Step 6: Contexts

Michael Sliwinski — №23 with Mike St. Pierre

While you should group tasks into projects as we said in Step 2 of the course, you can also classify them by contexts in order to get them done even more efficiently. It’s your second layer of productivity. Learn:

Welcome to part 6 of our “10-steps to Ultimate Productivity” course. Here we’ll talk about "Contexts” - a concept borrowed from the David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done” (a.k.a. GTD)

What are “contexts”

Well, you already are a productivity ninja as you’ve mastered the way of adding tasks, organizing them into projects and getting them done from your “priority” list.

Although I’m not a big fan of prioritizing, I like categorizing to-do lists thanks to a method from GTD called “contexts.” The contexts concept is another weapon to help you clear these lists and get more done.

As David Allen says, “A context can be a place, a tool or an environment… which can be applied to various tasks in different projects.”

Some examples for contexts include tools like phones (because you have to call people regarding various projects, right?), places like your office or home (because you can perform some tasks only there), and actions like “Writing” (to mark tasks that require extensive amount of writing).

Again, it’s a way of categorizing tasks from different projects so that you can batch them and get them done together. Before we move on, let me explain the concept of “batching.”

What is batching?

“Batching” means grouping the same tasks that require the same skills, effort, tools, or environment, like when you cook. You first gather all the ingredients you need to slice and then slice them; later, you get all the ingredients you need to fry, them fry them, because slicing, then frying, then slicing again would be counter-productive.

My other favorite example is the “Phone” context. Imagine you’ve just had lunch. It was great, you’re stuffed and you’re back at your desk and you don’t feel like working … yet. This happens to me very often. What do I do to bring myself back into “action mode”?

I do something that doesn’t require a lot of effort and is very rewarding. I start calling people up. I first call my wife to ask how she’s doing, though I try to keep it brief — this makes her happy every time.

Then I click on the “Phone” context in my Nozbe app and the whole list of tasks I previously defined as “phone calls” pops up. I call these folks one by one and start feeling very productive. I’m getting things done despite being stuffed with food!

Another example — my CFO and I often need to make payments. I also need to pay my landlord or car insurance or some other thing. I group all these into my “Finance” context. This way, I can batch my wire transfers even though they come from different projects.

A context can be a person. For example, my wife has her “Boss” context. Whenever she has a task that she wants to review with her boss, she marks it as a “Boss” context. Later, when she is about to have a meeting with him, she prints all of her tasks from the Boss context and she knows exactly what to discuss during that meeting.

Another example of a context is “Shopping,” because you may need to buy groceries, but on your way back home it’d be great to pick up printer paper and a new set of pens for your home office.

I frequently use “Errands” as a context to run errands (small things I need to take care of or buy when running around town). This is really helpful because otherwise I would forget about something from some project.

And if you’re really into prioritizing, you can set up a “Top priority” context in Nozbe and mark with this context tasks that are really just your priority. The possibilities are endless.

The difference between contexts and projects

Again, grouping tasks into contexts is not the same as grouping them into projects. With projects, you group tasks around a common goal, while with contexts, you group tasks around similar ways of getting them done.

Contexts serve as an additional weapon as you can now group tasks from various projects together depending on their place, tool or environment — whatever suits you and helps you get things done.

In Nozbe, you can quickly add new contexts to tasks. Just pull out the context list and drag and drop context on the tasks (or tasks on contexts) to assign one to another. And the contexts are being shared automatically when you share a project with other people!

Try it for yourself — choose a short list of contexts and see how they’ll improve your productivity. Remember to use the same contexts across multiple projects and you’ll see how it helps you move these projects forward.

The concept of contexts will help you get things done and help you process many actions at a time when you’re the most productive — with a particular tool, in a certain environment or even with another person. Good luck!

Michael sliwinski

Michael Sliwinski

Michael Sliwinski is the editor of Productive! Magazine, the founder of Nozbe (a time and project management application for busy professionals), and the best-selling author of the #iPadOnly book.

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