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Why Contexts Don't Work (and what will!)



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cyounkins

Posted: Jun 02, 2009
Score: 0



Hello! Let me start off by saying that I love GTD. It has truly improved my life. One of GTDs core principles is sorting by context: assigning tasks a context and filtering them to only the tasks you can do in your current contexts.

Look at your current contexts. How many of them can you not do right now? How many of them are misplaced in a nonsensical context to control that? Example: You put a personal call you want to do in @Home because you keep work calls in @Calls. The first problem: contexts don't provide enough granularity.

Another example: It's difficult to place tasks in a context like @Computer when you may need to be at a home computer or a work computer.

So how many contexts did you have to check? The second problem: you fit into multiple contexts at once, so you have to look at multiple screens for all your tasks, keeping a mental list of important ones.

So what's the solution? I believe we need to have a list of needs for each task. Example: home, phone would be the needs for your personal call. "work, computer" would be for tasks you need a computer at work.

When you are ready to do something, you tell Toodledo what you have. Example: You're at home at your desk, so you have "home, computer, web, phone". Toodledo looks at all your tasks, and for each one, if all needs are met (the needs are a subset of what you have), it displays the task. Quick buttons for the commonly used "have" lists like the one above would make it easy.

The result? You see ALL and ONLY the tasks that you can possibly do right now. No more mental lists while you skim contexts.

What do people think? What do the devs think? If the devs think it is a good idea but are unwilling to code it, I may be able to help with that. It does not appear that this subset checking is possible with the current tagging system.
TheGriff

Posted: Jun 02, 2009
Score: 0



I'm not really a fan to be honest. I believe it goes against the principles of GTD. That said if it were added I don't think it'd impact my use of TD so I won't vote against it other than to say I hope the devs focus on some of my suggestions first. ;-)

When I review my context based lists I filter out those items I can't do at the present time which is the intent of the GTD process. For example all of my calls are in my @Phone context. If it really bothers you to see personal calls in the list why not put them in @Home since I can't imagine a scenario when your home would suddenly be lacking a phone.

I setup a context anytime I need to be in a specific location or have specific equipment with me. For example I have many tasks in my @Laptop context since they can only be done on my computer. I also have a bunch of stuff in @Web that can be done from any computer, including my iPhone. Similarly I have an @Parents context for items they've asked me to do on my next visit.

One request I have made is to allow for "super contexts" that would pull in many contexts at once. For example I'd have one called @Home that would include @Apartment, @Phone, @Web, @Laptop and @Anywhere. To me that'd accomplish some of what you are looking for though you would need to have more contexts based on your example.
Linden

Posted: Jun 03, 2009
Score: 1



TheGriff's super-contexts does appear to nicely solve the multiple context issue.

The work-phone versus home-phone seems like it could be solved quickly by creating separate @Phone-Work and @Phone-Home contexts, so you don't have to worry about them being mixed.

I use folders to demark areas of my life, so a personal call has the @phone context, but also in my Personal folder. A work call is still @phone, but is in the Work folder. I'll often use the scheduler when I have blocks of time, so if I have 30 minutes for phone calls at work, enter 30 minutes, the Work folder, and @phone context. If I'm at home and want to finish some internet research and e-mail tasks, I can use the scheduler with 2 hours, Personal folder, and @online.
Anders

Posted: Jun 03, 2009
Score: 0



I don't see why you couldn't use tags for this. It would certainly be better if the tag interface was improved, and you could easily select, and filter them. Still, using advanced search, you could get any group of them you want it seems to me. Maybe I am missing something.

~Anders
TheGriff

Posted: Jun 03, 2009
Score: 0



Posted by Linden:
I'll often use the scheduler when I have blocks of time, so if I have 30 minutes for phone calls at work, enter 30 minutes, the Work folder, and @phone context. If I'm at home and want to finish some internet research and e-mail tasks, I can use the scheduler with 2 hours, Personal folder, and @online.


WOW! I'd never even clicked the Scheduler link and really had no idea what it does. What a great feature! Thanks for pointing it out.
thpope

Posted: Jun 03, 2009
Score: 0



Posted by Anders:
I don't see why you couldn't use tags for this. It would certainly be better if the tag interface was improved, and you could easily select, and filter them. Still, using advanced search, you could get any group of them you want it seems to me. Maybe I am missing something.

~Anders
Yes. That's what I was going to say. When I was using PI on Windows Mobile, I used categories (same as tags) very methodically. The first one was the area or I guess it could be called a context, eg "business" or "personal". The second was the type of event, like "appointment" or "task" or "contact", the third was like a more specific context or project.

