What is (not) a GTD context?


A key asset of every practitioner of Getting Things Done (GTD) is her or his set of Next-Action (NA) Lists.

NAs are not dumped into a single ToDo list. Instead, each list is focused on a given context that allows you to complete the action. According to David Allen, a context describes the tool, location or person that is required to be able to complete an action.

@Home, @Office, @Phone are typical examples. When you arrange your NAs like that, you're obviously in a much better position as soon as you're in the respective context and want to know what you should do now.

But what exactly is a context, and what isn't?

Types of contexts and how to handle them

During my last weekly review, I've had a look at my NA lists and I wondered what types of contexts exist. Here's my list, please add a comment below to share additional types. Here we go:

  1. People
    Examples: @Joe, @Mom and dad.
    Usually, this list takes the form of an agenda. Such lists are real life savers when your stress level is extremely high and you need to fly by autopilot.
  2. Roles and service providers
    Examples: @Boss, @M.D., @Delivery/FedEx/UPS.
    Better distinguish between roles and individual people, even when you're at very good terms with them.
  3. Locations
    Examples: @Desk, @Home, @Office, @Club, @San Diego Office.
    Places you stay at on a regular base.
  4. Errands
    Examples: @Walmart.
  5. Recurring event agendas
    Examples: @Weekly sales meeting.
  6. Recurring idle time spans
    Examples: @Morning coffee, @Gym, @Jogging, @Commuting.
    Please consider Leo Babauta's advice on establishing calming routines and keep some idle time spans free from any todos. Sometimes, idle isn't really idle.
  7. Allocated time spans
    Examples: @Reading, @Creative.
    Christian Eriksson points at an allocation example and Keith Robinson presents a similar idea for creative work.
  8. Required resources or tools
    Examples: @Online/Web, @PC-Offline/Mac anywhere, @Phone/Calls, @Email, Merlin Mann even lists: @Google
    It's not just the resource, but also the flow state when using it. Steve Pavlina criticizes GTD for requiring him to maintain lists like @Phone, saying he doesn't want to «scramble actions from different projects together». That's throwing out the baby with the water. GTD is not about staying focused on a single project, GTD is about avoiding task switching. When your projects look very similar to each other, batching similar tasks avoids task switching; completing a single project under such circumstances would involve more switching among more diverse task types.
    [2007-09-05 Update: See this posting on the David Allen forum for anecdotal evidence.]
  9. Habits
    Example: @Home.2Minutes.
    Chores and resolutions. Since it is hard to remember especially the minor ones, a list comes in handy.

Fake context types

  1. Actions or Projects
    Unfortunately, Merlin Mann initially listed actions like brainstorm, decide, print, read, write, schedule, refactor under «actionable contexts». David Allen doesn't call them contexts; when he talks about reading, e.g., he doesn't even mean an allocated time span (see above), but just a folder containing the actual items (articles, memos, printed emails, whatever). A better option than calling the above contexts would be to ask yourself: in which context will I be able to brainstorm, decide, print, read, etc. The answers will be different for each type of action. You won't bring your complete reading folder everyhere, that's a myth. And you can't just «print» everywhere: your boss isn't pleased when you print your private stuff in the office; your friends may not have any mac-compatible software installed on their Windows machines; your parent's printer may not be a color inkjet. So there is a hidden context here.
  2. Singular Events (opposed to: recurring events that have agendas, see above)
    «@Vacation in Greece» isn't a context, but a project. Put this on your project list and fill the next actions into the appropriate context lists or calendar pages. Your calendar and your errand list are valid in Greece, too...
  3. Available time or energy levels
    Brian Kei Tanaka talks about short-time and long-time contexts equating short-time with a low energy level requirement: @Computer, short However, on the whole there are three factors that guide your choice of the next task to be completed: priority, energy level, available time. Turn one of them into a context and the other ones become second-class citizens of your reliable system. E.g., you may have plenty of energy left - will you tackle the longer tasks only and miss the important short ones on the other list? If you want to track such factors, it's better to add extra columns to @Computer, to hold your assessment of priority, required energy level, and required time.
  4. Priorities
    Using contexts like @Urgent, @Important, or @A/@B/@C is an indicator that you've fallen back to traditional «time management» methods. It's not helpful to know that a next action is urgent if you can't act upon it where you are right now.
  5. Invariant time spans
    What about using @Today, @AM, @PM and the likes? Bobby Sullivan seems to suggest an Outlook category like Today was also a GTD context. While his category hack is great for planning the daily workload, his assumption isn't correct. Be sure not to confuse invariant time spans with contexts: planning to complete a next action within an invariant time span does not turn that time span into a context. It's easy to see that you're not always in the same place at the same time of day.

