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.
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.
If you want to keep your to-do-list free from red tasks signaling tardiness, do this:
- Go through your list and look for tasks for which the due date is more of an ambition than an actual deadline.
- Remove the date from these tasks and attach a note to them describing when you want it to be done instead.
- 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 leave a comment and share your experience.