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.
- 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”)?
- 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 (!).
- 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!