If you tend to have a lot of these, read Merlin Mann's advice on slashing contexts; it reminds me of the software development danger that Bertrand Meyer called Taxomania (IT-specific link, beware), the excessive desire of building classification trees for the only purpose of classifying.

The intersection problem and how to solve it

When you see two or more context candidates for a next action, you've bumped into the intersection problem. Hardly any given set of contexts is free of intersections. For instance, assume you may make phone calls @Home, @Phone or @Office. To which list will you add, e.g. «Call Jim and arrange for meeting next Thu»?

There are various ways to tackle that problem. Here's my list of strategies in the preferred order of application:

  1. Favor the generic context over the specific one
    Add «Call Jim and arrange for meeting next Thu» to @Phone, because that category is more generic and you need to check @Phone when you're @Home and @Office anyway. If you haven't got @Phone yet, create that list now.
    Obviously, this does not work if your company does not permit non-business calls from your workplace.
  2. Merge contexts
    if your boss does not like when you make private calls from your workplace, and you don't have a cell phone anyway, then cancel the @Phone list and merge its content («Call Jim and arrange for meeting next Thu») into the @Home list.
  3. Favor frequent contexts over rare ones
    Choose the context you're in more often. Is that @Home, @Phone or @Office? Adding «Call Jim and arrange for meeting next Thu» to it increases the chances that you'll get to see this task earlier. Of course, seeing does not mean completing.
  4. Favor permanent contexts over temporary ones
    Assume you're a freelancer who mostly works at the customer's site, in an office that is temporarily yours. «Call Jim and arrange for meeting next Thu» goes into @Home, because that saves you the transfer form @Office to @Home when your contract ends.

What are your suggestions for dealing with contexts? Let me know in the comments, below.

 

 

Comments

@errands

Admin note: While I was away for 2 days, the spam filter has killed a comment titled "@errands".
If you are the poster, I'd be very happy if you resubmitted that comment. I'm very sorry for the inconvenience! - Rolf

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Excellent post! This was so

Excellent post! This was so helpful. I really like GTD, but despite its simple structure, I kept getting hung up on the NAs and contexts. This was so helpful. Many thanks!

Bingo

Thanks for this write up. I was looking for a better understanding of context. Well...I actually was looking
for a list of possible contexts I could use.

I too was getting hung up on this part. Thanks for the reboot.

Wow. You what contexts are, and are <i>not<i>

This is so well done it is essentially a white paper on contexts. I grabbed a copy of this immediately. Getting across the essence of what contexts are to my coaching clients goes well in the moment, but it is easy for people to wander away from the concept inadvertently making it into something that is less helpful. This will be a great reference for them to come back to again and again.

This post is a superb reference. Your last section is one that I will come back to myself when I end up with the inevitable "context conflict". Thank you very much for this.

Excellent breakdown of contexts

This is a very well done writeup on contexts. I've run into some of these issues, but hadn't thought through the solutions as well as you've listed here.

The @agenda context was, for some reason, particularly bugging me as I kept confusing them with @email and @phone. This clarifies, not just that, but much more.

Thanks!

Thankyou!!!!

I've been trying to get head around gtd for months and my contexts are where I always fall down. This article is concise and covers every problem I came across. Thankyou so much!!!

Back to basic

This page is now part of my "read often list".
it's important not to loose focus over time.
thanks

Don't agree on the singular events one

Hi,

I liked a lot your post. I agree with all your recommendations but the singular events one. Following David's definition of a context, Greece is a location where I need to be if I want to visit the Parthenon. I do plan my vacations with its own context for things that I want to do when I am at that particular place (some of them are impossible otherwise).

Keep up getting things done!

