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22 Nov

Everything needs to get done in due time, but not necessarily on a specific day

Datum: 2017-11-22 08:35
A look over the shoulder of someone typing on her laptop. On the screen is a calendar view. To the right, on the desk sits a coffee cup and a notepad.

Set­ting due dates on all our to-do-tasks is a trap that is easy to fall into. I only rec­om­mend that peo­ple set a due date for a task if it actu­al­ly has one — mean­ing, there is a spe­cif­ic day or time when it real­ly needs to be done. Nev­er set a date for a task if it only rep­re­sents or reflects your ambi­tion (or hope) to com­plete the task by that time.

For you who pre­fer lis­ten­ing to read­ing, this post is also avail­able as an episode of the Done!” pod­cast:

Set­ting a date based on an edu­cat­ed guess regard­ing the time we have at hand and what we need to do that par­tic­u­lar day is risky, since we risk mak­ing a wrong guess due to which the task will be high­light­ed or marked with a red flag, indi­cat­ing that it is late, even though it isn’t. 

This in turn will only stress you out instead of help you live up to your ambi­tions. Before the day you ran­dom­ly set as the due date some­thing that is actu­al­ly due then might have been added to your list which takes up all your time, and will there­fore make the first task late”.

Done in a while

But”, said some­one in the audi­ence at one of my lec­tures recent­ly, I have no to-do-tasks with­out a due date. Every­thing needs to get done and crossed off my list soon­er or lat­er.”.

I under­stand how this rea­son­ing comes about — we feel that since every­thing is due at some point, we might as well assign a day when it is, but not all tasks have an actu­al and spe­cif­ic dead­line. We do how­ev­er often have an idea of rough­ly when the task should be com­plet­ed. Per­haps we know that it needs to be done before the year is over” or dur­ing November”. 

If we then make an edu­cat­ed guess and assign a date to the task just because that day looks emp­ty right now in the cal­en­dar, the risk is that our esti­ma­tion is off (even though it looked about right at the time, since it need­ed to be done some­time in that week) and we will either have to spend time and effort chang­ing the due date, or even worse, spend our days look­ing at a to-do-list that shines red from all the tasks high­light­ed and tagged as tardy — tasks that are not actu­al­ly late!

Make it clear from the beginning

It is much bet­ter to write the approx­i­mat­ed time­frame for the task in its descrip­tion, such as Due before the year is over, and when done, get back to San­dra” or Some time dur­ing Novem­ber, send the invi­ta­tion to Jör­gen” instead of set­ting a date that is not an actu­al deadline.

The right day will make itself known

If we make it our habit to skim through all the tasks we have on the to-do-list once a week, we will soon­er or lat­er find the per­fect (and actu­al) due date for every task. Then, and not before then, will we set the dead­line. Hold­ing off on doing so until the time is right will increase our chances of pri­or­i­tiz­ing the task on the day we need time to do it. We are also more like­ly to stick to, and respect, our dead­lines and pri­or­i­ties in the future. 

Do this

If you want to keep your to-do-list free from red tasks sig­nal­ing tar­di­ness, do this:

  1. Go through your list and look for tasks for which the due date is more of an ambi­tion than an actu­al deadline.

  2. Remove the date from these tasks and attach a note to them describ­ing when you want it to be done instead.
  3. When you go through your to-do-list every week, only assign spe­cif­ic due dates to the tasks that now obvi­ous­ly have one.

Less ten­sion from being tardy”

If you only set due dates for tasks that actu­al­ly have one, your to-do-list will not alert you to being seem­ing­ly tardy regard­ing a bunch of tasks that you might as well fin­ish anoth­er time. 

Good rid­dance! Your list will be much eas­i­er, not to men­tion more pleas­ant, to work with and chances are you will con­tin­ue using it (and find it more use­ful) than you oth­er­wise might if it was filled with red alerts.

What is your way?

Do you use due dates and dead­lines in some oth­er, use­ful way? If you do, you are more than wel­come to tell me how.

(By the way, do you know this trick for meet­ing your dead­lines with ease?

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