Thursday, October 04, 2007

Context in GTD, and Why it is Broken

Context is an important concept in GTD. You are expected to assign a context to each next action. The context you are in the subset of your next actions you can do at that point. In principle it is good way to filter out the tasks that anyway you can't do right now because of your context. The problem is that knowledge workers end up with a first "at computer" context, and a second "errands" context, with most of the important next actions falling in the first context. That doesn't help much.

Since you can't really filter by context, each time you pick a next action you are expected to go through all your next actions. Of course, you not doing that, because that doesn't make sense. Or maybe you do it once a day, and then keep a mental picture of the next actions you are planning to do during the day. But aren't you using GTD to avoid keeping a list of next actions in your head? And in the end, it seems that this is precisely what GTD forces you to do.

What you are missing is capturing when you are planning to do a next action. This isn't about scheduling tasks; it is about capturing if you are roughly planning to do this next action today, this week, or later. Every day, make sure to reevaluate the today list, and every week the this week list. (Those 3 categories work well for me, but feel free to adapt this to your own needs.)

If you are using a GTD software, like OmniFocus, and if like me you find that using the context field in a traditional way is pointless, just define a today context, a this week context, and a later context.


Bastion said...

I have to admit that I'm no GTD pro, yet, but I think the idea is to not use priority-based contexts like "today", "this week", etc. because that degenerates back into the old way of personal organization and time management.

Instead, you could use computer "sub contexts". Think about the types of work you do on the computer: drafting, reviewing, researching, communicating, etc. The GTD idea is to not change contexts too much. True, a KW doesn't change physical contexts a lot, so think of the mental context changes you can have while at the computer.

Your "next actions" should always be "first priorities" -- if you have something that falls into the "next week" priority, it is then a "waiting for" or "someday" bucket, or maybe it just stays in its "project" bucket until the next review of that bucket.

Alessandro Vernet said...


You suggest to move all the "next actions" that you are not really planning to do this week out of your "next actions" list into your "someday/maybe" list. I think this is a great idea. What is interesting is that this is just a way of grouping items: essentially you create a group for what you plan to do this week, and another with what you plan to do later. You can do this with a "next actions" vs. "someday/maybe" list, or with different contexts, like I suggested. In the end, the result is the same.

Now, what I suggest in addition to this, is to have a third categorization: what you plan to do today.