Great article

I'm a late comer to this page as the last previous comment was a year and a half ago! Never mind, I come to it by way of a Google search for information on GDT Contexts.

I reviewed the first couple of pages of hits and this is far and away the best description of contexts I have found. Great work.

Another Data Point

I love GTD and like the last poster, I am very late to this party.

Much time and thought has been put into my NA lists. These work for me and these are the result of several iterations. Your mileage may vary. Since I travel frequently for work, I have an @airplane, which ended up duplicating next actions I could be doing elsewhere, so the lists were not working. Finally, I defined them based on available resources, for example my computer. I also want to keep the number of NA lists reasonable.

So, here are mine

@Office @Home: The obvious ones, but I record next actions there that can ONLY be done in that context.

@Computer: This works for when I am on the airplane, sitting in a hotel room, coffee shop, etc.

@Computer w/o Internet Access: Important distinction.

Next, I combined all your People/Roles/Providers into one NA
@Agenda: When I am with my co-worker Eddy, I have a running list of things we need to discuss, etc. You might think this section would become crowded and messy, but it has not been a problem for the two years I have been using it.

@Errands: I have recently deleted or moved this one. Moved is more accurate. Since I always have my Blackberry, I create an errands list in Outlook as a note.

The last one is personal and may not apply to everyone. My parents are in their 70s and live 5 hours away, so I created an @Mom's House to remind me of all the things I need to do for them while there.

That's it. I do like your @idle time idea. I'll have to give it a think. The issue before with @airplane was where does "process inbox" go? Office, Airplane, Home? No, the only time I can do it is when I have access to my computer and I don't need internet access.

Hope this helps.

Randy

@Randy

Thanks a lot for sharing your set of contexts with us! Funny enough, I've also got a @Parents, just to remember what to bring there or back to our home.

Still have problems with reading....

Thank you for a very helpful post.

However, even after reading your post, I still have problems with context for my reading assigments. So I guess that is the only "not-a-real-context" I have on my list! My problem is, that I read at home, at work, at coffee shops etc. So there is not one context for reading. Some times I need to read in front of the computer (notes), but that is fairly rare.

I try to keep it simple, and only have very few (real) context on my list. That works for me.

@Hanne

Hanne,

when you say you read at home, at work, at coffee shops etc: do you carry something to read with you, all of the time? And what triggers your reading there, usually? Do you plan to do it, in advance?

Rolf

Seeking further advice about Contexts...

Thank you very much for this article. I'm currently set up OmniFocus, and am struggling to figure out which contexts work for me. While I appreciate the suggestions you've provide, few of them work for me because I work at my home office, and mostly on my computer or on the phone. So, @Office or @Home or @Computer contexts aren't really applicable. Likewise, People, Roles and service providers don't really apply, and some of the other context categories seem interesting (e.g., time spans) but not totally useful or relevant.

I'm therefore wondering if you might have other ideas or suggestions for other contexts that might be better suited for someone who works at a home office, mostly doing work on the computer and phone... Thanks!

Also, I've noticed that you disapprove of using contexts like @Urgent, @Important, or @A/@B/@C. But I read this article that seems to strike a good compromise between using the contexts that you suggest, and integrating an ABC priority system for triaging flagged items:

http://www.asianefficiency.com/task-management/omnifocus-abc-priorities/

I'm wondering what you make of the ideas contained in the article, and am wondering if there might be a better system or way to build from what the authors have outlined in the article. Thanks!

@jdog

Interesting. I'm pretty much at the same place as you, having just converted from Windows to Mac. I also work in a similar way - at home or at client's offices and mainly on the computer with little paperwork involved.

I set up contexts in my previous system, which had only one level of context available and a limit to the number I could set up (unless I paid more). I used this article to review what I do and what contexts were involved in my work and then set out the ones I thought I would use. Worked for a time but I found I was using the same one over and over and in the end didn't bother.

I see the difference with Omnifocus as the ability to set contexts hierarchically so I can add say a People context and then add all the people who I interact with beneath this, and easily add more as they come along. I think this will help a lot compared with what I have been doing as the breakdown will be more granular.

