Re-connecting people and organizations through human-centered design


Bits of what I’m learning along the way

Time & Energy Diagram: Contexts in OmniFocus


These days, you can do most things almost anywhere

Remember back in the day before tweeting from the bathroom, when "online" was a place you could only go from the computer on your desk? Those old physical limitations still influence the action management system I use, Getting Things Done. In traditional GTD parlance, contexts refer to the physical places where you can do given tasks. But as many smart people on the Internet have pointed out, wireless Internet and mobile devices enable us to do most tasks almost anywhere.

Breeding contexts like rabbits

Who needs this much detail? A courier might, but not me.

Who needs this much detail? A courier might, but not me.

OmniFocus is the software I use to implement GTD. Each task can have one context. Contexts can have nested child contexts, which, in turn, can have their own nested child contexts. Unchecked, mine multiply like rabbits. I started with Office. But I work on a campus, so I created a Campus context with an Office Building child, and made Office a child of Office Building, adding other rooms and buildings. Similarly, I started dividing my city context into different parts of the metro area: University City, Webster Groves, Central West End, Tower Grove South... Every time I had cause to go to a different part of town, I created a new child of St. Louis.

Even if this is your first time hearing of GTD, you can appreciate that my rabbit-breeding approach to contexts did nothing for my productivity. Rather, it contributed to what Merlin Mann called a fractal implementation of GTD. I was paying attention to the system instead of getting things done.

Context population control

Enter smart guy from the Internet Sven (@simplicitybliss) and his post, A Fresh Take on Contexts, and talk (below). While acknowledging that physical location is now irrelevant to most tasks, Sven doesn't suggest that the Omni Group remove contexts from OmniFocus. He re-appropriates contexts to describe the time and energy required by tasks. Today, this information is much more useful than physical location.

Taking time and energy as two axes, I charted Sven's contexts. If you want the OmniGraffle document, grab it by clicking the button below.

Version updated with Sven's feedback.

Sven's presentation

Watch Sven present his fresh take on contexts (just over 12 minutes long):

Presented by Sven Fechner at the OmniFocus Setup.
Nathan LucyOmniFocus