How relevant are GTD contexts to the Solopreneur?

by Michele on March 3, 2011

Sometimes the context for an activity is critical

Sometimes the context for an activity is critical

(If you’re not familiar with GTD, it’s the productivity and time management system outlined in the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen.)

When I first read “Getting Things Done,” (“GTD“) I loved it.  There were a handful of points that changed my life and the way I manage my time and one of them was contexts.  The idea that our tasks occur in a physical setting or context, and that by segregating your to-do list into GTD contexts, you’ll have a ready-made list of tasks that are relevant to the context you are in.  This idea helped me tremendously – when I was planning to go out and do errands, I had an errand list.  If I was doing messy home repair, I had a home improvement list.  If I was at my desk, I had an admin list.

It worked great for a while, but as is almost inevitable my life changed over time.  My system no longer worked and I felt more scattered and stressed than I needed to be.  When I looked at the problem, I realized that as someone who is self-employed and works from home, contexts aren’t all that important.  Most of what I do both personally and professionally occurs at home in casual clothes.  I do tag a few to-do items that I need to go out for or have some other noteworthy characteristic in their context, but for the most part, context is not very relevant to me.  What is more relevant is blocking my time out for work and personal time, so that’s what I now do.

So the question is, how much do solopreneurs who work from home need GTD contexts?  Do you use them or something similar?  Is it a useful concept for you life right now?  Why or why not?


  1. Great question! I’m a big GTD fan but have morphed my contexts since working as a solopreneur. I am either based at my home office 90 minutes from Sydney, in the city seeing clients or working from my office there, or on the train between the two. Or, let’s be honest, working from a cafe. So the contexts “online computer” and “offline computer” are useful. But, I find it important to compartmentalize my working day, especially when working at the home office, so although I could get up and do the washing while at my desk, I don’t look at my “At home” list while working. I may be in my home office but I’m not at home. I’ll be very interested in how others have approached this.


    1. Michele says:

      Madeleine – wow, you move around a lot! I would definitely have to make heavy use of contexts in your situation. I love your online and offline computer contexts – very clever to separate the two. I also find my laptop isn’t quite as nimble as my desktop, so like to think about what would be good to do on the desktop when I’m heading out to work.

  2. James says:

    Interesting points. I found that when I was working for myself that some of my context did indeed blend. For example, my @Office and @Home became the same thing. However, I used them somewhat to help me focus on work vs personal items, so I kept using them. That way I can filter on just @Office when I want to get some non-computer stuff down for work, but not see all my @home chores. Of course with a good Area of Focus filter you can also take care of that “filtering” problem.


    1. Michele says:

      Thanks for your comment James. I agree that without context of some way to filter your focus things can get blurred. Love your site – omg it’s like a buffet for us productivity junkies!

  3. I do not use GTD, I’m a fan of To-Do Lists. Working out of the house is challenging for me as I am also my wife’s caretaker. Therefore; I PLAN FOR INTERRUPTION. It makes life and work much less frustrating and so much more doable. I also work in short chunks of 30-60 minutes at a time, (I have to move around because of back problems). Looking back on this, I believe I am much more focused and efficient than previously. Having recently changed career paths, (I am now assisting my son with his book packaging and publishing business) I am in the midst of arranging my days. I love your suggestions and ideas and can’t wait to see what you have for us next!

    1. Michele says:

      Mike, I love your idea of planning for interruptions and creating a work schedule around the idea that interruptions are inevitable. We get interrupted all the time, so why not just plan for it instead of getting scattered every time it happens. I’ll bet most people could benefit from working in 30-60 minute chunks. Great idea!

Previous post:

Next post: