Saturday, April 15, 2006

"Hey You've Got Categories In My Context . . . !

"Oh yeah? Well, you've got Context in my Areas!"

If figuring out how ResultsManager expects you to use Contexts, Categories and Areas has you recalling that Reese's peanut butter commercial, you're not alone.

I had managed to (more or less) successfully ignore all three when using ResultsManager. That is, until I couldn't put up with the way the dashboards were categorizing my action items and finally I was forced to understand why it was breaking items up into the Areas, Contexts, and Categories classifications.

So here I am on my third reading of the ResultsManager manual and Allen's "Getting Things Done" and Tony Robbins' "Time Of Your Life" (TOYL) program, where the RPM system comes from.

And doing my level best to understand the difference between Areas, Contexts, and Categories.

And so far I have not been able to grok what the differences in such a way that it helps me put the three of them into use with ResultsManager.

It seems that the GTD system adds the concept of "Context" to mark out the physical locations where you commonly 'get things done' in life.

But what are the distinctions between the three that will enable me to use them for maximum benefit? Thus far, this has been the most vexing issue I've faced with ResultsManager. I said "vexing", not scary. Scary was THIS issue [link to 'dropping post' post].

And maybe it's just issues with my own personal use of the way I personally use ResultsManager. Since I spend most of my day in my office then contexts such as "@Office" wouldn't make sense. Those areas of my RM dashboard would be huge.

By contrast, if I were the use "@Phone" as a context -- it wouldn't be quite as large because most my work is transacted over email.

So here's my understanding thus far of the two systems and their terminology:

Contexts -- is the physical where you can get your work done. If you've got a block of time and a lot of calls? Then "@Phone" is a great one to use. Like online research could be marked out as "@Online."

Categories -- Seems to be the large 'containers' in which to put the actions you need to take.

Areas -- Key life/professional roles and responsibilities that chew up your consciousness bandwidth. Specific to the "20,000 foot" perspective.

Contexts -- RPM does not have this classification.

Areas -- called "Areas Of Management," these are the large chunk areas of your life you consistently focus on. Commonly divided up into two areas: Professional and Personal.

Categories -- called "Categories Of Improvement." Within each of the two Areas Of Management, these specific categories you consistently focus on and improve.

Confused? Yeah, me too.

Are any of these really important distinctions we need to make in order to be effective in all the key areas of life? Does it really need to be broken down in this way?

Isn't the danger of all this list-making and categorization that you spend so much time doing that, that you don't 'Get Things Done?'

What do you think?


Blogger Nick said...


It's probably true that you rarely need to use all three (Contexts, Areas and Categories). This is why only Contexts are shown when ResultsManager is working in Express Mode.

Their purpose is to provide different ways to organise activities horizontally (across multiple projects). So as an example, you could create a category of "Training" and see everything that relates to learning or self-development across your projects.

The differences between them are:

Context: this is intended to support the use of MindManager and ResultsManager for GTD in particular. For business use, even though you are always in the office, it can be helpful to have contexts such as "next marketing meeting" or "next review".

Category: this reflects the MindManager categories field (replaced by Text Markers in MindManager 6). Categories will get synchronised with Outlook too. You can use Categories any way you like, such as training, customer support and so on. One of our customers uses Categories to label non-task information that he wants displayed in Dashboard maps.

Area: again these can be used in almost any way you like, but there is a key difference to Categories. You can nest Areas so that Activities are automatically made members of more than one area. If you have a section of a map labelled with the "Sales" area, and some subtopics labelled with "Sales/North", then these activities are also members of Sales. So you will see them if the dashboard shows everything in Sales, but you can also specifically see Sales/North in isolation. Areas are used more often during the review process rather than at the point of action.

The key to using Contexts, Areas and Categories effectively is to ask the question "what decisions could I take faster if I could see certain things grouped together?" If you like to block an hour a day for phone calls, then "Phone" is a useful Context. If you just pick up the phone whenever you need to, then there is no advantage in assigning a context for phone calls. The key point is not to create a system for classification that does not pay dividends, i.e. takes longer to maintain than the value it yields. It is usually better to wait until you find yourself saying "I wish I could see things organised by..." then implementing that specific need.

Best regards

4/16/2006 02:58:00 AM  

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