If you’ve read any of my posts on OmniFocus, you’ve heard me reference the excellent series of videos that David Sparks created to help new users get acclimated. Since spending the time watching his three-hour walk through, I really haven’t had to spend much time tweaking with the application. It gave me an amazing framework for using the app to get my work done.
While most of my use of OmniFocus embraces the tactics he introduced, there is one area where I’ve recently made some serious changes. I’ve boiled my Contexts down to two: work and home.
What Are Contexts
If you’re not an OmniFocus or GTD person, Contexts are a concept that stem from David Allen’s Getting Things Done. According to a PDF created by the team at OmniFocus on how to use GTD alongside their app, Contexts are:
A tool, resource, or location required to complete an action. In OmniFocus, Context mode groups actions by their required Contexts. This way, instead of working through a project action by action — which could take you to many different places or require different tools — you can consider what’s available to you now and go from there.
For example, let’s say you find yourself with a spare moment and decide to make some calls. You know you need to call your co-worker about that really important assignment, and your phone Contexts shows that you need to return a call to your friend. Even though they’re from different projects, they can be accomplished with the same tool.
Simply put, for every task you create, you select a single Context that represents the primary person, place or thing that you need to do your work. The benefit of these Contexts are the ability to filter or organize your work by similar action. For example, by focusing in on my Email context I would see any task that requires me to jump into Gmail.
How Was I Using Contexts
When I first started I had Contexts for everything. My Mac was a Context, my MacBook Air was a Context, my iPhone, iPad, Car, Phone, Home, Desk, My Wife, My Kids… all Contexts. There were a lot of them, too many in fact. Everyone I worked directly with in my office were not only their own Context, but they were a sub-Context of my overall “co-workers” Contexts. It quickly came to feel excessive and was slowing me down when entering Tasks or processing my OmniFocus inbox.
How I Use Them Now
When I took a step back, I realized that everything fell into one of two important distinctions: is a Task for “Work” or is it for “Home”. Everything else was just detail for details sake (at least for me). This two-Context system increased the speed of entering Tasks and hasn’t proven to be a pain point since I made the change about six months ago. Now.com I know where to look whenever I need to find something for my career and where to go when I want to work on just about anything else. I was tempted to add in a third Context in order to separate home Tasks that relate to my family and friends from those that connect to my hobbies here on the web, but decided against it. Seeing everything I should be doing at home has proven to be a helpful way to ensure both aspects of my life get the time they need.
But How Do You Batch Tasks Together?
The most logical use for Contexts, as the description above reminds us, is to batch Tasks together that aren’t within the same project. So how do we manage this without Contexts? Simple, just take an extra second to think about the description when creating or processing Tasks. Then, when working on calls, just use the search bar to filter out any Task that starts with the word “Call” same for things like “Email”, “Write”. Same with peoples names. Just be consistent. When I know I’m going to be talking to my boss or my wife about a few things, I use the search to see what I have to go over with them. I have to remember to include this when naming a Task, but it’s proven easier than managing multiple Contexts every time I create one.
Why Bother Having Them At All
When I first started thinking about Contexts and how I would continue using them, my initial instinct was to eliminate them all together. I already had items separated by project and by getting rid of them, it would also be one less thing to enter when creating or processing Tasks. So why keep them? Perspectives. In OmniFocus Contexts are custom views in OmniFocus. By continuing to enter a Context for either “Home” or “Work.” I can easily see what is on my plate for either. I can also have my laptop default to the “Home” view and my desktop at work default to my “Work” Perspective. It helps me keep a bit of distance between the two and makes everyday use of OmniFocus a bit more manageable.
While this probably takes me away from the canonical uses of both OmniFocus and GTD, it’s proven to be far more effective for me. It’s one less thing to worry about when creating Tasks and much like another recent decision to get rid of my folders in email (another post for another day), it’s streamlined the way I work. It lets me worry less about how I structure my work and has me spending more time actually doing it.