For your problem I suggest that, rather than get others to give you what they do for contexts, analyze the work you do based on this article and develop a list of contexts that work for you - everyone works in different ways so hoping someone else is working in the way you want to work is probably not going to fly.

Thanks for the link. That looks a good site. I read the article but doubt I will follow it. For me the downside is losing the context of the work in the perspective.

What I will probably do is use the flag feature to identify the things I should be working on at the weekly review and then filter based on the flag for working in context during the week. Anything new coming along during the week either gets a flag if I need to do it in the week or gets no flag and will get reviewed at the next weekly review.

@jdog (and Tony Garland)

My posting just sums up various types of contexts that I have encountered. I'm not using all of them myself: as Tony Garland has pointed out in the comments, you need to invest some time into figuring out what contexts apply to *your* work.

@jdog: If I understood correctly, you said you mostly work from home, using your computer and your phone. I guess you need to consider whom you can get on the phone on which days at which times, so one of the things I'd try is to set up some agenda-type contexts for specific people (@Dave, etc.) and collect issues there so you have them ready when you get the chance to talk to the respective person.

One additional approach that works for me, currently, is to have my *customers* as contexts (in addition to agenda contexts for specific people), like e.g. @ACME. I've found that my customers are sort of a context, because mentally, I'm "with them". So if my project list contains ProjA, ProjB and ProjC at ACME, all of the corresponding next actions go to the @ACME list. It felt a bit strange to me at the beginning, because I thought that I might mistake a project for a context, but now I'm sure that it's really the *customer*.

With respect to "priorities": they have been left out of GTD deliberately, and I'm thankful for that. I strive to weed out the bad stuff from my system deliberately and regularly. Using the Eisenhower Matrix (or Covey's equivalent), as mentioned in the posting that you recommended, is what I do on a regular basis, but only during the reviews of my system. Personally, I do not see added value for me in prioritizing things that survived this purging.

With respect to electronics: I've abandoned them long ago in favor of PostIts sticked to loose leaf dividers. I'm writing the contexts above the PostIts and just discard each PostIt when I've finished all items on it. I prefer that to using the whole divider for one context. So far it works.

What is the difference between a Context and a Next Action?

Hi,

Great little article! Thanks.

I wanted to share my thoughts briefly (or not!).

I find it helpful to remember that a Context is not an Action. An Action is a verb - a 'doing word' (if you remember from elementary school). A Context is a Constraint or Condition which when true means you are able to 'do' the action.

E.g. Reading is something you do - an action. The Context might be @Library, @Home, @Office (if reading work related books/articles), @Vacation (for your once-a-year thriller novel), or @Train/Bus.

I also wanted to point out that an Action also has attributes that help determine the Context, and consequently which 'Context-based' Next Action list the action in question is added to (or categorised with). As mentioned in the example above, @Vacation Context would be applied to the action of 'read novel XYZ' in your inbox - this is the 'Process' step of moving that action into the Context-based Next-Action list '@Vacation' from your 'Inbox'.

One last thing, I think it is very useful to learn and understand the difference between 'tagging' an action with a contextual category and 'filing' an action into a hierarchical 'folder-type' task structure, such as the folders and sub-folders in Outlook, for example. Hierarchical information storage systems do not fit well with the true nature of 'stuff'. It is much more of a mesh (and mess!) than your directory/folder structure.
Hierarchy, when analysed closely, is actually a representation of a 1 dimensional attribute: 'location' - i.e. location within the hierarchy. To understand what I mean, goto your PC and look at the 'filepath' of any file in the 'Address Bar' (or equivalent in Mac/Linux etc.). It is a 1-dimensional 'line of characters'. The window through which you view it simply creates 'branches' whenever that 'path' differs between items (or files/[sub-]directories).

E.g. 1: "C:\Programs\ApplicationX\Filename.exe" is a 1D string which is an attribute.
E.g. 2: "Tasks\@Library\Read book XYZ" could be a representation in Outlook of your Context-based Next-Action list called "@Library" with the action item "Read book XYZ" if you manage Next Action lists using sub-folders under Tasks (hierarchical). It would be here if 1) you didn't own it, AND 2) didn't know anyone who did, AND 3) your knew or guessed the library would have it, AND 4) you really want to read it...

