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GTD Refresh: Contexts and Calendar

GTD Refresh: Contexts and Calendar

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    In my first post in this series, I discussed the steps I had begun to take in putting my GTD system back in order. I started by outlining my life at the moment (especially my Areas of Focus”) and sketching out a vision of myself in 3-5 years.

    The next step in my return to an orthodox GTD system is to reset all my lists, the physical core of GTD. Longtime readers of this blog know that I’ve never been very fond of the idea of contexts, but for my GTD refresh I decided that I need to bring contexts back into my setup.

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    Contexts are tricky. For people with clearly defined jobs and boundaries between their various roles/areas of focus, contexts make sense because you’re clearly “at work” or “at home” or “at your computer” or wherever.

    That’s not me, though. I am a college professor at two different colleges, with access to a variety of computers, office spaces, and other amenities over the course of the day when I am teaching. When I’m not teaching, I’m working at home as a freelance writer. The boundary between “@home” and “@work”, “@computer” and “@errands” can be very thin sometimes, often amounting to little more than my attitude.

    Especially since, no matter where I am, I am effectively using the same computer. Away from my house I use LogMeIn to access my home computer; at home, I use a netbook on the wireless network to pull files from and save them back to the same computer. So whether I’m in my office at the university, on the shared computer in the department office at the community college, on a public terminal in a library or classroom, or at home at my desk or on my sofa, if I’m looking at a computer, I’m always @computer. And if I’m not looking at a computer, I’m just “out”.

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    So it makes more sense for me to have just a few contexts, based more on type of task rather than the location. There are things I can do on a computer — pay bills, write, grade papers, shop, contact friends and business associates, watch videos, etc. There are phone calls I have to make. There’s everything else I do at home — laundry, maintenance, filing — and there’s everything else I do away from home — shopping, doctor’s appointments, lunch with family, dating, and so on.

    So I’ve got three contexts:

    • @computer
    • @phone, and
    • @out.

    Notice I don’t have @home — almost everything I ever do at home is on a weekly schedule, and everything that isn’t requires using a computer, making a phone call, or taking a trip out of the house. For example, to deal with a fidgety heater, I need to call the landlord or file an online service ticket.

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    Context lists don’t stand alone; they work in concert with the calendar. That’s why I don’t need a separate @home context — almost everything I’d put on an @home list is tied to a particular day or date and properly belongs on my calendar. I don’t think I’d quite understood that before — I saw the calendar as essentially a different kind of “task space” than context lists, and overloaded my task lists with stuff that should have gone into my calendar. Most task management software doesn’t help with this mindset, either, since you can date tasks and have them appear alongside your calendar on the day they’re due.

    But your calendar and context lists should complement each other. Since everything needs not just a place to get done but a time, working the calendar especially hard seems warranted. Especially because I thrive best when things are scheduled for particular times, pinning tasks to specific time-slots seems like a more effective way for me to maintain my productivity.

    In the  past, this might have represented a slight deviation from “orthodox” GTD. My understanding on reading Getting Things Done was that the calendar should be used onlyfor things that have to be done at a specific time. Either I misunderstood or Allen has come around to seeing the value of the calendar as a location for tasks, because in Making It All Work he definitely advocates pinning things to the calendar — even allowing that if they don’t get done on the day they’re scheduled, they should be moved to the next day.

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    This might seem like a lot of thought to put into what are really the most basic and straight-forward elements of GTD, but I think it’s merited. First of all, after several years of familiarity with GTD principles, I’m in a much better position to understand the “system for a system” aspect of GTD — the way GTD provides principles for assembling a system, rather than a system in and of itself.

    Secondly, I think the big takeaway of GTD is that consciousness creates productivity. Using context lists in the past never worked forme because I hadn’t really been conscious of why I was using those particular contexts, and how to keep them all organized and available. Which is to say, instead of paying attention to my tasks, I was paying attention to the way my tasks were organized. If I’m going to make contexts work for me, I need to understand and accept (and trust) that they really are functioning according to my particular needs.

    Which is really the point of this series. I know that people like to read about other people’s systems — I certainly know I do — but it would be hardly worth writing about if you couldn’t see the process I’m going through to determine how to put that system together. I certainly don’t expect anyone to trim their contexts down to the three I’m using; what I hope, though, is that you’ll be inspired to follow some of the reasoning I’m using to determine what an affective set of contexts might look like for your life.

    Next time (most likely): Balancing software and paper.

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    Last Updated on October 15, 2019

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why we procrastinate after all

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    So, is procrastination bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How bad procrastination can be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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    8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

    Procrastination, a technical failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

    Reference

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