Using OmniFocus with zero or minimum contexts?


#20

I will respond first to a few points using bullet items.

  • I do not use tool-based contexts anymore, including email, phone, computer, iPad, and whatever equivalent. I have the tools with me or I will find a substitute. So such contexts are of no use to me anymore.

  • When the list was mine and not yours, I would use this statement …
    … --> contact Luis to borrow camera (context: do)
    I would do so because perhaps I might decide to text Luis or phone Luis or even stop by to visit Luis at his house. I would prefer not to specify that I MUST email Luis. Continuing on this point, when (in the infinite future in a galaxy far far away) OmniGroup ever gets their act together to support multiple tags (contexts), I would file this in a context set (contact + Luis). Unfortunately, the kludges to invoke multiple contexts (with sub-contexts or using note fields or putting special characters in the title fields) are just too time-consuming for me to figure out in a consistent way, so I do not bother. Finally, still on this point, your example and some others that I have been finding on my own got me thinking about an additional problem-solving context called something like “inquire” or “ask about” or “query” in my list.

  • I also have location-specific contexts (work, lab, lecture …). So I fully understand the @home when the laptop can only be cleaned there and no where else.

In general, I use the problem-solving contexts in two ways. During the setup of a project, they help remind me that a project must have a start (define, research, propose), a middle (do, tidy up), and an end (deliver/report, close). Certainly, once these contexts are put in practice, the words all mean the same thing … --> do this action. But, during the setup, the distinct wording keeps me honest about why I list certain tasks in certain orders and not some other tasks or some other ordering. This may seem an easy thing in a sequence for selling a computer. Sometimes however, as a project is just being defined, it is not so clear exactly what the specific task is in the list. What is however almost always invariant is that you cannot do something until you have defined what you want to do, and you cannot or should not deliver/report about it until it is done (or nearly so).

The second way I use the problem-solving contexts is also during the implementation of my workflow. Notice in my original context picture here, the sequence of my contexts starts with close at the top and works “backward”. When I pull up my flagged tasks (in a custom Active perspective), the list is sorted by context. This means, every task that I should close shows up on top, followed by every task that I have a deliverable to make, followed by every task that requires me to tidy up … and so forth. That means, I ALWAYS see on top of my list (i.e. as the first action to handle) those tasks that not only are “doable” tasks but also are ones that will close an entire project or action group. IOW, I have a pseudo-priority ranking of my “doable” tasks.

My general reply to your new list with tools is, once you start down the path of using tool-based contexts to a great extent, you have nearly if not completely an entirely different approach to mine. A tool-based approach to contexts pins you to doing tasks based on what tool you have in your hand at the moment. My analogy of this approach taken to an extreme is, it is great when you are someone who likes to hold on to a screwdriver for four hours, tighten all of the screws in the house, and then go find the hammer for the next four hours of work. A problem-solving approach frees you to pick up the specific tool that you need for the next-available task of highest concern at that next given free moment. I have learned that I work better when I recognize that I generally carry my utility belt with me at all times anyway, so I am mostly free to tackle the next important task at hand rather than running back and forth to the toolbox every few hours.


JJW


#21

[quote]… --> contact Luis to borrow camera (context: do)
[/quote]
What happens if you and Louis have established/unspoken way of doing certain things, certain way:
• In matters like that, always email and expect an email back.
• No unscheduled visits.
• Text is only for urgent matters which require an immediate answer.

I don’t want to be a pain in the butt, but aren’t sequential projects for exactly what are you explaining?

I might don’t see clearly your workflow in general. Because of lack of tags (not “by hand tags”) and multiple contexts, I have to reinvent the wheel. I have tried your approach, which has been proven working for you, but I ended up changing contexts for the same task and piling up unnecessary tasks, which I have not done in the past, even when I was going with “No Context” approach for a while.

Honestly I don’t see how does it work. Again, I think I don’t understand your workflow, which I am sure not only I would found useful, if it would be explained somewhere in details.

