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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 November 12, 2020

    5 Reasons Why Being a Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect

    5 Reasons Why Being a Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect

    As a perfectionist, do you spend a lot of time “perfecting” your work so that everything comes out the way you want it to?

    I believe many of us are perfectionists in our own right. We set high bars for ourselves and put our best foot forward to achieve them. We dedicate copious amounts of attention and time to our work to maintain our high personal standards. Our passion for excellence drives us to run the extra mile, never stopping, never relenting.

    Dedication towards perfection undoubtedly helps us to achieve great results. Yet, there is a hidden flip side to being perfectionists that we may not be aware of. Sure, being a perfectionist and having a keen eye for details help us improve and reach our goals. 

    However, as ironic as it might sound, a high level of perfectionism prevents us from being our best as we begin to set unrealistic standards and let the fear of failure hold us back.

    Below, we’ll go over some of the reasons why being a perfectionist may not be so perfect and how it can inhibit you from being the best version of yourself.

    Why Perfectionism Isn’t So Perfect?

    1. Less Efficiency

    As a perfectionist, even when you are done with a task, you linger to find new things to improve on. This lingering process starts off as 10 minutes, then extends to 30 minutes, then to an hour, and more. We spend way more time on a task than is actually required.

    In order to be truly efficient, we need to strike a balance between the best we could possibly do and the level of “good” a specific project requires. No one will expect perfection from you because it will ultimately be impossible to attain. Do the best you can in a reasonable time frame, and allow yourself to put it into the world.

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    2. Less Effectiveness

    We do little things because they seem like a “good addition” without consciously thinking about whether they’re really necessary. Sometimes, not only do the additions add no value, but they might even ruin things.

    For example, over-cluttering a presentation with unneeded details can make it confusing for listeners. Jam-packing a blog layout with too many add-ons can make it less user friendly. Sometimes, consistency is key, and if you continuously change things, this will become much more difficult.

    3. More Procrastination

    Our desire to “perfect” everything makes us overcomplicate a project. What’s actually a simple task may get blown out of proportion to the extent that it becomes subconsciously intimidating. This makes us procrastinate on it, waiting for the ever “perfect” moment before we get to it. This “perfect” moment never strikes until it is too late.

    Instead of overthinking it, set small objectives if you have a big project ahead of you. This will help you tackle it step-by-step and complete it before the deadline.

    If you need help tackling procrastination, check out this article.

    4. Missing the Bigger Picture

    As a perfectionist, you get so hung up on details that you forget about the bigger picture and the end vision. It’s not uncommon to see better jobs done in pruning the trees than growing the forest.

    Take a step back and remind yourself of your end goal. Try setting a timeline to help yourself stick to the work that needs to be done without ruminating on things that could be improved.

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    5. Stressing Over Unfounded Problems

    We anticipate problems before they crop up, and come up with solutions to address these problems. It becomes an obsession to pre-empt problems. As it turns out, most of these problems either never surface or don’t matter that much.

    When Perfectionism Becomes a Problem

    The problem isn’t perfectionism specifically. Perfectionism helps us to continuously strive for excellence and become better, so it can really be a good thing.The problem is when setting high standards turns into an obsession, so much so that the perfectionist becomes neurotic over gaining “perfection” and refuses to accept anything less than perfect. In the process, s/he misses the whole point altogether and does damage to their mental health. Such perfectionists can be known as “maladaptive perfectionists.”[1] Maladaptive perfectionists spend so much time setting high expectations and striving for perfection that they increase levels of depression and anxiety. 

    Diagram showing how a healthy perfectionist and a maladaptive perfectionist respond to failure.

      The answer isn’t to stop being a perfectionist or high achiever. It’s to be conscious of our perfectionist tendencies and manage them accordingly. We want to be healthy perfectionists who are truly achieving personal excellence, not maladaptive perfectionists who are sabotaging our own personal growth efforts[2].

      How to Be a Healthy Perfectionist

      1. Draw a Line

      We have the 80/20 rule, where 80% of output can be achieved in 20% of time spent. We can spend all our time getting the 100% in, or we can draw the line where we get majority of the output, and start on a new project.

      Obsessing over details is draining and tedious, and it doesn’t help us accomplish much. I used to review a blog post 3-4 times before I published. All the reviewing only amounted to subtle changes in phrasing and the occasional typos. It was extremely ineffective, so now I scan it once or twice and publish it.

      2. Be Conscious of Trade-offs

      When we spend time and energy on something, we deny ourselves the opportunity to spend the same time and energy on something else. There are tons of things we can do, and we need to be aware of the trade-offs involved, so we can better draw a line.

      For example, if some unimportant blog admin work takes an hour, that’s an hour I could spend on content creation or blog promotion. Being conscious of this helps me make a better choice on how to spend my time.

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      3. Get a View of the Big Picture

      What is the end objective? What is the desired output? Is what you are doing leading you to the overall vision?

      As a perfectionist, to make sure my attention is set on the end point, I have a monthly and weekly goal sheet my blog that keeps me on track. Every day, I refer to it to make sure what I’m doing contributes to the weekly goals, and ultimately the monthly goals to keep me on track.

      4. Focus on Big Rocks

      Big rocks are the important, high impact activities. Ask yourself if what you are doing makes any real impact. If not, stop working on it.

      If it’s a small yes, deprioritize, delegate it to someone else, or get it done quickly. Seek out high impact tasks and spend time on them instead. Knowing the big picture helps you know the big rocks that contribute to the end goal.

      5. Set a Time Limit

      Parkinson’s Law

      tells us work will take however long we want it to take. If you give yourself 4 hours, you will finish it in 4 hours. If you give yourself 3 hours, you will finish within 3 hours. If you don’t give yourself any time limit, you will take forever to do it.

      Set the time limit and finish the task by then. There can be a million things you can do to improve it, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

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      6. Be Okay With Mistakes

      Part of the reason why a perfectionist obsesses over their work is because they want it to be mistake-free. However, trying to achieve 100% perfection is highly ineffective. If we’re busy perfecting this thing, we can’t get to other important things.

      Realize that making mistakes is a trade off we have to embrace. The more we open ourselves to making mistakes, the faster we can get down to learning from them, and the quicker we can grow.

      7. Realize Concerns Usually Amount to Nothing

      It’s good to plan and prepare, but there comes a time when we should let things roll and deal with problems as they crop up. Being overly preemptive makes us live in an imaginary future versus in the present.

      This doesn’t mean you don’t care. What it means that most of the things that do crop up can always be controlled on the spot, without worrying about them beforehand.

      8. Take Breaks

      If your productivity is waning, take a break. Resting and coming back to the same thing later on gives you a renewed perspective and fresh focus.

      The Bottom Line

      Perfectionism doesn’t have to be the enemy. If you’re a perfectionist, you can use it to help you be better at what you love to do. However, there’s a time and a place for it, and it’s important to learn strategies to start overcoming perfectionism when it becomes an obsession.

      Instead of doing work perfectly, do your best and move on. This will help you go farther, faster.

      More on Being Your Best

      Featured photo credit: Elsa T. via unsplash.com

      Reference

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