Nearby” feature. These contexts work even in many of the ‘contrived’ examples, since one great feature OF has always had for these types of location-based contexts is the ability to do a search rather than simply a set of coordinates. So, I can create a context for “Walmart” that looks for anything named “Walmart” and then bring up the “Nearby” view on-demand.

The downside to this type of location-based context is it can’t provide alerts. This is a limitation in the way that iOS’ geofencing features work… They need a specific location, and can’t work from a search (although, as an aside, it would be an interesting addition if OF could just search and auto-populate the nearest “x” number of matches into the Location-based Notification system, which certainly seems possible).

I frequently used this for things like ‘Home Depot’ and ‘LCBO’ (liquor store), since those would have things I might want to pick up at the nearest version of one of those stores, regardless of wherever I happen to be. At the same time, I don’t really want alerts for these anyway – I’d rather look at my Nearby context proactively for this sort of stuff than have my iPhone constantly reminding me that I’m somewhere near a place where I can buy something. I live in a big city, and that could get real annoying, real quick :)

Location-based alerts are a separate issue, and of course only work with a specific location. This is where things like ‘Walmart’ or ‘Home Depot’ may not work unless you always go to a specific one, in which case you probably know that you’re going there anyway.

I’ve moved my shopping lists out of OmniFocus in recent months anyway, preferring to now use AnyList as it has a few other nice features related specifically to shopping lists, such as recipe support and the ability to share lists with my partner, so if she’s at the store, she can see what we need and pick things up (or vice versa).

However, despite that, I still use a location-based context for the nearest grocery store for items that I need to remember to pick up the next time I walk by there. I routinely walk in the same general direction, and this is where location-based alerts can work to remind me that I need to pick up something specific. I only use that for specific, important items, however; more broad shopping location-based contexts were generally more annoying, as I don’t need to be reminded to stop into the grocery store each time I walk by it when dealing with a shopping list that’s mostly confined to “stuff I need on my next shopping trip.” So, separating my main lists into another app has generally worked really well.

However, I also have two other very specific contexts that I use location-based alerts with:

Leaving Home
Arriving Home

The purpose of these should be obvious by their names. For the same reason I don’t want my entire shopping list context to shop up every time I walk by the grocery store, I don’t need to know about all of my chores and errands every time I leave home or arrive at home. So, in addition to standard Home and Errands contexts (which do not have associated locations), I use the two above for things I specifically want to be notified of under those conditions. That way I’m actively reminded of things that need to be done when I’m arriving home (e.g. ‘take out garbage’) or leaving home (e.g. ‘go buy cat litter’). These are frequently repeating tasks with defer dates on them, so of course the notifications only come up when the tasks have once again become available. I had a similar repeating task for ‘buy milk’ at the local grocery store back when my daughter was young enough to be going through it at a rapidly accelerated pace.

I work from home, but if I had a traditional office setting, I’d probably also add ‘Leaving Work’ and ‘Arriving at Work’ to the mix.

Note that I don’t necessarily use either of these contexts statically. Some repeating tasks do stay there, while others get assigned in and out of them somewhat dynamically during my daily or weekly review cycle. For example, an item in my normal “Home” context might very well get temporarily moved to “Arriving Home” if I’m going out for the day and want to be notified of it as soon as I get back, and similarly an item in my Errands context can be dynamically added to “Leaving Home” if I know I’m going out later and will probably have an opportunity to take care of it, and want the reminder as soon as I leave.

The problem for me is that even with the closest option, it alerts me way before I’ve actually arrived to the location. If I’m walking home I get the notification when I’m a block or two away, and when I’m still in my car if I’m going to work. It would work better if it detected when you connect to a wifi or are exactly in the place where you configured the location.

Yeah, I’ve run into similar problems, although it’s usually not too much of an issue unless I’ma actively using my iPhone, as the notification will still be sitting there on the lock screen when I get home and pull it out. For outbound notifications, proximity is even less of an issue in my case.

Sadly, there’s not much Omni can do about how the notifications are triggered other than perhaps provide a smaller radius option. The location-based notification system is a function of iOS, so it’s up to Apple to provide features such as basing it on a specific Wi-Fi network, or providing tighter precision. OmniFocus just registers a ‘geofence’ with iOS, which then pops up the notification when you cross that boundary. Plus, as the name implies, the notification is based on crossing an imaginary ‘fence’ which can cause its own set of problems; often if you happen to “reappear” inside the fenced ‘zone’, iOS won’t fire off the notification because you never technically cross the line.

Yes, I use this for assignments due at school and for me it’s nice to have that extra nudge. That’s mostly all I use it for as of now.

YYYEEEEESSSSSS!!! I manage customers all over the UK and frequently visit them. Seeing them all on a map along with actions to take is an invaluable resource. There must be many, many opportunities to sell Omnifocus to those travelling a lot on business.

OmniGuys, PLEASE give us the ability to edit locations, plan trips and see Actions on a map using Mac and not just the fiddly iOS.

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Every day when I come into work, the iPhone app sends me a notification right as I enter the geofence. That means that 5 minutes before I get to the office, it tells me what tasks are in that context. It would be a lot more useful if I could specify an amount of time after which I enter the geofence, something like 10 minutes, so that I don’t forget to look at my phone when I sit down at my desk. With a 10 minute delay, I would get notified while actually in the context of the tasks, not a block or two away. Checkmark is the only app I’ve seen that does location-based reminders the right way. Yes, I’ve considered using Checkmark to link to opening my OmniFocus task list when I get to the office, but I’d love to have the delay built into OF.

I second that notion. The built-in iOS Reminders app actually now leaves reminders on the lock screen — even across unlocks — until they’re acknowledged. I find that method is actually preferable, but I suspect that Apple is doing something here that third-party developers aren’t permitted to, in which case a time delay is probably the next-best thing, since there are too many situations in which I might unlock the iPhone before I actually arrive at my destination, thereby clearing those notifications from the lock screen.

Of course, the notifications stay in the Notification Centre until you at least open OmniFocus or manually clear them, and you can also still just use the “Nearby” view in OmniFocus to see which tasks are available at your current location. Since I’m sitting at my desk and reviewing my tasks fairly regularly when it comes to work-related items, those methods probably work just as well as notifications. Situations where I’m on-the-go, however, or even arriving at home, would probably benefit more from a delayed trigger.

That said, however, I’d still prefer to see this set on a per-context basis, since there are times when I really do want to know about something as I’m approaching a location, as opposed to when I’m already in it.

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Until OF gets delayed notifications after arriving at a locationl, I’m going to use Checkmark 2 and a “link” to my work perspective using the much-improved URL scheme. This way I’ll get reminded 5-10 minutes after I’ve arrived and settled into my location, for example omnifocus:///perspective/Work to open the “Work” perspective.

This is great. I’m really, really happy with what’s now available in the URL scheme.


how do you get those nice icons left of the context? the car, office building and residential home that is…

Emoji & Symbols.