Really my only tool is a computer, which I have with me 95% if not 100% of the time. In my view, to @close the project, sometimes you need a computer, sometimes you need a car. These are 2 different “tools,” but I don’t see them as tools, just contexts.
If I have to @close the project, by dropping of a package at USPS, I will put that as the last task of a sequential project, with context @Errands, and while I’m dropping of the package I might swing by and knock out some other @Errands, if I have time and feel like it. I don’t see how it works with your approach.

So really I don’t have a tool based context, in my view. Some stuff can be done only on computer, some only by calling. These are my 2 only “tools.” I cannot call a company, or a university services at 11:45PM, or any person who I want to respect me, so I can use this context only when the time is appropriate. So @phone is a "@time of the day based context.

I know this whole discussion may be getting you tired JJW, but I’m trying to find something better, or maybe simplify my contexts, to help me keep up with all the projects and things which I have to do as my obligations, and it’s a lot. This is only why I’m digging so much and for so long.

Multiple contexts, even just double contexts would solve my problem. I have tried tags in the description multiple times. No success, too long to process, not worth.
I have tried many ways from the Simplicitybliss blog, which I think is a joke. AsianEfficiency=RepetitiveRepetitiveness, basically the same thing.
I looked up different topics etc. Nothing solves the problem. I refuse to accept that there is no approach which would suit my lifestyle.
So again, that’s why I’m digging so much.

K.


#22

A few comments to preface a larger theme of zero or minimum contexts.

  • OK. Suppose you and Luis only use only email. Then, you will somehow have a phone context and a text context and a snail-mail context and a person-to-person context. So, you have just increased the number of contexts not decreased them. Use contact as the context, and use “email” or “phone” or “text” or … as the action verb to start the task statement.

  • I consider email and driving as tools. They pin you to a specific object. What happens when your car breaks down and the bus goes by the post office? Are you going to wait to mail that letter? BTW, do you have a walking and public transport context to go with the driving one? What about car pooling and traveling with spouse? Use “errands” as the context, and use the proper action verb again (as above).

  • I do not like multiple verb action statements. You have either two sequential tasks or two parallel tasks. Set them up as such.


JJW


#23

Let’s revisit your list. Notice how you have twelve sequential steps. So you cannot clean the laptop until you check prices and decide approach. Oh? Really? Are these truly sequential? Why? What would help you decide that some tasks in your list can be done in parallel versus sequential? Maybe … maybe? … a start -> middle -> end approach to project management? Does this sound familiar? It is one driving force to how I developed the problem-solving contexts.


JJW


#24

Let’s recast your list with location + tool contexts. Let’s recognize parallel and sequential groups. Let’s break tools specifically by what they are. I do not like two action verbs in one task statement, and I always start with lower case verbs as my task.

  • Setup (parallel)
  • research prices (@Webbrowser)
  • prepare the laptop (@home)
  • email Luis for camera (@email)
  • Post Offer (sequential)
  • pick up camera from Luis (@errands)
  • take pictures of computer (@home)
  • post offer on eBay (@Webbrowser)
  • Contract (sequential)
  • get offer (@Waiting-On)
  • accept offer (@email)
  • Ship (sequential)
  • get shipping materials (@errands)
  • pack computer (@home)
  • ship the computer (@errands)
  • message the shipping number to buyer (@email)
  • Close (parallel)
  • leave feedback on eBay (@Webbrowser)
  • return camera to Luis (@errands)
  • get acknowledgement from buyer (@Waiting-On)

That makes two location contexts (home and errands), two tool contexts (Webbrowser and email), and one Waiting-On context. When you would use email as a context, you must have phone, text, and snail-mail too. When you have Webbrowser, you must have newspaper, journal article, textbook, and others. So, while you have used only five contexts, you’ve added a half-dozen or more “hidden” contexts to your list. Let’s recast this using location + do.

  • Setup (parallel)
  • research prices on Web (@do)
  • prepare the laptop (@home)
  • email Luis for camera (@do)
  • Post Offer (sequential)
  • pick up camera from Luis (@errands)
  • take pictures of computer (@home)
  • post offer on eBay (@do)
  • Contract (sequential)
  • get offer (@Waiting-On)
  • accept offer (@do)
  • Ship (sequential)
  • get shipping materials (@errands)
  • pack computer (@home)
  • ship the computer (@errands)
  • email the shipping number to buyer (@do)
  • Close (parallel)
  • leave feedback on eBay (@do)
  • return camera to Luis (@errands)
  • get acknowledgement from buyer (@Waiting-On)

Now we have two location contexts (home and errands), one action context (do), and one Wait-On context. You have no context as “hidden tools”. How is that for minimizing the number of contexts?


