To do lists are vital to ensuring that we have a way to keep tabs on all of the “stuff” we’ve got going on in our lives. One of the problems with to do lists is that we tend to throw a lot on them and have a difficult time breaking it down into manageable and – better still – meaningful chunks. We tend to tackle it in the order it appears or based what we do on the deadlines that have been set for each item. Not everyone is going to be able to easily break the habit of focusing on time over task, but there are methods you can use to better connect with what’s really important to you on your to do list to make sure you’re not just checking off boxes. Instead, you’ll be checking off the right boxes.

One of the best ways I’ve found to cultivate a better to do list is through the use of more meaningful contexts.

What is a Context?

A context (in the realm of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology) is described as follows:

“A context describes the tool, location or person that is required to be able to complete an action.” – via Evomend.net


That essentially means you can attach a context to a task that can be based on where you need to be or what you have available to you at particular moments so that you can work on said task. But tasks like “Reply to email X” and “Go shopping for anniversary gift” somewhat lend themselves to place-based contexts without you really having to think about it.

So what I suggest is that you attach deeper meaning to those tasks by connecting those tasks to trait-based or emotion-based contexts.

For example, “Reply to email X” may be an email you have to send thanking someone for coming through for you on a particular project or endeavor. So rather than tag that task with a context like “Email” or “Computer”, use “Gratitude” instead. Not only does it put you in a better mindset to send that specific email, but it also connects all of the tasks that are based on gratitude together when you search for that context (or “tag”, depending on what task management software you are using).

Sample Trait-Based and Emotion-Based Contexts

  • Knowledge: When you are doing research for a project or learning about something.
  • Love: When you are doing a task associated with romance or fostering a romantic or family relationship.
  • Passion: When you have a burning passion for the to do list item, then this is a great context to use to stay focused on what it is you are truly passionate about (you can filter the passionate items from the ones that aren’t tagged as such).
  • Practice: When you are working towards getting better at something, using this context can help you track those things – as well as how much time and energy you are spending on them.
  • Willpower: Use this context when you really need to tap into your sense of willpower to power through a task.
  • Kindness: When you are doing something just to be kind, then this context can be very useful.

There are plenty of other contexts you can use that can help you connect more deeply with what would normally be a list of boxes you need to check off – attaching them to these boxes won’t just give them a deeper meaning…they may actually play a much bigger part in your productivity.

By adding a deeper meaning to your tasks, they will become more important. That, in turn, will drive you to get more done. When you remove the known logical contexts from the equation (Home, Work, Computer, Phone) and replace them with something more “holistic” like the examples I mentioned above, there’s less of a coaxing involved to keep you moving forward.

After all, we all know where we physically need to be to get certain things done. The trick to compelling you to do them involves tapping into the “why” you are doing them – and that’s where emotion-based contexts come into play.

Give it a try – even with just one context to start. I bet you’ll find that a deeper meaning to your to do list will mean a deeper connection to what really matters to more than just what’s on that to do list. It’ll mean a deeper connection to what really matters to you.

Photo: Businessman Holding Plates with Smiles via Shutterstock

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