Maybe Getting Things Done isn't always getting things done.

I work with a lot of smart people, and they all have different methods for keeping on top of things.1 These methods vary wildly from person to person - here’s a few:

  • A couple of people use Wunderlist2

  • Others use color-coded Word documents

  • an Excel sheet

  • Nozbe

  • The reminders list in Outlook

  • the Gmail inbox

  • Nothing

I hesitate to pass judgement on any of these systems - the work gets done, after all. You might have your own opinion, depending on how much of a purist you are. I’ve experimented with “productivity systems” extensively3 and I’ve come to the conclusion that whatever works for you works for you.

One thing that works for me, though, is using a context-based system. You can get as deep into this as you want - like a lot of GTD components it’s easy enough to slip into tinkering at the expense of actually Getting Things Done. So my system is deliberately simple. Here’s my main contexts:

As you’ll see if you’re familiar with it, I’m using Omnifocus, the king of task management on Macs and iDevices. It’s sort of pricy… if you’re used to using free software. But it’s completely worth it. Here’s a good intro to using Omnifocus in a way that’s close to the way that I do:

But imagine that there are three projects that require me to do some computer research. And what if I have several people I need to call, besides the vet. How much more effective would I be if I wasn’t constantly task-switching and did all of my computer research at once and all of my phone calls when I’m on the phone? Very.

(via Beginner’s OmniFocus — Technology Notes)

The absolute game-winning feature of Omnifocus is its integration with iOS’ location-awareness. The default Reminders app has this of a sort as well, but it’s cripplingly limited. This allows me to do things along the line of:

  • Have a list of context-sensitive tasks pop up when I pull into the parking lot4 of my office

  • Create a list of items I need to buy in various stores, and refer to this when I’m in those stores, seeing exactly what I have to buy there

  • Remind myself to check the mail once a day when I park my car at my house

If you’re interested in more ways to use location-aware contexts in Omnifocus, I’d recommend listening to this Mac Power Users episode with Merlin Mann where he talks about what he does.

Anyway, the main thing I’ve discovered over my years of messing around with this kind of thing (a thundering cliché by now, but still) is that any system is good, as long as it actually has an end result of completed projects. For me, contexts are important because they stop my mind getting tied up in “what I should be doing” and direct me to the far more useful “what I can do right now”.

  1. “Productivity”, in other words - although that word has joined the ranks of distasteful business jargon

  2. I tried this for a while, but found that it had horrendous difficulty syncing between iPhone, Mac, etc. 

  3. I’ll happily admit that the main reason for this is probably because I love tinkering with processes and workflows. 

  4. Or “car park”, just so I don’t completely lose all credibility with all of yous from my place of birth…