A Quick Thought on Areas of Responsibility, GTD, and the 7 Habits

I’m beginning to think more and more that being able to view my actions by area of responsibility (parenting, learning, community, household, etc.) is far more important to me than being able to view them by context (at home, at office, at computer, etc.).

Here’s why: It’s easier to make sure that you are doing the right things.

For when you have your actions grouped by context, you don’t see what purpose they serve. Let’s say you have have 25 “@computer” actions, 18 of which involve your “learning” responsibility because a few friends had a field day sending you interesting articles all week that got deferred onto your action list. (I actually rarely defer online reading to action lists, but it was the clearest example that came to mind.) The by context view would not illuminate the fact that maybe you’re doing enough learning this week, and need to have a higher mix of actions pertaining to other areas in your plan.

I know that it is not GTD orthodoxy, at present, to explicitly bring areas of responsibility to bear on the day-to-day. The approach is rather to let your intuition bring this on its own, if needed, and to review an areas of responsibility trigger list maybe once a month. However, this has never satisfied me. It has never overcome my sense that something is missing when we organize actions by context.

So my hypothesis for the last while has been that what is missing is this wider connection to our roles. Plugging away at 23 “@computer” actions typically leaves me feeling aimless. Sure, I did a bunch of “computer” stuff, but what did I really get done?

This is where the focus on the higher altitudes that Covey’s perspective in The 7 Habits can be a good supplement to the GTD methodology. There is a way to relate actions to roles that complicates, for sure, but there is also a way to do this right. More to come down the road…

  • http://ryanlwentzel.com/ Ryan Wentzel

    Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts on this. I’ve had similar concerns.

  • http://thenollfamily.com Eric

    I have been using Things, GTD program for Macs, by Cultured Code. I am a big fan of Covey as well and have setup “contexts” in view of the order of my roles – husband, father, teacher, etc. I’m not satisfied with it yet, but I believe these are the two methodologies that I would love to blend.

  • http://john-power.blogspot.com John

    My first thought is that this would create more lists, and thus create the potential for too many manageable lists. For example, wouldn’t you have to have combinations of contexts and responsibilities, like “Husband-At Computer”? I know that sounds a bit silly, but I think it makes my point. Maybe your promised future posts will clarify this.

  • http://kevinmeath.com Kevin Meath

    Matt — I do this by a taxonomy of project names.

    KM.{Client}.{Project} for all billable work.

    PRS.Bus.{Project} for business-related non-billable.

    PRS.Fam.{Project} for Husband/Father stuff, etc.

    This allows names of paper folders, computer folders, and project files to all use the same taxonomy. The Clear Context plugin for Outlook allows all tasks and emails etc. to be assigned a “Topic,” or project name. Gives you an Action View window where tasks can be sorted by Due, Title/name, Status, Categories (context), or Topic (project).


  • Devon Kauflin

    I have been enjoying your site. Thanks for all the hard work.
    I have been using Omnifocus from the Omnigroup to do something similar to Eric (above). I place each project into a “role” folder (disciple, husband, employee, etc). This set-up has helped to ensure that each responsibility I take on falls in line with what I am called to do.

    I’m looking forward to your additional thoughts.

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