If you’ve ever been on a ride in Disney’s Magic Kingdom, you have heard the following:
“Keep your arms, hooves, tusks and tails (and your hands, feet and legs) inside ride vehicle ”
When you hear that warning, you know you are getting ready for a fun ride. That’s what the next three weeks are going to be like on Mind Like Monkey, so quoting Disney’s Magic Kingdom again:
“On rides, stay seated with your tail down (you get this one right?)”
and enjoy this ride.
Contexts are one of those mysteries in the GTD world; they are complex and ambiguous and everyone is entitled to interpret them in their own way. That flexibility is one of the most fabulous things about contexts and also one of the trickiest.,
In Getting Things Done, David Allen defines Context Lists as: “the set of tools available or by the presence of individuals or groups for whom one has items to discuss or present.”From reading this definition, I am sure all your doubts are gone now and you’re asking yourself why you had trouble with this concept before. I’m kidding. Defining and understanding contexts was one of my biggest wins in GTD, and I made a huge leap in effectiveness from that moment on. To help you make a similar leap, let’s work on the original definition and create a new one.
First I’ll divide it into two parts:
1. “the set of tools available”
2. “by the presence of individuals or groups for whom one has items to discuss or present.”
If we cut this definition in two, you will see that a Context can be a place, a tool or tools (this is what the first part refers to) or people (this is what the second part refers to).
- Places: This are the physical locations you need to be in order to accomplish an action. This is the first kind of Context people understand, and actually the one I ask you to set at the beginning of this series, @Home, @Office and @Errands.
- Tools: These are the tools, such as software, or specific equipment you need to accomplish an action. For example, if you have a laptop and a desktop computer, there may be certain actions that can be accomplished only on one or the other, but not in both; this situation creates two separate contexts: @Laptop and @Desktop. Think now on this, you may need internet access to accomplish certain actions, but you are not connected all the time, so internet might be a tool context for you.
- People: This can be an individual, or a group of individuals, that you need to make decisions or have conversations with to accomplish actions. The “people” context is also referred to as Agendas in the GTD and people tend to understand this without much trouble.
As you can see, the importance of the contexts is to accomplish an action. Nothing else matters. The reason you want to have contexts is to accomplish your actions as fast as possible, and in the best way possible.
Let’s see based on what we just said, a new definition and understanding for contexts.
Context refers to all those physical places or tools, such as software and specific equipment, or people with whom you need to interact, to accomplish an action.
I hope that this new definition sets a better fundament how you set your contexts. Remember keep your contexts simple. If you stop checking a context, you need to revise it, and most likely morph it into something else. For example, if you never check your @Home Context, you should ask yourself why not? Is it because you don’t want to do any of those actions, or because you don’t want to ever read again ‘Clean Garage’? If it’s the latter, then move ‘Clean Garage’ to someday maybe or another context if it’s relevant.
Now that the concept of contexts is clear (or at least less confusing), I would encourage you to spend some time thinking on the contexts you use. List all the physical places you frequent and make a list like this:Home, Mom’s Home, Office, Tool Shed, Garage, Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Target, Farmer’s Market, Wife’s Office, In-Law’s Home. You can even combine reasons you go to a particular place such as , Bank: Personal, Bank: Work. Basically any place that you go to often and where you need to be to accomplish actions.
After you make this list, do the same for the Tools (Laptop, Desktop, Phone, iPad, Table, Printer) the Software (Accounting Software, Excel, Word, Internet RSS Reader, Scrivener) and specific equipment that you use. (Laser Printer, Wood Cutter, Press, Power Drill).
Finally, list the people or groups of people, people that you need to talk on the phone, or face to face to accomplish actions: your wife/husband/significant other, kids, parents, bosses, direct reports, clients, customers, friends, school teacher, and more. Take time to think about this.
Once you have your three lists: places, tools, and people, we’ll move to the next step. Otherwise, please make the list, before continuing, I will be waiting…
Now that you have three lists, you want to identify the contexts that are key to accomplish actions, for example, you may have two contexts: Desktop and Home. Your desktop is at home but you don’t have that many actions on the desktop or at home to justify two separate ones, or you find that you never check a desktop list, but will check your home context. This is something really personal, and it’s worth to spend a little bit of time. You may have a work desktop and office context, but you only use the desktop when you are at the office so separate contexts of work desktop and office are redundant.
After you do thing through all your contexts in this manner, merge the three lists to make one lis;, this will be your tentative context list. After you have the list, try to purge it, remembering that you want as many context as you need and will use but no more than that.
Finally, work on this list during the coming week on paper, when you do any planning, think about the context you will be using, that way you will be ready next week to create them in your system. Remember Albert Einstein said: “If I had twenty days to solve a problem, I would take nineteen days to define it.” So you have 7 days to define this list, and make it work for you.
One more important thing:
From now on, I grant you permission to create and stop using contexts as needed as well as name your contexts in attractive ways. If @Home doesn’t inspire you, but @MyCastle does, use @MyCastle. Be creative and have fun--that’s really important to keep the system working. Disclaimer, if you are going to use nicknames for people, make sure you keep that part private, calling some one the ScareCrow and showing them the list, may not be in your benefit.