Scaling my workflow and philosophy; long post

Before working for my current job, my GTD/OF setup was pretty simple. I did not really bother to use Contexts at all, and had a very simple AOF layout (not much more than just Personal, Background Chores, and School). I never reviewed; never needed to. I just collected things I needed to do, and that was that. OF was not really a place to store things I WANTED to do, just things I need to do. Defer + Flag was a great combination for bills, maintenance, school assignments, and pretty much everything. I set up custom perspectives, one simply for each AOF, with a “Hit List” consisting of available flagged or due items across every AOF.

Once I started working for my current employer, my first job as a knowledge worker, I had to expand. At that time, I worked in a variety of settings, seeing clients out in the world and often having some but not all my tools at a given time. I devised templates for clients, which took advantage of well-defined Contexts for my tasks. I applied these to non-work AOFs as well. Things like Home, Errands, Mac, Phone, Campus, Work Computer, Work Phone, EHR, etc. I set up custom perspectives for Personal, Background Chores, and Work stuff. These were arranged by Context, so I could always be able to tell what tasks were available to me based on where I was and what tools I had access to. The “Hit List” carried forward, doing the job it always was good for, now also organized by Context.

I never have thought much in terms of Projects. I guess I’m just not that ambitious. If there’s something to accomplish that takes multiple steps and it feels right, I will create a project and not necessarily even give it a task right away. The way I have things set up, and this has been the case with OF2 as well, empty parallel or sequential projects appear in my custom perspectives and so that outcome is represented as actionable even if the next step is to give it a task. Most of my tasks reside in “AOF Miscellaneous” SALs, and I don’t mind it that way. I very rarely have a reason to go into the Projects perspective, relying on Tags (and even then, almost always via custom perspectives). The biggest exception to this is for client projects. I give each of my clients their own project in my Work AOF, which is populated by templates of intricately crafted Action Groups (essentially a bootstrapped series of checklist, the first of which triggers others in a don’t-have-to-think-about-what-to-do-every-time-I-get-a-new-client sort of way) and miscellaneous tasks and sometimes Action Groups as other needs come up. Every client has their own Tag so that I can look at a custom perspective to look at their agenda when we meet in person. The actual Project hierarchy inside a client project is hairy and not super friendly, but I rely on custom perspectives to present those tasks in usable ways. (This is why Forecast has been frustrating for me; I don’t need to see every single task in a huge Action Group that was deferred to that day, most of whose tasks do not require immediate attention and certainly not all at once.)

Two things changed this year: I transitioned into an office setting to practice, and started dealing with two children (one born, one not yet). On the personal side of things this means I have a lot less consecutive time and energy, and on the work side it means fewer distinct contexts to work within. Most contexts (now Tags) are still meaningful, but the ambiguity of being able to use multiple can be weird. For example, some tasks tagged with “Mac” could be done while at work, away from my Mac, even though that’s the primary context I would associate with that task. I will sometimes tag a task with both “Mac” and “Work Computer,” but it clutters up my custom perspectives whenever I use multiple Tags.

Anyway, I am not sure about a few things at this point. I would like to simplify my Tags, but don’t want to miss out on their use. My “Hit List” these days is organized by Contexts which presents more clutter than help. Perhaps I should try simplifying my Tags and merge some of them so that I can simply look at “Campus” and “Work Computer” and leave it at that. I don’t really batch tasks that much anymore, mostly because I don’t have much luxury to spend time in a given “context” for very long, certainly not at home.

I would think the Today/Forecast Tag would be a potential solution, but adding another Tag which can’t be excluded from my custom perspectives would render then hopelessly cluttered. (I think once OF eventually, hopefully allows us to create custom perspectives which allow for grouping based only on the Tags explicitly included in the perspective’s criteria, this and other issues will resolve beautifully. I was honestly taken aback that this was not something initially offered by OF3; it seems like the only sane way to implement the idea of multiple Tags.)

Honestly, I think the forced restriction of a single Context prevented these anxieties from appearing. A task may not be able to be done in only one setting, but adding it there was as good as you could do. I guess I should just stop worrying and get back to work.

(Any input or advice is welcome. I realize that part of this futzing is due to anxiety from other sources, like the kids, prompting me to just ensure that I’m organized about my stuff in ways that will be easiest for me and reduce as much anxiety and mental expenditure as possible. )

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I think you are overcomplicating things. I like OF because it allows everyone to come up with the best system for them, but this comes at a price. It’s easy to feel lost in the middle of all this flexibility, and it’s easy to wonder if the way you are using the system right now is the best one or if it can be improved even further.

Personally, I think that you would be better off without tags, at least for a while. You wrote:

Honestly, I think the forced restriction of a single Context prevented these anxieties from appearing.

So I recommend going back to a single tag for now. Just because they are there doesn’t mean that you must use them. So far, it sounds like they are only creating confusion in your workflow.

I would recommend simplifying your approach with regards to contexts too. If you have “fewer distinct contexts to work within”, and contexts don’t make much sense for you, why don’t you create an “Office” or “Work” context that groups all of the devices you have in the office? So when you are at work, it doesn’t matter what device you are currently working with, you know that’s the list of items you should look at.

If you simplify your contexts like this, I believe that multiple tags could become again useful for you. Anything that can be done anywhere but is related to work can be found under your “Work” tag. Now, once you are in that list, and you know that some items must absolutely be done on your Mac, you just add another “Mac” tag to that item. So at this point you have a list of all your work items, but the ones that have an additional tag can be spotted quickly (and you could create custom perspectives for them if necessary).