In my thinking, the most useful system would allow you to 'tag' (add) as many Contexts ('categories') to an action list item as necessary, and would allow you to view or sort actions by Context (category). Therefore, I think a better way of using Outlook is to create Contexts using Categories, then applying all relevant Categories to your items (tasks/emails/appointments/note etc.). When you view each folder, you can Group- and Sort-by Category...and there is your Context-based Next-Action list.

But that is just me and my logical brain...what do you all think?

What is the difference between a Context and a Next Action?

@sonorman - thoughtful comment.

I started using a system they gave the ability to tag contexts and I could add as many as I wanted (the downside was you could only sort on 1 context). I've now moved to another system that uses a hierarchical context environment. Still setting this up but think it is better. Tagging does not give enough structure I find. I overcome the problem of the 1 dimensional aspect of the hierarchy by duplicating some of the contexts under different main context, for instance I have context for @people with sub contexts of all the different people I need to link tasks to so I can raise them next time we talk. Then I'll also have an @waiting context with sub contexts of the same people as these tasks are waiting on specific input from the person.

Still working on this but seems OK so far

What is the difference between a Context and a Next Action?

Hi sonorman and Tony,

thanks for your in-depth comments! Since I don't maintain my lists electronically, I really long for a way to mark an action as actionable in multiple contexts. I can't help to admit that I can't figure out a way how to do that on paper.

I've described my workaround (involving a stacking order of contexts) here as well, but it's only a poor substitute, admittedly.

What is the difference between a Context and a Next Action?

The answer to that question lies in Punch Cards...lookup the first IBM systems :-) (hint: the information world before the PC)

(Careful, though. Too many holes and you end up with 'lace cards' ;-))

Context for someday/ maybe (in OmniFocus)

Let me briefly explain the setup. I use OmniFocus for implementing GTD practice up to 20.000 ft. I have set a someday/ maybe bucket (single action list) for each of my separate areas of responsibility (personal, work etc). The problem is that I couldn't assign someday/ maybe ideas (appearing as actions), that will be promoted into projects eventually, to specific contexts because of their diversity and sometimes vagueness. This is why I created the fill-in context "Tickler" because having contexts matched to all actions makes it easy to identify those actions added mistakenly without context during weekly reviews. It should also be stated that if the someday/ maybe bucket becomes a folder and the ideas have the form of projects you run into the problem of not being able to put a folder "on hold" in OmniFocus and therefore have to set it to "dropped". The dropped state makes it invisible from "remaining actions" and is also subject to archiving using the in-build OmniFocus function.

What suggestions do you have for this issue and how do you manage the someday/ maybe ideas?

Maybe the whole context thing is broken

The universe is telling us something in the numerous blog posts and other commentaries trying to get contexts to work. Contexts, for many if not most people, are *broken*. They are *not* the right approach. In most people's cases, the vast majority of their tasks can be done in a single context -- @WORK. It's true we now see people subdividing that work into @SHORT versus @LONG, or @HI-ENERGY vs @LO-ENERGY. But that's a desperate attempt to force their life into the faulty Context concept.

What is good about the idea of context is that it is an example -- albeit not a good one these days -- for a simple way of selecting from among the myriad of next actions, the subset to be done today (or in the next hour, etc). But what is bad is that it makes people focus on only one selection criteria and makes them nervous about trying others. There is *nothing* wrong with, for example, grouping tasks by their project. If I am in a "Project X mood" then seeing all next actions for Project X may be exactly what I need. And you know what; I am *often* in that kind of mood. So for me, projects *just are* contexts. And that's OK. Except, we already had a word for projects -- "projects". Adding the new idea of "contexs" especially when it was originally explained primarily in terms of physical environment, is confusing.

"Broken" contexts

John,

As always, it depends. I've got less than a handful of contexts and I need them. Life is more than just @work... ;-)

I like your reminder that contexts need not be physical environments. David Allen was describing *his* system, so he probably had mainly physical places as contexts.

It's great when you can treat projects as contexts. I can't - there are actions that definitely belong to a project that I just can't do at the customer's site (I'm a freelancer).

