How do you do your work?  How do you know what work you can do? What Context do you need to succeed.

There are a number of key ingredients needed to allow you to do things.  These are shown in this diagram.

Context Diagram

Who – the people you need to be with to do the action.

What – the things you need to do the action.

Where – the place you need to be to do the action.

When – the date/time you need to do the action.

Time – the amount of time you need to do the action.

Energy – your mental and physical energy you need to do the action.


Some examples

If you are going to update your boss on one of your projects – if your boss is not there then how can you give the update?

If you need to replace a light bulb at home – this can be a number of actions

  • buy new light bulb
    • Where = hardware store
  • put new light bulb in socket
    • Where = home
    • What = new lightbulb, and step ladder to stand on

So you can not buy the bulb if you are still at home, similarly you can not change the bulb if you are in the hardware store or do not yet have a new bulb.

If you are going to write a report for your project

  • Where = office
  • What = computer
  • When = this may be a deadline for which the report must be finished
  • Time = 2 hours
  • Energy = medium – high

So you need to be in the office at a computer.

You have a deadline, so there is not much value writing the report after the deadline, make sure you start nice and early to allow for interruptions.

You have estimated you need 2 hours, so if you only have 30 minutes before next meeting then not much point starting on the report.

Finally, you know you really need to think on it, so you need high energy levels, of if you are tired, or have low energy levels then it may not be the best time to do the work.

What If I Don’t Have Everything I Need

There are times when you just need to do an action, even though you do not have everything you need.  What can you do to maximise your chances of completing the task?

Maybe you can move a subsequent meeting.  Can you telephone or email your boss instead of meeting in person?  Can you delegate actions to other people, can your partner buy the lightbulb from the hardware store, or buy it in a supermarket that you are going near?

This is here Creative Thinking comes in.  There is always a solution to a problem.  Your value is in being able to find it and then do it.

Multiple Actions in a Context

If you are working in a Context, for example at your computer, it is easy to get into a flow of work.  You feel like you are on fire, going through your task list at a high rate of knots.  This state allows you to quickly and efficiently go through your action list and tackle all those labeled as needing the computer.  You quickly see your list reducing, and get the nice endorphin high that comes with being happy and feeling that you are productive.

The someone comes along and asks you a question.  Boom.  You lose momentum.  After spending 5 minutes in conversation you turn back to your computer but can no longer get into the swing.  You need to spend time, and energy, getting back to where you were.  Welcome to the wonderful world of Context Switching.

Context Switching

Context Switching is a productivity killer.  Its something we all have to battle.  From simple things, like responding to a notification for new email or messages, to more complex like someone walking up to your desk to have a “chat”.

There are some simple things you can do to minimise this:

  • Turn off notifications – who’ll die if you do not respond immediately?
  • Only check email at specific times – if it’s urgent they will contact you via another means
  • Wear headphones, but do not play anything – quite often if someone sees you have earphones on they will not disturb you – although this can also mean that you appear anti-social
  • Put a “Do Not Disturb” notice on your desk
  • Is there an area you can go to work that will not have disruptions?
  • There are lots of other ways to handles these, you have to work out what works best for yourself, and also the location you are in.


Contexts are guides, they are not set in stone.  They enable you to think through what you need to succeed and plan your work accordingly.

They also allow you to see what is missing, and use that to drive your to identify solutions that will allow your action to move forward even when not all of the ingredients are present.

One of the biggest hurdles to productivity if the switching of Context.  It takes mental energy and disturbs your natural flow.  Try and reduce these and see the improvement in your productivity and results.


Also published on Medium.