PI for winmo is very impressive with it's use of categories. (I should say was, because I haven't used it for years.)

Tags, I believe are the answer to customizing things however one wants, without infringing on the processes of others. However, TD is going to have to really improve the Tags feature set before this can be fully realized.
cyounkins

Posted: Jun 03, 2009
Score: 0



Posted by Anders:
I don't see why you couldn't use tags for this. It would certainly be better if the tag interface was improved, and you could easily select, and filter them. Still, using advanced search, you could get any group of them you want it seems to me. Maybe I am missing something.

~Anders


I see no way to use tags to accomplish this. Say I'm at home with a computer and phone. Searching using OR operators as in "Home or computer or phone" will return tasks that include one of the "have" items but may also contain other needs, like a task tagged with "work, phone". Searching using AND operators as in "Home and computer and phone" will only return tasks that have all those as needs and not one that needs "home, phone".

Boolean search operators are NOT enough to do the subset testing needed for this.
thpope

Posted: Jun 03, 2009
Score: 0



home AND (phone OR computer)

Wouldn't that give you what you want?
Anders

Posted: Jun 03, 2009
Score: 0



Posted by cyounkins:
I don't see why you couldn't use tags for this.

I see what you are saying, and that sort of thing does complicate things. Either you have to deal with only narrowing your list instead of completely focusing it on only what you can do, or you could be creative with your tags. For instance, if a particular task required two different "needs" to accomplish, combine them into one tag (no commas). That way if you are searching for what you can do with two "needs" present, you could search tag is "need 1" or tag is "need 2" or tag is "need 1 need 2". You would get things require 1 but nothing else, things that require 2 but nothing else, and things that require both and only 1 and 2.

Anyway, you have a point, but it is possible, just complicated, possibly very. Still, I think an improved Tag interface is probably something we're more likely to see than a complete revamp of contexts, but who knows.

~Anders
cyounkins

Posted: Jun 03, 2009
Score: 0



Posted by thpope:
home AND (phone OR computer)

Wouldn't that give you what you want?


No. What about my tasks that simply require me to be at home but not have a phone or a computer? They will not be matched.

That way if you are searching for what you can do with two "needs" present, you could search tag is "need 1" or tag is "need 2" or tag is "need 1 need 2".


While this works, the complexity increases at an exponential rate with more needs. To do this with more than 2 needs is not feasible.
Anders

Posted: Jun 03, 2009
Score: 0



Posted by cyounkins:
While this works, the complexity increases at an exponential rate with more needs. To do this with more than 2 needs is not feasible.

True, but I still think the problem could be solved most easily through an improved Tag interface. Also, while I realize that is far from a perfect solution, you could set up saved searches for environments you commonly find yourself in, such as at home with a phone and computer.

~Anders
Big KC

Posted: Jun 03, 2009
Score: 0



This is a very interesting idea. I probably do something like this subconsciously as I scan my task lists. "Item 1 requires internet access, and my service is down, so skip to item 2.". It makes sense to me logically. But tactically, it sounds like it could get complicated to maintain it in a tool. It would be tempting to get overspecific. "Hmm. Practice guitar. For that, I need a guitar and a metronome."

I think I'd rather just narrow my list with simple contexts, and let my brain do the subtle needs-based filtering from there. But if it was available, I'd definitely think through whether I could use it without going overboard.
Anders

Posted: Jun 03, 2009
Score: 0



Posted by Big KC:
It makes sense to me logically. But tactically, it sounds like it could get complicated to maintain it in a tool. It would be tempting to get overspecific. "Hmm. Practice guitar. For that, I need a guitar and a metronome."

LOL
Don't forget a pick, and a song in your heart :)

I agree this could get out of hand, but I think it is what tagging is all about, and it could be as simple as you want to make it, or you could not use it at all. That's one of the things I love about Toodledo. They give you a bunch of options, and you can combine them in a number of different ways picking and choosing what works for your situation.

~Anders


This message was edited Jun 03, 2009.
Big KC

Posted: Jun 03, 2009
Score: 0



Posted by Anders:

LOL
Don't forget a pick, and a song in your heart :)

Technically, I don't need the pick. I can play a little fingerstyle. :). But the song...I can't forget the song!

I agree this could get out of hand, but I think it is what tagging is all about, and it could be as simple as you want to make it, or you could not use it at all. That's one of the things I love about Toodledo. They give you a bunch of options, and you can combine them in a number of different ways picking and choosing what works for your situation.

~Anders
The tag field does seem a logical place to do this. But the novel aspect of cyounkins' suggestion is the search technique. Pull all tasks that have some combination of the tags I'm searching, and no other tags. It's an intriguing way to look at it. I think it really is a more accurate description of the reasoning behind the use of contexts, even if I think it's less practical.


