GTD in Pocket Informant Usage Scenarios
So what’s the point, you might ask, of fiddling around with all these arcane beasts like Context and Action? And why should we care about the Parent Task-Child Task relationship? Read on for how my setup in PI is used.
The utility of list-making depends on your ability to write ideas down (externalize) wherever you happen to be when you think about them, and the ability of your system to easily create a variety of task lists that you can consult in different circumstances. When you learn (or remember) that you have to do something and it will take more than a few minutes to complete the task, write it down in your system. It’s ok if you don’t want to spend the time figuring out which Project/Context/Action/Tag it belongs to right now, just leave it in the Inbox and you can add the rest of the metadata later when you have more time.
So assuming you organize your projects and tasks in a logical manner, and assuming that you assign the appropriate metadata, you have an incredibly wide range of lists at your command. How do you use them? It’s really not hard. Ask yourself “Where am I?” and consult that @Context list to see what you can do there. Or ask yourself “What do I want to do today?” and take a peek at the Projects list to see what you can do. Then decide which tasks on those lists you want to do, and do them.
Here’s how those lists get used throughout the day.
Scenario 1: School Day
You’ve got school in the morning, so by the time you go to bed, you’ve already emptied your head of any tasks that need to be done tomorrow (i.e. you trust that they will be there in the morning). And you’ve glanced at your Tomorrow Focus view, which alerts you to the deadlines ahead.
In the morning, after you’ve performed your ablutions and gustations, you check your Today Focus view to remind yourself of the deadlines o’ the day, as well as any tasks that have hard due dates. If there’s time, skim over any overdue tasks, and either reassign their due dates, or change them to None and track them through the other PI lists. Otherwise be sure to change their dates later, before they start to pile up.
If you want, you can continue to scroll down the Today view and look at the tasks in any of the filters or views you’ve assigned to the Focus view. In my case, that means the Do Next 7 Days filter (tasks to complete over the next week), the Tasks Started list (in progress and repeating tasks), and the Starred Tasks list, which are all the major projects I have on the burner.
Before you head off to work, you should check the Context @Home-Office To School, to see if there are any items that you need to take with. Alternately, you could skip checking out this Context list by assigning such tasks with a due date and time (approximate a time before you leave home); those tasks would then appear in the appropriate Focus view on the appropriate day. But only do that if you know you’ll be going in on that day – avoid rescheduling tasks if at all possible. To form the habit, it’s probably easier just to keep them all in the @To School context list.
Once you get to the office at school, and find you have some time to kill, or slow office hours, check the @ECSU Office (probably start with sort by Action). For example, I often set reminders to enter student homework scores in the gradebook when I get to school in the morning (our state is anal about keeping student grades outside the university ecosystem) – this prevents me from having nightmares where I realize at the end of the semester that I never recorded their grades, and of course half of the students threw their assignments away.
Do whichever tasks can be done given the time you have and your energy level, and their priority (including the sort order of sequential projects) – it’s your call, which is why some people like to use contexts like @LowEnergy or @15minutes for short tasks.
If there aren’t any (important) tasks in the @ECSU Office list, you can always jump to one of the other ‘generic’ lists, such as @Computer-Any (assuming you brought your laptop), or make a few phone calls from your @Computer-iPhone list. Maybe you need to talk to So-and-So about such-and-such, so check your @ECSU-Person So-and-So list and walk down the hall. Maybe you want to focus on that book chapter draft coming due in a few weeks – go to its Project list and sort by Context or Next Action. Don’t forget to reward yourself by checking off the tasks once you’ve finished them.
Before class starts, check @ECSU 231 To Bring to see if there are any items you need to take along with you: maybe a deck of Marlborough Victory Cards to show the class, or graded papers if you’re the forgetful type.
Once you arrive in class, pull up @ECSU 231 Class and make the announcements on that list. If a student needs to take a makeup exam, pull up the calendar and schedule it. If a student asks a question that requires further work, make a task.
Need to go to the library? Check the @ECSU Library list, or the @ECSU Office To Library list if you have one.
Have a meeting? Check your @Meeting context (or the meeting Project) to see what you need to do and bring and discuss. Run into somebody? Check their @Person context to see what you need to tell them, and what you need from them. All requests for appointments and commitments are easily checked and recorded on the calendar.
If you’re gunning for greater efficiency, get in the habit of checking your Today Focus view at the end of every meeting or class. Maybe you have time to take a quick glance at the contexts between your current position and your next destination point? On occasion I’ve envisioned myself swinging by the library to pick up a book on the way back from class, but then I forget about my detour by the time class was over.
Before you turn off the lights and head out the door, give one last look at your Today Focus view (maybe you have to stop and pick something or somebody up?), and check the @ECSU Office Bring Home context to make sure you haven’t forgotten to put anything in your bookbag. You’ll head home confident that you haven’t forgotten anything. (If you have forgotten something, it’s because either you didn’t externalize it into your system, or your system has holes.)
At the end of the day, you can look at your Today Focus view one more time if you need to reassure yourself that you didn’t miss anything important. Glance ahead at the Tomorrow Focus view to make sure there aren’t any surprising waiting, knowing that you can refresh your memory in the morning. If you do see something of concern, check out the Project task list, particularly if it would disturb your slumber if not dealt with. If you need positive affirmations, you can look back over the tasks you’ve Completed Today, and satisfy yourself that you did indeed accomplish something after all.
If you’re feeling particularly energetic, you could even check to make sure there’s a Next Action for each Project that moved forward that day. But most important is to clear your head before bed. Now go to sleep – you’ve earned it.
Scenario 2: “Day Off”
It’s morning and you’re now ready to see what’s ahead of you. Hopefully you checked the Tomorrow Focus view the night before, so you aren’t surprised by the events staring at you on your calendar, nor the tasks due today. But let’s say you don’t have much specific planned, which means you could get some real work done. But what to do? You could go the usual Context route – what can I do in @Home-Office? If I go out to the @Garage? But if you’re at home you probably have a wider range of contexts available to you, and therefore many more possible tasks you could perform. So you just need to decide where you want to start. Decide on a Context, Project or domain (area of focus) and consult the corresponding list of tasks to see what you could do. Then choose what you will do. And revel in the satisfaction of checking those puppies off when you’re done.
Do you want to keep Inbox Zero humming along? Then pull up your @Computer-Email list and crank out those emails. A bunch of phone calls to make? @Computer-iPhone’s the ticket.
Did you dedicate this morning to getting some research done? Then pull up your Research smart filter (maybe sorted by Project) and either choose one of the Projects to work on, or knock off a couple of the Next Actions to move several Projects forward a small increment.
Or maybe you’ve got a specific research project to get going on. Pull up that Project’s list (sorted by Action probably) and get to work.
Or, just maybe, you’re the kind of person who surrenders himself/herself to the universe? In which case you could just look through your Next Actions list (probably sorted by Context or Project) and ask yourself: “What do I feel like doing right now?”
Any time you find yourself thinking about some project, externalize your thoughts and plans in your system – don’t forget to use the Someday Action for plans that are still in the pie-in-the-sky stage. If you find yourself worrying about how you’ll do some project, whip out PI and create the Next Action required to move the project forward. You’ll feel better, even if you don’t plan out the rest of the project.
Just Do It
Ultimately, PI and GTD won’t do the tasks for you. They won’t even tell you which task to do when (unless you set due dates), and they won’t pester you (unless you set due dates and repeating alarms). But they will provide the structure for you to make those decisions yourself. If you choose to use them.
Next (and hopefully final) post: The Weekly Review.