JJW


#25

Just to be clear, I extremely respect your input, opinions and your time. I just want you to know that, so we both know the tone of this discussion, since my English can be influenced by my first language, and thus it may appear I’m too direct, or arguable. I do know your style it works for you and I do know my style doesn’t work for me. I need to understand, to improve. Anyway, you’re the master, I’m the student here. Just wanted to be clear.


This is a different approach, but still, it doesn’t answer the question I asked, where I gave the example of driving, picking up prescription, groceries, Louis/camera, mail, gas tank…
Actually context @do makes it impossible to plan these things without planning, with a one click on @errands

Context @email is because I do have to use Gmail to write it, and very often I prefer to write emails at a specific part of the day, to process them faster.
I don’t see the need for @webbrowser+newspaper+journal+textbook, etc. All of it can be under @mac

You do have less contexts, but considering the time you have to spend knocking down small tasks or even projects, which do not require your full focus, I cannot see how you can plan efficiently, having all the types of actions you have to take under @do. I really want to understand it because I believe if will help with my workflow.

Example: I’m throwing out all my contexts like @email @mac @errands @call and putting all the tasks from them into @do. Once I’m dropping of the camera at Louis’, how do I quickly and with no effort access all the tasks I can accomplish on my way to Louis and from Louis, since all of them are under @do?

I usually won’t be concern about that possibility.
I could ask the same question: What happens if you’re at the store to buy the paint and your wife calls you and wants another color. You have to plan again your @research to find the best possible paint for green vs yellow?
That scenarios are not real. How many times did your car broke on your way to the post office. Probably 0 - the same number of times my wife (I’m single and never married) called me, when I was in Home Depot.
If that would happen, I wouldn’t make a project on the spot, I would just call someone to fix the car, or borrow a car from brother or roommate or parents. Regardless, I wouldn’t make a project/task, unless that would have to be done in the future. In that case contacting would be under @email or @call and if I have to take the bus, it would be under @errands. @errands tells me, “to accomplish this task you have to rely on a transportation. This task cannot be accomplish at any particular location from your contexts. You have to consider the time needed for transportation, while preparing the plan to accomplish the task. Look at other @errands and other contexts under the master context @Location, to be sure you can do as many tasks with one swing as possible.”

You’re right, but I still cannot see how do you choose that.
Is it possible you could share with me a past successful project?


#26

No problems. I suspect the confusion is more a matter of differences in approach than anything to do with English, which you are doing well with BTW. Also, I am learning a few things about my own approach from your questions and consider this a mutual exercise in learning rather than a master-student venture.

I would say, you should stick with email then. You have a method that processes email tasks as a block rather than as individual tasks, and it works.

I used to approach in this way as well. In the meantime, my iPhone and iPad have a browser, and I occasionally need to reference “hard” sources for information (i.e. textbooks). So, I switched to “research” and put the tool in the task line as needed.

I feel the frustration here. Again, in some fairy-land galaxy far far away, OmniGroup would have had the foresight to have solved this problem for us some two or three years ago with a change in data structure and inclusion of multiple tags/contexts. But we are here today in this galaxy, OmniGroup is stubbornly and blissfully continuing to play dress-up on OmniFocus with flashy colors and fluff, and we are left with the problem to solve about how best to define and see all of our different types of tasks related to Luis most efficiently.

Ultimately, I do not have an easy answer to your question in my context set or yours. In one case, when we insist on a tool- or action-based context as the top-level context (@email or @do), then Luis becomes a sub-context, and we have a potential for multiple sub-contexts (@email : Luis, @email : Sally, @email : John …). OTOH, when Luis is the top-level context, then we may be inclined to wonder why we should not just put the action verb in the task statement (@Luis > email him to borrow camera) and dispense with the tool or action contexts all together (@email or @do). But then, we may still want those contexts for something else general. I certainly want to. In either approach, we end with more contexts than we really needed if we could set multiples on a task.

