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30 Oct

Here and there is not the same thing as always

Datum: 2013-10-30 10:17

If you have attend­ed one of my lec­tures or if you sim­ply are equal­ly fond of David Allen’s Get­ting Things Done-method as I am, you will be famil­iar with the term con­text” with respect to to-do-lists.

It is about cat­e­go­riz­ing to-do-tasks accord­ing to what con­text (mean­ing, what sit­u­a­tion or gen­er­al con­text) you need to be in to do each task.

The point of cat­e­go­riz­ing the to-do-list by con­text is that it then becomes eas­i­er to overview since the many dif­fer­ent tasks are divid­ed into sev­er­al small­er sections.

Con­tex­tu­al­ize your day

If you keep your list in a dig­i­tal for­mat, you can set the con­text by plac­ing a task in a cat­e­go­ry or giv­ing it a so called tag”. If you have a list writ­ten by hand, you might have a sep­a­rate sheet for each con­text or write a sym­bol rep­re­sent­ing every con­text before the tasks. If you have cat­e­go­rized your list by con­text it will be much eas­i­er to focus on the par­tic­u­lar tasks you are able to do in the con­text you are cur­rent­ly in (and per­haps you might even be able to hide the rest of the task altogether). 

If you have not done so before, make a list of all the con­texts you tend to be in dur­ing your work­days. Most peo­ple I meet end up hav­ing a list of between three and eight con­texts (but some­times even as many as ten or more). These might for instance be @office, @phone, @online, @home, @subway and so on.

But aren’t we allowed some downtime?

At this point, a nice and well-intend­ing per­son in the audi­ence of one of my lec­tures usu­al­ly rais­es his or her hand and says But do you real­ly have to be work­ing on some­thing spe­cif­ic no mat­ter where you are? It’s impor­tant to take a break once in a while as well, you know!”

Yes, it is easy to get the impres­sion that when we iden­ti­fy the con­texts we are usu­al­ly in dur­ing our work­day, we do this in order to then be able to con­stant­ly have some­thing to work on; to con­stant­ly be productive.

For­tu­nate­ly this is not at all the point of cat­e­go­riz­ing by con­texts. What defin­ing con­texts help us with is more a mat­ter of answer­ing the ques­tion: When I am here any­way and wish to use the moment as well as I can, what can I work with right now?”

So, you should regard the cat­e­go­riza­tion of con­texts as a means to with as lit­tle effort as pos­si­ble quick­ly see what you might pos­si­bly do here and now, rather than some­thing demand­ing you to keep work­ing and nev­er take time to just relax.

Only you decide when you need and want to work and when to have down­time, regard­less of what con­text you are in.

Do this

  1. Take a look at your to-do-list and think about how you could make it even eas­i­er to only visu­al­ly dis­play things you can do where you hap­pen to be at the moment.
    • Is the num­ber of con­texts you work in so many that you could ben­e­fit from reduc­ing this num­ber to five?
    • Would it make it eas­i­er to dis­tin­guish the con­texts from each oth­er if the tasks belong­ing to each con­text were writ­ten or high­light­ed in dif­fer­ent colors?
    • Is it pos­si­ble for you to in your dig­i­tal to-do-tasks tool, choose to only dis­play the tasks that have a com­bi­na­tion of con­texts which you quick­ly enter (such as on the train, online, with­out access to a phone”)?
  2. If you think of some­thing you might improve upon, define the first step as a to-do-task and assign an appro­pri­ate con­text to it (!).
  3. When it suits you, do the task and then define the next step, and the next, and so forth until you feel you are done adjusting.

Cat­e­go­rize to enable focus

If you fine-tune how you work with con­texts in terms of your to-do-tasks, you will no longer be both­ered by the sheer length of your exten­sive to-do-list. Hav­ing all the things you need to do in one long list will not be a prob­lem in itself since you will prac­ti­cal­ly nev­er view the list in its entire­ty. When you regard the things you need to do in the con­text you are cur­rent­ly in, every­thing feels rel­e­vant and you will not spend ener­gy look­ing past” or putting out of mind” all the oth­er tasks you are unable to address at the moment anyway.

If you have not made use of con­tex­tu­al­iza­tion pre­vi­ous­ly, I high­ly rec­om­mend you to try this type of cat­e­go­riza­tion. It has made my life sig­nif­i­cant­ly eas­i­er, in spite of only being a sim­ple twist of perspective.

What is your method?

How do you ensure that you only see the to-do-tasks you are able to address where you are right now? Feel free to write a comment!