Newbie Q: Areas vs Tags - what's the difference?


I am confused about when to use Areas and when to use Tags.

There may not be any ‘right’ answers, but what were they designed for with respect to GTD?

It seems to me that Tags can be used to indicate
A. “Context” (where physically am I, who am I talking to,
B. “Mood” (how much energy I have - e.g. “Reflective mood”, “Low Mental Energy” etc)
C. Something else (e.g. a major project or area of your life)

Instinct tells me that the number of Tags should be kept very short (between 5 and 10)
And on that basis “C.” is dangerous (unless you use extremely sparingly)

(Fwiw, I am experimenting with having about five of ‘A.’ and about 5 of ‘B.’… with the ‘A.’ list all starting with an @sign so as to visually distinguish and physically separate on the menu those genuine Context items from mood.)

But what then is the purpose of Areas?
I guess these could be related to genuinely different sections of ones life.
e.g. say:

  • Work
  • Home
  • Fitness
  • Social life

And/or could they also be related to your major goals (30,000 to 50,000 ft?) in life?

  • Achieve spiritual enlightenment
  • Earn a Gazzillion bucks
  • Cure Hunger
  • Save the Whale
  • World Domination
  • Become a half decent human being
    … etc ;^P

Could/should Areas be used for specific major projects

  • Renovate & sell my house
  • Start/run a new charity/business
  • Sort out the garden
  • GTD my entire life

Or should major projects be put in as Projects?

What’s the difference between Areas and Tags?
And how were Areas and Tags designed to be used in GTDNext with respect to GTD?


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I think you are correct in asking. Users and developers often do not keep the terminology absolutely strict, and neither does Mr Allen himself.

Anyway, here are some possibilities:

You are right the the term tag does not exist in GTD. There are terms like context, time (duration), energy and priority, and tags are often used for some or all of these.

Areas does not quite exist in GTD either, but almost. Ther is something called Area of Responsibility (e.g. Husband, Father, Gardener etc), and DA recommends you keep entire related groups of such AoRs listed together, e.g. as a private GoAoR (Group of Areas of Responsibility). And this is, I believe, how the vast majority interpret “Areas” in those apps that have this (GTDN, Nirvana, Zendone, Asana? …) . GTDN and Nirvan have chosen to have just a regular “tag” for it, whereas others have other implementations. Personally, I primarily use the hierarchy, and would not really need a special area feature, but it is hand for those who want to switch totally from work to home etc a couple of times a day.

A confusing thing is that DA himself also calls AoRs Area of Focus, ineterchangeably. I don’t know why, perhaps because some people do not like to think in terms of being responsible, but rather in terms of focusing. Who knows.

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Yes, for different areas of your life. David Allen calls it a few different things. “Areas of Responsibility” “Ares of Interest” We just shorten it to “Ares”. This is how I suggest you use Areas. I find it very helpful when reviewing my various lists to view them by area. It filters the various lists down to a manageable size.

Also, I personally find it difficult to focus on more than one area in my life at a time. So when I’m working on GTDNext, I don’t also want to see the actions I have for the club baseball website I have volunteered to keep updated. By filtering my list by area I just see those actions.

Notice we allow you to filter by more than one area at a time. So sometimes I will show Personal + Family areas for example.

Yes, these are all good uses for Tags. I have used tags for all these purposes. It’s the main reason we didn’t call it “context” as tags can be used for more than just context.


Interesting - but I’m still intrigued by areas. Is anyone happy to share how many areas they have and (ideally) what they are?

I have 10 Areas of Responsibility (GTD 20 k level).

At the next higher level I have 3 permanent Groups of AoRs and 2 medium-term temporary objectives (Goals), in other words 5 top level entities. My two objectives (Goals) are both business startups, and my three permanent Groups of AoRs are:

  • Business (ongoing)
  • Non-Profit
  • Private.

All my projects and single tasks belong somewhere within this framework. Among my “projects” I have 10 (one per AoR) that are not real projects but “containers” for my single actions. I like to keep these neatly organized by AoR rather than as a looong list.

In my Private sphere (Private Group of AoRs) I have the following three AoRs:

  • Material assets manager (repairs, purchases, cleaning, bills, bank, insurance etc)
  • Ambassador for the family (dealing with the children’s teachers, wife’s colleagues, parents’ doctors, neighbors etc)
  • Man (looking after my own selfish desires ;))