–> The inability to set multiple contexts and/or to set people as resources in addition to contexts will be one of the biggest hurdles to a quantum break-thru for the continued use OF in the coming post-religious-GTD era.

Ha! The scenario is more real than you might imagine. That is why I try to make sure that my wife and I agree on the color before I head to Home Depot (i.e. the “research” is fully complete as a required sequential task before the “errands”). And when she calls to change the color, I hope that we have determined the best alternate color beforehand or I trust that she is not going to leave me to spin my wheels to go back to do the research on my own. Otherwise, I will buy the color of my own choice and a bunch of roses because I realize that I am probably going to need an apology for having to make a second trip back to Home Depot to get the right color for my wrong one. :-)

A global guideline to answer this question regardless of the contexts that you use may be this … When an contiguous block of tasks inside a sequential project are themselves fundamentally not sequentially dependent on each other at all, they should be lumped as a parallel action group inside the sequential project. The alternative is … When a contiguous block of tasks inside a parallel project or single-action project can only be done one-after-the-other, they should be defined properly as a sequential action group inside the parallel project. Finally, we have the third case … When the completion of a contiguous block of tasks in a project define the completion of a milestone for the project, they should be lumped together (sequentially or in parallel) as a way to improve the administrative oversight and later processing of the entire project.

Let’s take the two ends of GTD, setting up and doing. Agree first to give up tool contexts and place them in the action statement. When I split the “do” context in to my spectrum of problem-solving contexts “consider” … “close”, I help myself to see the three different cases above more clearly while I set up the project. At the back side, suppose that you have a set of different items that you are handling on eBay sales. Here are two list of tasks.

##List Using Location+Tool Contexts

###Context: Location - Errands

  • ship rugs to buyer
  • get window spray from Walmart
  • return polishing cloth to John

###Context: Location - Home

  • clean picture frames
  • prepare radio player

Context: Tool - Webbrowser

  • get price ranges for Beanie-Babys
  • post description of speakers on eBay
  • leave feedback on eBay about nightstand
  • leave feedback on eBay about pillows
  • post offer for pillows on eBay

Context: Tool - Computer

  • prepare description of tool set

Context: Tool - Email

  • ask Luis to borrow camera
  • send the shipping number for the china set to buyer
  • accept offer on computer

Context: Tool - Phone

  • ask Sally for silverware cleaning solution

##List Using Location+Problem Solving Contexts

###Context: Location - Errands

  • ship rugs to buyer
  • get window spray from Walmart
  • return polishing cloth to John

###Context: Location - Home

  • clean picture frames
  • prepare radio player

Context: PS - Close

  • leave feedback on eBay about nightstand
  • leave feedback on eBay about pillows
  • accept offer on computer

Context: PS - Tidy Up

  • email the shipping number for the china set to buyer

Context: PS - Do

  • post description of speakers on eBay
  • post offer for pillows on eBay
  • phone Sally for silverware cleaning solution
  • email Luis to borrow camera

Context: PS - Propose

  • prepare description of tool set

Context: PS - Research

  • get price ranges for Beanie-Babys

Perhaps this can provide a clearer idea of the differences between the two approaches.


JJW


#27

A quastion:
Why it wouldn’t be better for you keep location+tool contexts and add a tag in front of each task, determining the stage of the process, or vice versa.

I was thinking before about 7-8 scripts, which would change the name and add for example "DO: " or "PLAN: "

I might get back to this idea. The scripts could be easily assigned to a shortcut like Option+1, 2, 3, etc.


#28

I don’t like this method because

  • I will spend forever tweaking the code (as I already do with my GeekTool AppleScript).
  • It would just be a substitute for contexts that already work for me.
  • I still would not use tool contexts even with this “flag” method.
  • I like to review my actions in my Active and Next perspectives as sorted by the problem-solving contexts from top (end a project) to bottom (start a new project). The flags would not do this as well if at all.
  • The programming does not translate to my iPad.


JJW


#29

Yeah I see.

How do you use flags and what for?


