Best Practices for Getting Things Done with LifeTopix Categories and Contexts

LifeTopixThe LifeTopix app includes many features to support David Allen’s Getting Things Done® (GTD) method, and it also provides powerful project management features that are essential for those who wish to gain control over their busy personal and professional lives. In this post, I’ll show you best practices for using contexts and best practices for categorization of items — using real-life examples. Categories and Contexts might seem to be similar concepts; however, you will learn that they are applied differently in LifeTopix.

What is GTD?

If you’re not familiar with GTD, it’s “the groundbreaking work-life management system by David Allen that provides concrete solutions for transforming overwhelm and uncertainty into an integrated system of stress-free productivity,” according to David Allen’s website.

GTD has reached the level of a cult following and GTD fans believe the system changes their lives for the better. Many believe that GTD has helped them to do so much more — with much less stress.

What are GTD Contexts?

In GTD, Contexts are typically based on a physical location, resource, or the equipment that’s necessary to complete a task. Productivity is increased when you’re not “switching contexts.” For example, you’re more productive if you return phone calls during blocks of time, rather than switch to a different task — such as graphic design or coding. Examples of Contexts are @office, @home, @grocery store, @computer, @train, @vacation, or @phone. Also, in GTD, items are allowed more than one Context. For example, you could assign a Context of @office and @phone for phone calls that are completed at the office.

What is Categorization?

In Project Management, Categorization allows you to differentiate projects from each other. It’s used to identify a set of items with similar characteristics or properties. Categories can be broken down further into more granular subcategories, supporting a hierarchical approach. There are no official, agreed upon categorization of projects, but suggested categorization is described below.

Lynn Crawford, professor of project management at Bond University, Australia and visiting professor at Cranfield University, School of Management (UK) has summarized project attributes and characteristics as:

  • Application area or product
  • Stage of life-cycle
  • Grouped or single
  • Strategic importance
  • Strategic driver
  • Geography
  • Scope
  • Timing
  • Uncertainty
  • Risk
  • Complexity
  • Customer
  • Ownership
  • Contractual

One or more of these could be used to categorize projects.

LifeTopix Contexts Best Practices

What I’ve found is in the modern world, we have access to our equipment 24/7 via laptops, smartphones, and tablets; therefore, the “Tools Context” seems to be antiquated, unless the tools are very specialized for your job or your company disallows work outside of the office for security reasons. In addition, if you perform all of your work at the office and all of your equipment is accessible at the same time, location-based Contexts might not make sense. As a result, Contexts should be based on your individual situation. You might consider using Contexts based on other attributes, such as @someday-maybe, @on hold, @risk, or @assistant.

LifeTopix provides two basic Contexts, which include Work and Home. These location-based Contexts may be modified in any way that you prefer. The following screenshot shows an example of Contexts that you could possibly begin with.

Contexts in LifeTopix

Tapping any of the items above shows the details of the items associated with these Contexts.

Errands, Home, and Office are location-based Contexts. They allow you to separate your work and personal life, and to also group errands that need to be run while you’re on the go.

Someday – Maybe is a list for your creative future plans that you don’t have the time or resources to pursue at the moment. When you have a great idea that comes to mind, you can assign the Someday – Maybe Context to it so you won’t forget it when the perfect time comes along to get going on those projects.

Waiting For is the list of items that you cannot complete because you’re blocked in some way. For example, your TPS report may be due; however, you’re waiting for the new cover sheet. Consequently, you would tag it with this Context. This way, you will make sure to follow up on these items before they become overdue.

Assistant is a Context for items that you can delegate to another resource. This will remind you that you can take these items off your plate, but also that you need to ensure they’ve been completed.

LifeTopix also supports a Quick Inbox (with Soon and Someday categories) for ideas you want to capture quickly. You can use this as a placeholder, and process these items later and apply the proper Contexts. These items can be quickly converted to Tasks, Notes, Appointments, Reminders, Projects, Trips, Visitors, Events, Shopping Lists, or Gifts for Others.

You should note that in the current version of LifeTopix, you can only assign one Context to an item. In a future update, you will be able to assign multiple Contexts to each item.

LifeTopix Categories Best Practices

Categories and subcategories are very powerful in LifeTopix. The number of subcategories are limitless, but Project Management best practices experts recommend that you keep the number of subcategories to no more than three. Projects and Tasks share categories and subcategories.

You manage categories in LifeTopix Settings. In the following example, I’ve created several subcategories for “Marketing Projects” for a fictional Marketing agency. These are the “products” or “services” that the agency offers for its clients. You can view a screenshot of these categories below:

Categories in LifeTopix

Once your categories are set up and you’ve assigned categories and subcategories to LifeTopix projects, in the Tasks + Projects topic you can view all of the Marketing projects for which the categories and subcategories have been applied. In this example, projects are created by “client” so you can easily see which services/products have been agreed upon by each client. For each client’s project, you can also attach all supporting documentation (bookmarks, files, audio, photo, video, notes, expenses, services); actions (tasks, checklists, shopping items); and schedules (appointments and reminders). You can view a screenshot of the projects and their subcategories below.

