Omnifocus GTD contexts

Tags: gtd

Following my blog post about grouping projects in omnifocus, I’ll also write down how I structure my contexts.

As a reminder, with the GTD method you group your actions according to two “axes”. An action has both a project and a context. So action “buy brake pads” has context “at the bicycle shop” and project “bike repairs”.

Having a project is handy for planning. Do I have everything I want to do in my system? Are there new actions I should add to bring my projects forward? Why do I want to have this project? What is the goal? Those kinds of questions.

Contexts are often handy for doing. First the non-context kind of doing, though: often I’ll just work on a project. I’m adding a software feature and I’ll just keep doing what needs doing there, whether it is talking to someone at the office or typing away on my keyboard or googling something.

But… contexts are very helpful if you use them well. What is a context? “DIY store” for intance. With all the actions in that context, I have my shopping list ready! Whether it is a bucket of paint I need for the “paint the staircase” project or some wood for the “build the model railway station” project or a bunch of screws I need for the kitchen… I have all my actions in one place.

Same with my “whiteboard” context. Sometimes I like to stand in front of the whiteboard in my study room at home: brainstorming! There are often a few projects that I need to brainstorm: do I want to do the project? What is the goal? What are tasks I can do? Having a list of I-need-to-brainstorm actions is handy.

Like for projects, I use a few folders to group some contexts. This is extra helpful for projects, as items in the sub-context show up in the parent. The “city” context has sub-contexts for some of the shops I visit regularly like “supermarket”, “DIY store”, “ikea”, “model train shop”. So when I’m in the city I just check the main “city” context to see if I need to get something.

Without ado, here’s an example list of my contexts. I’m fine-tuning it right now as I’m setting up my system anew. And I’ve left out some personal ones. Anyway, here it is:

  • City.

    • Supermarket.

    • Electronics shop (which can also mean “order online at”).

    • Bicycle shop (again, online ordering is fine).

    • DIY store.

    • Model railway exhibition (either an exhibition or a regular store or online or ebay).

    • Ikea.

    • Hema (a specific Dutch store).

  • Whiteboard (see above).

  • Home.

    • Study room.

    • With tool box (so: generic repairs, mostly).

  • Computer

    • Ipad.

    • Work (the bulk (almost everything) of my generic work tasks are on my computer, this is just to separate them from the tasks for personal projects).

    • Personal.

    • Google. This is for looking things up on the internet. “Search for general Balck as I read about him in a book”. “Look up 24 oktober, I just passed a tram stop called ‘24 oktober square’ and I wonder what the date means”.

      Stuff I don’t want to do right now, but I want to look it up later.

      24 oktober is the start date of the United Nations, btw. Which makes sense as the “24 oktoberplein” square in Utrecht is near the “United Nations street”. That’s the kind of knowledge you accumulate when you’ve got a context you can quickly drop in a few tasks without impending progress on whatever else you’re doing right now!

    • Omnifocus. GTD maintenance :-)

  • Telephone.

  • Church.

  • Office.

  • Sometime/maybe. Stuff I don’t want to do right now, but might want to do later on.

  • “To idea list”. Special context that I use for all sorts of ideas. Ideas pop up in my head all the time. And often they’re not about what I’m currently working on. So I just quickly add an action to omnifocus and continue working.

    Such ideas are often not immediately actionable, so I just dump them to a text file that I check once a month. This way I don’t clutter my omnifocus database with too many weird stuff. It is a bit of an alternative to the someday/maybe list.

Perhaps this list helps someone to make better use of his GTD contexts! logo

About me

My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.

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