#30

I set flags on actions that I want to make active. I work first on anything Due Soon (or Overdue when that happens). Then, I look for anything that was automatically flagged (recurring tasks that “pop-up” active as reminders). Then, I flag tasks that are on my next actions list as I am ready to do them.


JJW


#31

Although we can have an infinite number of “available” actions, we should really be focused on due soon/overdue tasks first. These are our Priority Level One tasks. They are the important and urgent tasks as described in Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits priority matrix. We should be addressing these tasks immediately and get them done.

Then we can flag a small handful of tasks that represents an actions that we want to focus on today. These flagged tasks represents our Priority Level Two tasks. These tasks are the Important but not Urgent tasks that we want to work on after Priority Level One tasks. These tasks are often used to help us improve our workflow but have no real deadline. One example is a self-study project to improve a skill. We recognise a need to attend a class or workshop related to our field. Our boss does not consider it urgent but it would be an important step in getting a pay raise if we took this class.

All of the other tasks in your task manager that are not due soon/overdue and are not flagged are Priority Level Three tasks. They are urgent but not important. You can elevate Priority Level Three tasks up to Priority Level Two by flagging them.

Remember that we can have an infinite number of actions, but we have limited or finite capabilities to do them.

  1. Focus on Priority Level One (due soon/overdue).

  2. Work on Priority Level Two (flagged - important).

  3. Don’t touch Priority Level Three (not flagged - not urgent and not important). You can elevate Priority Level Three tasks to Level Two by flagging them.

Personally, I used to try the old Priority Labels (ABC) but it never really worked. I would mislabel every tasks as “important” because I save it to my task manager. I finally figured out that Due Soon/Overdue were the most important fires to put out. Then I focus on a small handful of flagged tasks to work on. Then I can see what unfledged tasks to elevate to a higher priority.


How to create a Covey urgency/importance matrix perspective?
#32

Tags can be effective if used sparingly. Overtagging tasks can just lead to more complications. Keep any task manager simple by using as few tags as possible.

I’ve been recently trying 2Do as a test and found that I had to use tags to represent OmniFocus’ estimated time (2 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour). Then I would need another tag for context. The context and estimated time information is already presented in OmniFocus 2 as a separate distinct entry field.

I think the only thing I would use tags is to represent more than one context. In some other programs, I would create tags such as Priority Level One (A tasks), Priority Level Two (B tasks), and Priority Level Three (C tasks). But these priorities are already implied by the due date or the flagged status.

I did find it nice to be able to have more than one context for certain tasks. I have a hardware store but I’d love to have multiple contexts or location date to represent the four different hardware stores i visit the most. Otherwise, I rarely use tags.


#33

I detect a bit of the Seven Habits (urgent + important, important, neither) creeping in here. :-)


JJW


#34

Any ideas please on using duration as I find it helpful to know how long something will take and am testing that approach by adding the duration.

Do you put these into perspectives? One problem I found is that the filtering is not very granular, so only say 1 hour or 30 minutes, there is not a way to get tasks say longer than 30 minutes but less than 2 hours for example.


#35

Here is something from me:


#36

@DrJJWMac just curious are you still using the same context system with OmniFocus 3 or have you implemented different tags now that you can add multiple tags to a task?


#37

I have yet to update to OF3. I’ll follow up once I get in to the new workflow.


JJW


#38

Hey man, just following up. Not sure if you’ve updated to OF3 yet?

Just wanted to see if you’ve made any huge changes in how you use tags with the new system?

I appreciate you sharing this post with us, it helped me to go from bouncing from context to context to being more project focused and actually completing things instead of making small progress towards to many things at once.


#40

Thank you for the reminder.

I am using the same tags as I had for contexts and have added some in addition. Here’s an updated snapshot.

The globe is for global status. For example, dropped or on-hold is exactly that, and monkey is something I have taken on that I should give back ASAP. The collapsed pin is for location specific (work, home, other … I prefer to keep details to myself). The collapsed mailbox is a list of people to which I assign this as “Waiting On”. The WoO is Windows of Opportunity.

I have started using multiple tags, mainly as TARGET + LOCATION as needed. I doubt that I will ever routinely use more than this type of combination of two actually. However, FWIW, when I assign a global tag, I do not eliminate any of those that were there already.


JJW