Part IV of why OmniFocus for the serious GTD’r . . .
If you’ve been using any GTD system then you are already very familiar with contexts. You know, organizing tasks by what you need, or where you need to be to get them done. Some examples include computer, phone, work, home, errands and the like.
While I agree with the premise of contexts, in this day and age, I almost always have everything I need at my fingertips wherever I am. I have a computer, even if its my iPhone, with browser, email, calendar and of course my GTD. And I have my phone, be it landline or cell. Though it might be sacrilege to say, typical contexts don’t get much mileage in my GTD.
Why Personal Contexts
Where contexts really shine for me is when I make them personal. Meaning, a context is an organization or an individual with whom I interact on my projects. Here are some examples.
- I assign a task to a member of my staff – that task gets assigned a context with their name.
- I delegate a task to someone outside my supervisory control, but who is a resource on one of my projects. The task is assigned a context with their name. (Project Managers know the importance of this one all too well.)
- I have contexts for my managers, and assign that context when the task needs a decision or discussion with that manager.
- I assign a task to an organization or group context when the individual is not that important to the task’s completion – no special expertise needed. The group will internally decide who completes the task.
- I assign a task to an outside agency or contractor. In this case I may not even know who is working on the task, and I really don’t care as long as it gets done on time.
What makes OmniFocus contexts so powerful is that they can be nested. You can see an example of my organizational context with nested individual contexts here. (names blurred for privacy)
Note the disclosure triangle which allows you to open and close contexts revealing their sub contexts.
So you ask what is the big deal about nested contexts? Well in reporting for example, you can print or send a list of tasks to an individual by selecting an individual’s name, 2nd level context, or to the entire group, or the group’s manager, by selecting the 1st level context.
Also note the badges beside each context, orange showing the number of tasks that are coming due and red indicating tasks that are overdue.
Using Personal Contexts
My staff really appreciates the lists I send them via email after we meet each week, and I appreciate having the list on hand when I meet with them to discuss the week’s priorities.
When I attend a meeting with my manager, I have everything we need to discuss, simply by bringing up their context.
And whether I’m attending a project meeting, or stop for an impromtu meeting in the hallway, my contexts are always available, since OmniFocus lets me carry my entire GTD with me on my iPhone. I just click on their name, and everything that I need to discuss with them is instantly available. No more missed opportunities to get an update or information that would otherwise have to await a call or email.
What Have You Done for Me Lately
Another important use I’ve found for personal contexts is history. We can combine the power of Omnifocus perspectives with personal contexts to list the tasks completed by an individual in the last day, last week, last month or even the last year. This is a great tool when you need justification for a new position due to overallocation of a resource, annual performance evaluations, or just to remind yourself or another manager of how much an employee has really done.
Most importantly, this view keeps me out of the, “what have you done for me lately” mode, because I can see at a glance how hard my staff are working.
Here is a screen shot showing completed tasks for an individual context, grouped by period of time completed – yesterday, last week, the last month, etc. Note the task, project, due and complete dates are also available in this view, making it easy to see how well folks are meeting their due dates, an important consideration in resource allocation and management.
So there you have it . . . my take on making your contexts personal. Next post, I’ll show you a very cool tool for handling and tracking notifications and updates while waiting for someone else to get something done for you. Thanks for reading, John.