GTD Four-Criteria Model of Choosing Tasks in OF2?

Hello everyone.

Loving OF2, but as a pure GTD user I am frustrated by a lack of fields for using the Four-Criteria Model of Choosing Tasks:

  1. Context
  2. Time available
  3. Energy
  4. Pri­or­ity (reward of doing and risk of not doing)

I feel like when I add a task the following should happen:
Command-N (New Task): “Call Delta and request window-seat for wife on next week’s flight to New York”
Tab (Choose Project): Visit NYC with wife
Tab (Choose Context): Phone
Tab (Choose Time Required): 10 minutes
Tab (Choose Energy Required): Low-1
Tab (Choose Priority): Medium-2 (I told her I’d do it so I want to fulfill my word but if she doesn’t get a window seat on the flight it’s no the end of the world.)

Then a few days later, towards the end of a long day (tired/low-energy), on train ride home (only Phone available), with only about 15 minutes before I get to my stop (15 minutes of time remaining), I could run a filtered search of my OF2 tasks.

OF, show me only tasks that match:
Time Required: <15min
Energy required: low-1

Then I would see all my options, and I would intuitively choose from the highest priority ones available that I could do in my current state.

This kind of functionality is important because part of GTD is doing the thinking on the front end so that when you have some random time/energy/context situation you can just trust that you inputted everything appropriately and choose something knowing it’s an effective and appropriate use of your time.

I realize this would require some additional fields, but as OF is touted as being the GTD power app I don’t think it’s too much to ask for these fairly essential GTD options. I have heard people say that pure GTD doesn’t involve priority but I would say that is pretty much just wrong. Have a look at the book or David Allen Co’s own webinars on choosing tasks and this is very clearly explained.

For reference here is an example article talking about these 4 criteria and another app:

Thoughts anyone?

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(In case anyone is interested, here is the word-for-word excerpt from the GTD book, page 49.)

  1. The Four-Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment
    At 3:22 on Wednesday, how do you choose what to do? There are
    four criteria you can apply, in this order:
    1 | Context
    2 | Timeavailable
    3 | Energyavailable
    4 | Priority
    A few actions can be done anywhere (like drafting ideas
    about a project with pen and paper), but most require a specific
    location (at home, at your office) or having some productivity tool
    at hand, such as a phone or a computer. These are the first factors
    that limit your choices about what you can do in the moment.
    Time Available:
    When do you have to do something else} Hav-
    ing a meeting in five minutes would prevent doing many actions
    that require more time.
    Energy Available:
    How much energy do you have? Some actions
    you have to do require a reservoir of fresh, creative mental energy.
    Others need more physical horsepower. Some need very little of
    Given your context, time, and energy available, what
    action will give you the highest payoff? You have an hour, you’re
    in your office with a phone and a computer, and your energy is 7.3
    on a scale of 10. Should you call the client back, work on the pro-
    posal, process your voice-mails and e-mails, or check in with your
    spouse to see how his or her day is going?
    This is where you need to access your intution and begin to
    rely on your judgment call in the moment.

Here is my perspective on this. Not saying anything except that it works really well for me in OmniFocus and is much more efficient for me than what you describe.

For OF purposes, I would make your task-picking criteria like this:

  1. Context + Energy
  2. Time available
  3. Priority

The first, context+energy, is separating out in sub contexts things that take a lot of energy and attention from things that are lower energy and attention. For me, not every context has a high and low attention level. For example, talking on the phone is talking on the phone, errands are errands, etc. But computer work, reading work, writing work, etc. have high and low energy variants. Maybe you have three levels of energy; whatever. When you process the task, you take the context and energy match from your list.

Maybe for tasks that have a certain time, you mark the estimated time. I used to have a perspective that would group by estimated time. I don’t think that’s available anymore. Maybe it will come back?

For priority, more important contexts are at the top, more important projects are at the top, more important tasks in each project are at the top.

To pick tasks, either use a perspective with First Available and pick from your most important context that you can handle, keeping in mind the time that you have available, to have the best priority+context+energy+time. If it is a greater priority at the time to handle your most important context (for example, get all of your calls done) use a perspective with Available and pick your best context to have the best priority+context+energy+time.

In sum, I think it is worthwhile to think about the contexts in OF as like a bottom-line blend of context, priority, and energy; and the order of the project list also providing the rest of the priority information. It’s a lot more efficient, at least for me, to get the same result while inputting less information.

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The first thing I would like to point out is that David Allen usually recommends separating your list just by context and apply the next three filters mentally.

I found that for most contexts, no further classification is required, since the number of tasks in those contexts is limited. If you truly would sub-classify all contexts by time and energy, you would up with a lot of very short lists and risk loosing the big picture.

Most users will find that they have one or two contexts that a significantly larger than the rest (usually @office) with 50+ todos. In those cases I recommend creating sub-contexts for each combination of time requires and energy level.

