Planning With Context | Giftie Etcetera: Planning With Context

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Planning With Context

In David Allen's book, Getting Things Done, he suggests that tasks be tackled by context. Translation? If you are running errands, run all the errands. If you are doing housework, do all the housework at the same time.

I never fully bought into all of Allen's theories as I find them to complicated for all but the most busy executives, but I do steal a lot of his wisdom and apply it in my life (and in my planner). In particular, I use context codes all the time.

I certainly don't believe that I have to have separate lists or get all things done in a particular context at once. Instead, I simply add the codes to my task lists so that, if I happen to be at the computer, I can try to knock out a couple of extra computer tasks. The context codes help me identify computer tasks quickly.

TIP: If you really are doing all your errands in one day, jotting them all on one sticky note is a great idea. Remember, your planner needs to work for you, not mindlessly follow someone else's plan (even if that someone else is me :) ).

Today, I hope to help you set up your own list of context codes and to teach you how to use them.

1. Choose a simple list of context codes that cover LOCATION or TOOL NEEDED to get things done.

Choosing your context codes is the single most important step to help you organize your tasks.

Some people suggest that you choose by role (as in employee, boss, student, parent, etc.). I completely disagree. The reality is that your roles might not coordinate with the locales where you are doing your task or with the tools needed to do your tasks.

For example, I am a parent at work (when I have to return an email to the teacher) or when I am running errands (and need to get uniforms hemmed at the tailor). I am a lawyer at work, but also when signing up for a continuing legal education class at home from my computer. Basing your list on your "roles" will only confuse you about what you should be doing.

Instead, think about where you will do the task and what tools are needed to do the task.

For example, taking out the trash tonight can only be done at my home. Home makes sense as a context code. If I add that task to my list and am working at a coffee shop, I certainly can just ignore that task until I get home. Sometimes, a tool is needed. Most commonly, for me, that means a computer or my cell phone.

Here's the list of context codes that I currently use (typed neatly at the end of this blog entry)...

2. List the context codes in your planner.

I put my context codes in the Notes or Files section, since the list is more of a reference than a working project. I have a Note called "Planner" (which also includes things like measurements, the inserts that I order every year, links to free printables...basically anything used in organizing my planner).

TIP: When first starting with context codes, put them on a sticky note as a reminder to yourself and move it from week to week with your page marker, until you learn them and how to use them.

3. Superscript a context code in front of each task.

Context codes need to jump out at you, but not distract you. I assign my tasks in two lists: Must-Dos (on the left) and Should-Dos (on the right). There is no need to actually divide the list by context. Instead, I simply put a tiny raised context code in front of each task. That way, if I am at my computer, I can do all of my computer work at once...or just do the must-do computer tasks, if pressed for time.

4. Use the most restrictive context code.

My legal work is done, 90% of the time, on my computer. However, I don't do non-work related tasks while on the time clock for work. So, for me, W (work) is a more restrictive code than C (computer). If a work project must be done on the computer, it gets the W code. While working, I try to do all tasks with a W code each day.

5. Have a catch-all code.

A (anywhere) is my code for anything that can be done with no particular tools or locations. Since I always have my planner and my purse with me, most of the A tasks have actually changed to PL (planner) for me lately. I'm still trying to decide between the two.

6. Use the codes for all task entries.

Get into the habit of putting codes to tasks as you write down the tasks in the first place. If you forgot, go back and add them.

7. Be flexible.

If your codes aren't working and need to be tweaked, tweak them!

8. Use the context codes.

If you find you are on the computer anyway, look for a couple of computer tasks that you can knock out quickly while you have wi-fi access.

Sitting in the carpool line? Get those phone tasks done.

At the doctor's office waiting for results? Do those anywhere tasks!


A = anywhere
PL = with planner

PH = with phone
E = errands
C = at computer
W = at work

Bonus Codes (not really context codes, but other codes that I use with planner entries):

@{initials} = waiting on someone else to do
FYI = for my information only
CP = carpool
KAR = karate



Unknown said...

Great post Giftie :-)

You've spared me on to get my book out, re-read and put more into practice than just my Brain Dump Section and my Reference Section x

Unknown said...

I think truly busy executives would be too busy for GTD. All those lists and recopying are far too time-consuming.

Anonymous said...

Ink poisoning is real but only if you drink gallons of it. You cannot get it from just writing on yourself. said...

I used to do something like that in my FC two pages per day. I made my list and then I gave each item a code:

H - house
E - errand
P - paperwork

I love doing things in groups like that. It helps me focus better.