OmniFocus and Contexts
It may have been a while since I've posted about OmniFocus but I still use it constantly. Since embracing the whole GTD framework, my stress level has noticeably been lower, despite having some pretty severe demands on my time. It's not because it is some sort of magic bullet. It is because I have all of the things I need to do captured and put in a place where I know I will see them in order to get them done when it makes sense to do them.
The biggest hurdle for grasping the whole concept of GTD is that of Contexts. They are key to making the whole thing work. Unfortunately they are somewhat confusing and, if poorly implemented, the system will fail. From what I've seen, even one minor failure is enough to induce someone to abandon their whole GTD effort.
Admittedly, I didn't "get" Contexts until I started using OmniFocus, despite using GTD apps like Things for months. OmniFocus implements the whole idea of Contexts so effortlessly that it made it easy for me to start using it right away. Someday I'll write up a "beginners" guide to how I implemented Contexts to streamline things, but today I wanted to touch on something a bit more tangential -- Thinking as a Context.
What is "Thinking as a Context"?
Contexts are devices to categorize where you need to be to do a certain thing, and that's helpful, but what if you aren't quite sure how to even begin a project? I realize it will take some quiet planning in my head before I can break it into tasks and add them to OmniFocus. That's where my Thinking context comes in.
Whenever I add a new project to OmniFocus that has different levels, involves lots of team communication, or requires a lot of prep work, I don't dive right into defining tasks anymore. First, I add it to the Thinking context and, when I get a quiet moment, I try to plan out the rough steps to tackle it. When I do that, I'm finding that I have better, more targeted tasks in OmniFocus and that leads to more things getting done.
It seems like a no-brainer that you should think about a project before defining tasks, right? Maybe it's just how I approach OmniFocus, but I find that when I am working quickly, I tend to shotgun tasks into the application as fast as I can. For a lot of things, that works great. You don't need to put a lot of planning into things like "Feed the dog", or "Hang pictures". When you have something like "Create version 2.0 of iPhone app", you can see where things might get a little more intense.
Now, when a new project comes across the plate, the first thing I do is create it in OmniFocus and then quickly add tasks to represent the broadest strokes possible. For the items that I can envision from beginning to end, I'll just add them in order and assign to the other contexts as appropriate; but for the ones that require a bit more brainpower to parse into tasks, I add them to my Thinking context.
Giving more thought to tasks before they become "things to do" will make it far easier on you during your daily task completion. Whenever you have to give more than a second's thought to how to do a task on your list, it usually means you didn't define it well enough. By keeping well-defined items in your to-do list, you are sure to get better results and end up feeling like you got a lot more done by the end of the day.