I'm using GTD and contexts since 9 years now, and meanwhile it shows that the idea has been watered down by an endless stream of chatter in blog posts. There is nothing like @short or @lo-energy in David Allen's approach, on the contrary.

Best wishes,
Rolf

I am having a difficult time

I am having a difficult time in seeing the usefulness of contexts the way it is defined here. I am just starting to incorporate the GTD system and the term context caught me as a question mark like many of you. Perhaps for its ambiguity. There are action items which can either be under the scope of a project with a list of several next actions to follow up on or can simply have one next action to do to complete it but it might still be related to the project. It would be useful to then define the context as being of the outcome generated when all the actions and actions within the projects are completed in other words the vision as there might be project within projects or projects running simultaneously against the other. Context when used like @home, @work is too narrow a view that it might complicate an otherwise easy action, the action itself is self explanatory. I may be over looking something in the system, would anyone like to discuss.

A new way of thinking?

Just read a great blog post at this site.

http://simplicityisbliss.com/post/15179343203/a-fresh-take-on-contexts.

This identifies the changes that technology has brought since David Allen first introduced GTD and suggests how this can change the way we look at context.

I'm still setting up Omnifocus using Kourous Dini's book.

http://www.usingomnifocus.com/

Contexts have been nagging at me for a while. I now have a different and hopefully simpler way of looking at this subject.

Excellent...

This is great stuff - it falls into that "it seems obvious after you've read it" category that all such great stuff does fall into. I found it helpful - keep up the good work.

Regards,
Kip

Difficult time (@Jay)

Hi Jay,

it's perfectly fine to re-define contexts as kind of project visions, if that works better for you than the GTD approach. It's just not GTD anymore.

New way of thinking (@Tony)

Hi Tony,

thanks for the interesting read! I'm not sure though I agree to "Contexts became ubiquitous". To me, they're not. It's the very definition of a context *not* to be ubiquitous. Literally, it even means something like "woven around something".

Unfortunately, the examples David gave in his GTD book relate to places and tools only. I agree with the statement that *tools* have become more ubiquitous.

The post you mentioned also calls for "New contexts to be adopted" like "Brain dead", "Full focus", "Hanging around". To me, these are reinterpretations of "available energy", as described by David. I prefer not to confuse those with contexts. To me, a context is something I'm repeatedly "in". As a result, I'm able to prepare some actions I may take while being "in" a certain context.

Contexts to me are not necessarily related to places or tools - places and tools just are popular examples. The real meaning is deeper - referring to Tim Ingold's "taskscapes", I'd say that GTD contexts are clusters in taskscapes that are experienced as stable for a while and therefore will be revisited, although, eventually, they'll dissolve.

Rolf

Taking issue

I have been using GTD for three years and have learned to adapt it to the way I really work. Reading this post on contexts was interesting and I have two comments that some may find helpful:

1. The Intersection Problem
If I have something to work out with Jim and I put it in @Phone then I miss it when he walks into my office, runs into me in the hallway, or sends me email about that exact topic. I'm sorry, but the intersection problem is a significant problem. You're suggesting a workaround, but you don't call it that. To do GTD in a flexible world, an item needs to be able to appear in multiple contexts. Unfortunately I don't see the big GTD guns doing that (Omnifocus comes to mind). That's one reason I've stuck with Things... I can manage context by tagging items.

2. Focus and Context
You say that a project is not a context, and that the purpose of GTD is not to stay focused. I suppose if your work consists of running through an inbox that would be true. But for those of us who do project work, focus is very important. If I have five projects running, and the next action keeps bouncing from one project to another I will go crazy and my work will suck. There are many times when you need to focus and let the contexts bounce around. I don't think you should make a project into a context. But GTD needs to adapt by letting you focus on the next action "in a project" if you want. You run the risk, of course, of getting bogged down in the weeds, but I don't think there's any escaping that risk if you have any depth to your work.

Beware

Beware of Omnifocus. You're as likely to spend timing MOW (Making Omnifocus Work) as you are GTD. In my experience it's a bottomless pit of tweaking that never quite gets you there. I've ready many, many posts about how it's the perfect tool for someone. So I suppose it could be for you too. But you should be aware of how much time you're spending fine-tuning, and bail if it gets to be too much. There are other good tools out there.

