Giving an action a context is, in my opinion, the single most useful piece of metadata one can add to their task list. As most of you know, it allows you to see what you can actually do depending on location, and in recent times, what device you are using. Others may beg to differ, but it works for me.

I've seen a lot of posts where people discuss creative and unorthodox ways of using contexts. I've seen some where people categorize by energy level since their location typically stays the same. I've also seem some who augment their contexts by adding symbols in order to give the illusion of a secondary context to display priority (ie Home, Home+, Home++, Home+++, etc.).

I've played around with a lot of these zany ideas. In the end, I went back to the boring and traditional route — location and device based contexts.

In my world, and I'm willing to bet a lot of others' world also, there are 4 types of tasks:

  1. Tasks that can be done at work
  2. Tasks that can be done at home
  3. Tasks that can be done at a specific location
  4. Tasks that can be done anywhere

In terms of assigning contexts, the first 3 are pretty self explanatory — Work, Home, and the name of the specific place1. However, looking at number 4, the tasks that can be done anywhere, thinking about it, what are the nature of those tasks?

They're usually one of three types of tasks.

  • Tasks that can be done on one of the many Apple devices that I own since I always have at least one no matter where I am
  • Tasks that can be done anywhere I have internet access (ie the Windows environment at work), and

  • Tasks that involve brainstorming which, honestly, can be done on digital device, a notebook, or even a napkin.

So how do I sort these out?

The Ubiquitous "Apple" Context

Aside from Work, Home, and specific locations, I have a context named Apple. The Apple context, in the grand scheme of things, is something that can be done on any Apple device — Mac or iOS. Within there I split to a nested iOS and Mac context which contains tasks that are iOS specific or Mac specific. Then those two nested contexts nest device specific contexts. In other words:

  • Apple
    • iOS
      • iPhone
      • iPad
    • Mac
      • MacBook Air
      • Mac Pro

The "Online" Context

The online context is one step shy of being an omnipresent context. Internet access is platform independent and almost ubiquitous. For tasks that are under this context, I can either do it on my iPhone, my iPad, a Mac, or even my Windows machine at work — all I need is internet access. An example of an action that would belong to this context is "Check movie time for X". The device and platform doesn't matter, I just need internet access and a web browser.

The Omnipresent OmniFocus context

The grand daddy of them all. The omnipresent context. Basically this context addresses things that can be done absolutely anywhere. Brainstorming. Planning. Outlining. I can do these tasks anywhere — analog or digital. It's also location independent as well.

I can brainstorm in my car, plan in the park, outline in the bathroom. It doesn't matter.

So what does one name this almighty context? Wait for it...


Disappointing, yes. But that's what I had initially as the context dedicated to planning, outlining, and brainstorming things in my notebook. I then realized that the notebook wasn't a requirement.

So while the jurisdiction of the "Notebook" context has changed, the name has not. I thought about changing it to "Omnipresent", or "Anywhere", but I just happen to like "Notebook".

In Closing

The way my life is structured, I don't find much need for crazy context schemes. Of course, your mileage may vary depending on your work/life situations. But just remember what the goal of contexts are — a piece of metadata that shows you what you can actually do at any given moment depending on physical location and digital environment.

  1. Well the specific areas are categorized in the nested location-aware context technique Merlin Mann spoke about in MPU #91