The sense of context: a way to organise your to do list

By johannatime On July 28, 2013 Under Getting Organised

Too many choices are overwhelming. And when you need to make a decision about your time investment, the clock will be ticking the minutes away when you are trying to make up your mind. So today I’ll talk about a smart way to organise your to do list.

Imagine preparing a dinner for your friends. You assemble a menu from the finest recipes and make a shopping list. It would be silly to make separate shopping lists for ingredients of the entree, the main course and the desert. Rather, you make a shopping list for the butcher, the grocery store and the bottle shop, right? When you go out for your shopping, you pull out the appropriate list at the store and load your cart in no time.

The same applies to your to do list:

Rather than sorting your actions according to project (i.e. shopping for the entree), you sort your actions according to context (i.e. shopping at the grocery store). Context are places, or moments a task is best completed, as well as tools you’d need for your actions that have limited availability. This is how it works:

  1. Whenever you write down something that needs to be done, you allocate it to the context it belongs to (business hours, at the office, on the train, etc.). Make sure your contexts are relevant for you
  2. Whenever you have time to do something, you pull out your appropriate list: when you are planning a train ride, you prepare for it by bringing the list and your work to do on the train. Same applies for ‘at the office’ and ‘business hours’
  3. You will not waste a moment of your day, unless you deliberately decide to zero task

Why this approach makes sense

Organising your tasks according to projects (as in: shopping separately for your entree) gives you a false sense of control. Yes, you need this overview when you’re planning your project and to be confident you have paid attention to all imaginable details. But this way of organising your to do’s compromises your productivity, because your time is not labeled to a certain project. Rather it is spent in a certain context.

Some more examples from my own experience:

  • I’ve got two girls and there are lots of activities (like gardening, or organising family photo’s) we could do together. So I save up those activities for the weekends and I don’t waste time on those odd jobs when my daughters are away
  • Flip side of the same coin; I have a ‘no chicka’s’ list with all the things that I can only do when the girls are not around
  • No matter if things are work or personal, some have to be done during office hours. So better have a list before you realise you should have called your insurance this week and it is Friday 9pm
  • And I have an agenda for people who aren’t 24/7 available, so when I get to speak to them, I’ve got all I need to ask and talk about right in front of us

And you could turn this around, too: do you find 10 urgent concentration tasks on your list? You’d better organise some time and silence or they will not get done.

Please let me know if this makes sense to you, and share your experiences in the comments below:

  • […] your time. If you are a real time management ninja you use them both; you have actions sorted per context or tool, and you have them sorted according to the time they will take you to complete. There is yet […]

  • […] Better: Add a project or action to your lists and do them sometime soon, when it suits you best. […]

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