Project and Subcategories in LifeTopix

And when you tap one of the Categories or Subcategories, such as SEM, you can easily view additional subcategories that were created for more granularity (such as Landing Page Optimization and Adwords/PPC, which are sub-components of SEM). You can also view which clients’ projects these services/products apply. You can see an example of this below.

Project and Subcategories in LifeTopix

As you add items throughout LifeTopix, you will see how important it is to leverage the Category fields. For example, you’ll be able to better locate, evaluate, plan, and resource projects and other items that you’ve created in LifeTopix based on their categories. When viewing the history of your projects, you might identify that some categories of projects contain more risk than others and that some projects yield more payoffs. And projects of different categories require varying sets of best practices; therefore, applying categories will help you choose the appropriate documentation. Categorization will help you make future decisions based on past performance.

Conclusion

Now that you understand the differences between Contexts and Categories and how to leverage them in LifeTopix, it will be easier to initially set up LifeTopix to support GTD. And as you use LifeTopix and GTD more and more, you will find LifeTopix is flexible enough to add new Contexts and Categories as you progress.

Keep in mind that Contexts apply to Assets, Events, Gifts, Notes, Persons, Projects, Services, Service Providers, Shopping Lists, Subjects, Trips, Visits, Appointments, Audio, Bookmarks, Checklists, Expenses, and Files — not just projects and tasks. Categories apply to Assets, Bookmarks, Events, Expenses, Notes, Products, Projects/Tasks, Service Providers, Services, Subjects, Log Entry Units, and Shopping Item Units. This enables you to apply project management techniques to everything you do in your life — resulting in a more efficient, happy, and productive YOU!

More Information

GTD is a great system for managing your busy home and work life. If you’d like to know more about best practices using LifeTopix for GTD, refer to the following posts:

Best Practices for Getting Things Done — Prioritizing Tasks in LifeTopix
Best Practices for Getting Things Done — Capture and Collect
Best Practices for Getting Things Done — Processing
Best Practices for Getting Things Done — Master Organizing
Best Practices for Getting Things Done — Doing Phase
Best Practices for Getting Things Done — Weekly Review

Your Turn

Please comment on how you use Contexts and Categories in LifeTopix or other GTD and/or Project Management tools.

GTD® and Getting Things Done® are registered trademarks of the David Allen Company. LightArrow Apps are not affiliated with or endorsed by the David Allen Company.

10 replies
  1. Tim B says:

    I have an idea on how to use contexts, having come from other to-do style apps, plus I understand that they work across different topics.
    However, I still don’t quite “get” Categories.
    They appear to be in one Topic only, but then certain ones appear in the other Topics as touchpoints.
    There seem to be certain categories which are similar to those in other topics (such as “healthcare”, which appears in different topics), but then have different sub-categories.
    Plus, the categories in some topics like Health + Goals or Assets/People + Services make sense to me, but the ones in Projects + Tasks don’t and I worry that if I set up new ones, then I will either break existing touchpoints, or that you will create new touchpoints in the future that might render my categories obsolete.
    How do categories interact between topics and can you give me some more examples of how you could use them in the different topics?

    Reply
    • LightArrow says:

      Tim,
      You correct in your understanding. Categories are within their own topics, and context tags are independent (go across things). Some pre-built categories are touch-points between the topics. However, we allow you to manage the topics (create your own, delete unused ones, etc.) while protecting the touch point and used ones from being deleted. So you can add other ones as you seem fit – they are meant to be configurable. We may have gone a little overboard on the out of the box ones! We sometimes wish we made them independent of topics, so they could have been used across topics in general – however, context tags serve that purpose very well.

      Touchpoints are interesting only from a visibility perspective – for example, being able to see Education category projects (they are projects, they belong in that topic) from the Education topic, Education notes, also being visible from the Education topic, etc. – for the sake completeness. The actual objects belong to some category in their native topic view, but a category of interest is made visible in other topics. More on touchpoints: http://lightarrow.com/lifetopix/common-questions/q-what-are-touchpoints

      We hope this helps.

      Team LightArrow
      Austin, Texas

      Reply
      • Tim B says:

        Thanks again.
        Ok, that makes a bit more sense.
        So can you have multiple categories as well as multiple contexts on the same item, task, etc?
        Have you got some more examples of where you might use categories, rather than contexts? (particularly in Projects + Tasks and maybe Events/Trips and People?)

        Reply
        • LightArrow says:

          Tim,
          Yes, you can assign multiple categories and context tags to items.

          Think of categories more like hierarchical folders – things are where they belong. Contexts, on the other hand, are conceptual tags (“2014 Resolutions”, “Health”, “Family”, “Self Improvement”, “Work”, etc.) so you can see a mixed bag of items together under it’s context in the My Contexts view. For example, “Self Improvement” could contain a project, some health metrics, some bookmarks, notes, tasks, etc. of information I have collected and tagged as “Self Improvement” – regardless of what topic or what category within a topic they may be under.

          Team LightArrow
          Austin, Texas

          Reply

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