Let me elaborate on that a little further: time estimation is a difficult subject. I never understood why other applications offer the possibility to differentiate between 5 minute and 10 minute tasks, as the error margin in the estimation is way too big. In case of the energy level, it is even more complex, as I even don’t have an objective unit of measure. Therefore, I distinguish only two (very subjective) time estimates: small tasks and big tasks (I usually put the grey area that separates these two groups around 15 minutes). The same goes for energy: a task either requires e lot of energy (which equals concentration and creativity) or can be done when I am low on energy (and have difficulties concentrating and do not feel very creative).

Now I can subdivide, for example, my @Office context in three separate contexts:

@Office – Focus: containing all tasks that require a large block of time and a lot of energy
@Office – Zombie: those are the big tasks that con be done when I’m low in energy
@Office – Flash: the category with little tasks that require little concentration

The fourth combination of time and energy, small tasks and high energy, is unused, since whenever I need to concentrate for a task I usually need a big chunk of time.


I totally agree with Jeroen. Most contexts do not need to use time and energy. When you’re on errands context, timing marks time you’re in the street. It’s simple. It only makes sense to use those contexts that contain actions that require concentration.

Thanks for the contributions!

Not really helping with the answer, but at first glance, “energy” seems a useless quantity to me.

How does that get used in a significant way? Factoring whether I have the energy to do a job is imprecise.
Time chunks are quantifiable, “energy” level really is not.

Might as well have a mood ring.


Hi Hatter,

There’s a decently well known book called “Eat That Frog!” wherein the idea that you should do the things that you are most likely to procrastinate (or require the most mental/physical energy) as the FIRST things in the day is discussed. For me I like to capture info about tasks that are easy-wins for when I’m groggy/lazy and tasks that I should really do when I first sit down at my desk with enthusiasm/coffee because otherwise I’ll never do them (taxes/etc.) so that I can check those lists when I’m in those moods/energy levels. It’s not a mood ring situation of “Am I feeling pensive or coy?” it’s more like “Is it first part of the day when my moral/brain-energy is high or is it end of day when I am procrastinating everything and wasting time facebooking and should try to nibble away at some easy-wins list?” kinda thing for me :)

Also I really wish you could quickly tab-over on tasks to change the time estimate field!!!

Hi Chris,

"Easy win” is a positive reinforcer & can set the tone for the day (if its what you do early in the day): I’m not taking issue with that, just trying to reduce it down to its essentials.

Conversely, doing the easy stuff first may feed into building anxiety over those nagging/unpleasant tasks that are put off while you’re busy doing the easy stuff. The easy stuff sets the tone, creates a positive distraction, but it does not alleviate pressure about procrastinated tasks.

“Energy” is a very subjective thing & has no real measure. Its a word that doesn’t actually describe directly what you are applying it to, though I’ll concede its better than quite a few others.

It may be a word that works well for you, nonetheless.

As for books - I look warily on many of the books out there that repackage methods with a personal angle:
Everybody had their heyday with TQMP & Deming methods, etc. Dozens of others since then. Generally they create a closed universe, replete with special laws that you must follow to operate in their universe. (I remember hearing a 12 tape course that had the author’s personal 12 laws of the universe as its core tenet). I don’t especially care what David Allen thinks or says. My measure is whether it is reduced down to the atomic bits :-) & whether it works.

Somebody’s generally trying to make a buck in those books & management books are very nearly a cult.
I’ve known people who are measured in management book inches, they have so many littering their office & nearly hang them like diplomas.

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Energy and Prioriy are too fluid to be captured they are criteria for going over your next actions based on the context.

For example, it is 7AM on Monday, I have energy and am sitting at my desk. I review the appropriate contexts with next actions and do the tasks that fit my energy and time.

Capturing energy and Prioriy would be like capturing the weather.

I solved this problem by exchanging the order of context and time available in the model

create 6 perspective of time estimated, <=5, <=15, <=30, <=1h, >1h, unestimated time.

  • filter by duration: choose the corresponding time estimate for each perspective
  • project hierarchy: don’t use hierarchy. This purpose is to show contexts in the left sidebar
  • group actions by flagged, sort actions by due. This is for priority setting which corresponding to covey’s 4 quadrants
  • set defer time for each task. For example, if you have highest energy before 12pm, then you can set defer date of important tasks to 12am, and set defer date of other tasks to 12pm

In the process of doing, I will

  1. select the perspective according to time length, for example, 5 minutes
  2. click the context on the left sidebar, then the list shows tasks ordered by importance and only shows the tasks available now which are decided by the energy level.

You clearly don’t suffer ADHD issues ;) For me (and I suspect many people) “energy” is a summary of focus, courage, optimism and actual physical energy. Studies show that we have a limited amount of focus…using it wisely seems a good idea…hope this helps.