This message was edited Jun 03, 2009.
cyounkins

Posted: Jun 04, 2009
Score: 0



Posted by Big KC:
It would be tempting to get overspecific. "Hmm. Practice guitar. For that, I need a guitar and a metronome."


Admittedly this is an issue, but I believe it would be quite useful with general needs. For myself, I would take my contexts and turn them into possible needs:

home, work, phone, computer, web

The real power of this comes when you combine them. For example, it allows you to drill down to the calls you should be doing at home, at work, or anywhere (in the car even).

If I accidentally set something like "rubber hose" for the task's needs, it would almost never be seen (Weekly review should catch it though!). Just as it is at the discretion of the user to organize with good folder names and/or contexts, it would be the user's responsibility to use logical needs.
Proximo

Posted: Jun 05, 2009
Score: 0



Posted by Linden:
TheGriff's super-contexts does appear to nicely solve the multiple context issue.

The work-phone versus home-phone seems like it could be solved quickly by creating separate @Phone-Work and @Phone-Home contexts, so you don't have to worry about them being mixed.

I use folders to demark areas of my life, so a personal call has the @phone context, but also in my Personal folder. A work call is still @phone, but is in the Work folder. I'll often use the scheduler when I have blocks of time, so if I have 30 minutes for phone calls at work, enter 30 minutes, the Work folder, and @phone context. If I'm at home and want to finish some internet research and e-mail tasks, I can use the scheduler with 2 hours, Personal folder, and @online.


I use folders as areas of focus in the same way as Linden. This allows my context to work in any area of focus I may be.

If you don't like to use folders for areas of focus and manage all your task in one Giant list. I can see the benefit of filtering by multiple context.

Tags can also work, but it would be nice to filter by multiple context and use tags for other things. The filter for Context is already there, so it would make sense to simply allow for multiple picks. Just add a check box by the drop down list and it's done.
Rory

Posted: Jul 04, 2009
Score: 0



I too ditched contexts fairly quickly after realizing that it's pretty hard to maintain orthogonal contexts. I found it much easier to use the tags, and I'm looking forward to see any improvements in the tagging system.

Simple boolean operators are clearly not good enough to match tasks based on a bunch of tabs, but it seems it would be pretty easy to match based on subsets.

For example, you may enter your current situation as the tags for home, phone and computer. It seems like it would be really easy to match any task whose tags are a subset of the supplied tags.

e.g. This would match all tasks with tags:

home
phone
computer
home phone
home computer
phone computer
home phone computer

I'd love to see something like this, especially with presets for common situations as mentioned above.

I'm brand new to Toodledo though, so I'm still learning the best way to approach things. The flexibility of Toodledo is just fantastic, and I'm very impressed.

Rory
Anders

Posted: Jul 04, 2009
Score: 0



Maybe I misunderstand your post, but you could do that now with a saved search for: Tag contains home OR Tag contains phone OR Tag contains computer.
Rory

Posted: Jul 04, 2009
Score: 0



Posted by Anders:
Maybe I misunderstand your post, but you could do that now with a saved search for: Tag contains home OR Tag contains phone OR Tag contains computer.


On the surface it seems like that would work, but in practice it might break down. For example, you may end up with a task that was actually marked as "phone, work" since that matches the phone part of the query, but you can't do it since you're not at work.

By using the subset rule, you are guaranteed to get tasks that you can do now. When looking at the task, the rule basically says "is every one of this task's tags part of the query set passed in by the user", if so, present it as an option.

Of course, this is probably going to be a bit pessimistic, since it would discard things like "phone, dad" when actually that could be a good option.


Rory
J-Mac

Posted: Jul 05, 2009
Score: 0



I agree with the suggestion that tags could be the answer. However it would be much more helpful if tags were hierarchical; IOW, Tag>Sub-tag so to speak.

This CAN be accomplished with advanced searching but it is not always easy to get the search terms just right. A working knowledge of RegEx helps a lot but there are not many users who are more than a little familiar with RegEx searches.

Evernote's previous versions had hierarchical categories - which were simply tags. However they abandoned them with their latest version and instead counsel users to use their "power search" features, which results in the same problem I mention above: Users are continually writing for help with their "power searches"!

Personally tags + saved searches are working well for me. If properly explained most users could probably get by with them. Many, though, are partial to more of a hand-holding WYSWYG method. (Not meaning to offend with that comment, BTW!)

OT: Mr. Pope - I do remember you from my PI days also. Same username here also. I hope all is well with you and yours!

Jim
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