Intersections, Focus & Context

Hi Bob,

thanks for your insightful comments! Indeed, since I prefer to work on paper, I only have a workaround for the intersection problem. If you prefer software, then I agree with you that it should be possible to attach multiple optional contexts to a next action. In your example, though, this "elusive Jim" guy would get a context of his own, of type "Agenda" ;-)

I'm not sure I agree with your statement on focus and context. I have lots of projects and I don't see how I might lose focus. Usually, when I'm in "flow" state, I complete one next action of a project after the other. So I don't jump around in my inbox.

I've noticed that for many, it seems to be less of an issue in which context they are, because they consider contexts to be places and tools, mainly. But to me, that rather means some contexts have collapsed into one, and you lack a name for it.

Personally, I'm not that lucky, I've got a lot of contexts where I have all of the tools, but cannot use them as I'd like to (e.g., customers deserve my full attention, so I don't have a @Phone to walk through, while working in their offices; I can't set up my notebook at every customer's site, due to security constraints; Some artefacts are strictly confidential, so I can't even look at them when others are around;). I realize that many people have less constraints, and therefore less contexts.

As always, keep in mind that the context types I described above are just types, not recommendations or (hell no!) commandments.

Rolf

@read/review context

I use OneNote to record all my next actions and find it brilliant. I use all the usual contexts/tags, nothing fancy or different at all... apart from @read/review.

My job involves me doing a lot of reading and reviewing of documents and I created that context to put all the stuff in I have to read. However, my problem is that I have a mental block about it. I hate looking at that list. Consequently last week I was deleting documents from October! This context isn't working for me.

Some of the reading material is in Word or pdfs, some is on websites and some is still on paper. Where do others put "stuff to read"?

I spend most of my time at a PC of some sort or on trains where I have limited internet access. Any suggestions?

@read/review cointext

Hi Louise,
No comment about your choice of GTD app - I have tried One-Note but personally found that Evernote is better for me - although I don't use it for GTD.
Your problem with the @read/review context seems to be that you are not using it as a context, but as a dump for everything you need to read and review.
I understand the big volume of stuff you need to read, I have the same problem - a mania to collect everything I think may be of interest and then try to find time to read it.
It's not possible - you need to recognise that stream of information available is just too big and that all you can do is dip in as and when you can. Yes you may be missing some stuff that could have been good but you'll never know. Trust that your initial filter is good enough to identify the interesting items and go with it. You already seem to have recognised this as you are deleting stuff from back in October, presumably without reading, in order to try to make sense of you context.
Maybe you can look at where you do your reading. Is it possible for you to identify locations where you read specific types of documents. This may give you the opportunity to breakdown your existing context location-wise and create a number of different contexts, which then makes them more like a context and less like an in-box.
Then may be you can prioritise your reading - those items you must read go in one of your contexts and next time you are at that location you have the must read items available to you. All the rest go into sometime/maybe and get transferred out if required during your reviews.
Another way to look at this is to look at flagging the important items each week to identify those ones you feel you must read that week. Only flag those ones you feel you can achieve during the time available so that if you get to the end of the week and you have cleared your (much reduced) list you will feel a sense of satisfaction, which will spur your to greater things the next week.
Hope this helps
Tony Garland

@read/review context

Hi Louise,

I second Tony's excellent advice and haven't much to add, except two things:

1) It seems you do not face severe consequences when you delete at least some of the "stuff to read". Was the "best before" date to short a time frame, anyway? Wasn't the author/publisher pushing for your review/opinion? Wasn't it that important in the first place? Do you tend to say 'Yes' too often when asked for a review? Just playing with options that'd allow you to discard or reject stuff right before it enters your system...

2) Is it possible to consider some of the "stuff" as just a part of your virtual library, with no need of a reading todo? Part of your virtual "reference" desk? Maybe you can go even further than just shifting some of the stuff onto the @Someday/Maybe list and save it in your digital library (e.g., using Calibre http://calibre-ebook.com/) right away. That would only require you to attach a few keywords and the metadata you need to remember (author, ...) per document, to be able to find it again. But don't mentally disable the filter described under 1) when you try this. ;-)

Rolf

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