You have some time. You have a million conflicting priorities. You have a list of things to do as long as your arm. Which one will you do next?

This is a question that is at the heart of GTD. Answering it however, is a question of faith – in yourself, your lists, and your system.

Last week we continued the ‘Implementing GTD’ series by looking at the buckets you need to set up to get going. We are now moving on to the mysterious art of actually doing stuff. Before we look at the different versions of deciding what to do next, this post looks at Contexts, what they are, and how they can help.

One of the challenges you will most likely face, having Collected all of your stuff, put it in an associated in-box and Processed it into its required Bucket, is a long list of things defined as Next Actions. One of the things (and there are many) that will make deciding which of these to do next, is the context assigned to each, and the context you find yourself in.

So what is a context?

In GTD terms, a context can be described as a constraint (it is easier to define it as a negative). It’s a place or a resource that you need to be in (or need to have access to) in order to complete the specific task. For example, a list of location contacts may be:

  • Home
  • Office
  • Out and about

But it could involve specific resources like your PC for example. Additionally, there are some things which I define as Mindset contexts (what is my area of focus right now). Therefore, some additional contexts might be:

  • Computer
  • Calls
  • E-mails

The main thing is that there is a firm boundary that you can put the specific task into. So an additional decision, when processing, is to look at the action and ask ‘what context does this task fit into?‘  (where do you need to be? or what resource do you need?). It is important to note that each task should only fit into one context ideally.

So how does this help?

When we look at selecting the next action we will go into logistically how you might mark tasks with contexts, but broadly speaking it’s about selection.

So, going back to our first paragraph…..

You have some time. You have a list of Next Actions as long as  your arm. What Context do you find yourself in? You might be waiting for a call, and you’re at your PC in the office. So you’re in the office, and have access to the PC: you can therefore filter your next actions to either one of those. You look at calls, and you’ve got 7 calls to make. Picking which one to do now is a far simpler task than pouring over the full list. Or, you may find yourself at home, feeling productive at the weekend. Look at your Next Action list and those actions that have the context At Home. Again, a far simpler choice.

Contexts are an aid to help you choose what task you will do at any given time. Will your GTD system work without them? – Sure. However, it will be greatly enhanced by their presence. Having a robust, well defined, list of contexts and the ability to filter your list accordingly, will really improve your ability to get through your Next Action list – and Get Things Done!

What contexts do you think you’ll need in your system? Let me know in the comments.

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Next week, we’ll look at a few different options for prioritising and/or selecting what action to do next.