Contexts in OmniFocus can be as easy or as complicated as you like. The trick comes down to understanding what contexts mean to you in the real world.
Contexts are personable and it is rare that you will find two people that have exactly the same contexts setup. That’s why I thought it might be a good idea to share my context configuration and then you can decide for yourselves if there is anything there that you would like to use.
One thing I have dropped from my context setup is the use of energy levels as contexts. I used to have just two, Fully Focused, and Brain Dead because if I was in any physical or mental state aside from those two, then it was more sensible for me to work through my daily task list using location, people and equipment-aware contexts (such as Home, iPad Only, Garden, Spouse etc). I find that I haven’t missed them at all. I know when my high/low energy periods are during the day and as I try to schedule my calendar at least one day before, I make sure that I have these tasks scheduled in for those high/low energy times.
Let’s look at the contexts though that have made the cut. Some of these I use daily, some I don’t, yet each one warrants a position in my setup.
I find myself out and about in the car a lot, whether it’s visitng clients or running ‘errands’ for the family, so this context gets used an awful lot of the time. I have location aware subcontexts for the local supermarkets, or specialist areas where I can action the task at hand. Having these tasks pop up on my phone when I enter their tagged geo-location is handy and means that I never have an excuse for forgetting any of them.
I try to batch tasks whereever possible (that is,complete many of the same kind of tasks in one sitting) so this is where the Communications context excels. There are three sub-contexts, Email, Calls, Text/Tweet which covers the main methods of communication I use that aren’t in person.
With subscriptions to Lynda.com and ScreenCastsOnline, I’m expanding my mind and skillsets every day. I need a context set aside for these tasks when I find myself in that Studying zone. I just have two subcontexts here which are Laptop and Mobile Device, . The parent context here is for when it doesn’t matter which device I have.
Home is another powerful context and I have several subcontexts which are essentially different rooms in the house where I may have projects. Garden, Kitchen, Bathroom and so on.
I like this one. This is for when I want to just kick back and either read, watch videos, catch up on my latest programme. I have subcontexts for Book Reading, Laptop Reading, Any Device Reading, Watch and Listen. When I see something that I want to consume quickly, I can add it swiftly into OmniFocus and assign the relevant context.
I may as well rename this Amazon Prime given the amount I’ve been using it recently! This context is simple - it covers any tasks that involve online shopping. This is good for batch tasking once more, just having to click the context name and all your online purchasing tasks appear in front of you.
This is a handy context for when you have to interact with people.. We have all been there. You need to ask somebody about something yet find yourself forgetting all about it at the crucial moment - like when you speak to them!. Essentially, if there is something you need to talk to somebody about, create a subcontext for that person below Agendas and create a task with this context.
For example, I have two subcontexts below Agendas called Home and Work. Each one of those has entries below for Family, Friends, Colleagues. That way, when I have a meeting with my line manager, or with an important client, I know what I need to talk about with them.
Waiting For is a mirror image of my Agendas context. (That’s no exaggeration. I highlighted all the subcontexts below Agendas, pressed ⌘+D and then moved them underneath the root Waiting For context.
The reason for this is that if I am waiting on some information from a colleague, or for permission from my wife to buy a PS4 (which is still an active task in OmniFocus), I can assign it a Waiting For context. By clicking on this context, I can have an ‘at-a-glance’ overview of the tasks where I am awaiting on action from other people. As a Project Manager, I find the Waiting For context to be one of my most valuable. It’s all in the delegation, right?
This is probably my most risky context, because Someday/Maybe can easily turn into Never Ever. If there is a Project, or Action, that I know I want to check out someday but simply do not have the capacity for right now, it gets assigned a Someday/Maybe context.
I have a separate OmniFocus action scheduled fortnightly which forces me to review this context in full and see if there is anything in there that I am now in a position to take on. If not, it would just become a graveyard for all the great ideas I once had… (well, great maybe putting too positive a spin on it. Fair to middling may be more accurate).
Before I Start
The last context I want to tell you about is the Before I Start context. This context contains actions that I want to take before I start a serious chunk of work. For example, I have “Create My Morning Journal” setup as with a context of Before I Start, as I would like to work on this as early as I can in the day. Journalling helps me ratify what my daily actions are going to be by looking back on my day yesterday, my successes and failures, how I feel and what I would like to achieve.
Other examples of actions in the Before I Start context are “Review Forecast Perspective”, “Review Daily Calendar” as well as actions that I was in the middle of working through yet was unable to finish for some reason.
If you work in an office environment, this can happen all the time. You are in the middle of writing up an urgent report and you get called into a meeting, or the guy on the desk opposite decides that now is a superb time to mock you about your football teams dismal showing at the weekend, followed by his step-by-step breakdown of how he could save them if he was the manager. When this happens, I simply take the task I was doing it and assign it with the Before I Start context so I know it’s the first thing I hit when I get back.
Contexts are powerful, yet personal at the same time. Some of you will use a couple of the ones I have suggested above, some will bypass them altogether because there is a different mindset, a unique preference for how things should be organised and achieved. That’s what makes productivity so fascinating, there are so many different ways to ultimately achieve the same thing.
Contexts on their own are great. Combine them with Perspectives effectively and you will have a strong grip of your OmniFocus structure.
That’s a story for another time though.