When you use due dates in your to-do list manager for everything your due dates become meaningless.
One of the best features of any digital to-do list is you can add a due date to any task and that task will then appear on your today list on the date you set. It means you can date and forget. However, this can lead to bigger problems. Most of these due dates are not due dates. The date you set is not the date the task is due. It is just the date you think you will be able to complete it. And that would be true if that was the only task you had to complete on that date but as you are randomly adding dates to tasks you are going to have a lot more tasks that are ‘due’ that day, but are not really ‘due’ that day.
When you have a list of tasks for the day that are not due, your daily to-do list loses its power. There’s no sense of urgency and a lot of those tasks will be rescheduled for another random date in the future and the cycle is repeated.
Now several things are happening here. The first is you do not trust your system which is why you are dating everything and secondly you are unlikely to be doing a weekly review or, if you are, you are not consistently doing a weekly review.
Below are a few ways to develop better trust in your system and help you to stop feeling you have to date everything.
The weekly review
The weekly review is where once you have reviewed all your projects and appointments for next week you are in a much better-informed state on what you can do next week. You also know which projects are close to their due dates and you can make informed choices about what you will do on a particular day based on where you will be, who you will be with and what tools you have with you.
When you are doing a full weekly review each week, your trust in your system gives you the security to know that nothing is being missed and the dates you have set for tasks are meaningful and are genuinely due on that day. You are also much more aware of what is going on on a particular day and you can make sure you are not overloading yourself with tasks on days where you have back to back meetings or perhaps doing a training course or on holiday.
The daily mini-review
Our weeks are not static. Things change. Appointments get cancelled, meetings are postponed and new commitments are made. While the weekly review gives you some perspective on what is likely to happen during the week, because things are fluid and changes are happening every day, reviewing the tasks you have assigned yourself for the next day before you close down the day helps to keep your daily to-do list relevant and meaningful.
If for example, your boss informs you a project you thought was due next month has now been moved forward and needs completing by the end of the week, that will change everything you had planned during your last weekly review. It means you can reassess what you planned out for the rest of the week and make the necessary changes.
Now if you still feel uncomfortable not dating everything there are a few more things you can do.
Create reminder tasks
These are tasks that come up every once in a while that ‘remind’ you to check a particular project. For example, if you have a slow-moving project that is due in two months, you can add a repeating task inside the project that comes up once a week that tells you to review the project. I write these tasks like this:
[REMINDER] Review Project X
The “Reminder” at the beginning of the task informs me I do not have to do it, but it alerts me to check the project if I feel I need to. I don’t use many of these, but when I do they give me the peace of mind knowing that nothing is being missed and I am always on top of my projects.
Use tags, labels, contexts
One set of tasks I see a lot of people dating are calls and emails. Now, most of these are dated just so they are not forgotten, yet they do not have to be done on that specific day. It is far better to create a tag, label or context for these and create a single daily repeating task to tell you to check these tags, labels or contexts. Doing it this way reduces your daily task list, yet still allows you to make a judgment about whether a call needs to be made or an email sent without having several of these cluttering up your daily to-do list.
Use the 2+8 Prioritisation Technique
The 2+8 Prioritisation technique restricts you to just ten tasks a day. Two of those tasks are objective tasks that must be done and the remaining eight are those tasks that need to be done today but it would not be the end of the world if they were not done.
When you restrict yourself to only allowing ten tasks per day (not including your routine tasks — those tasks that just need doing on specific days but do not drive your projects or goals forward) you are being much more realistic about what you can achieve each day and you allow yourself enough flexibility to handle any issues that arise throughout the day.
This technique forces you to be selective about what you will do each day and forms part of your daily mini-review. It’s a great way to prioritise your day and leaves you safe in the knowledge that what is on your daily list is meaningful and will have a positive impact on your day and projects.
If you want to feel less stressed, less overwhelmed and be more productive stop dating everything. Trust your system, make your weekly review a priority never to be missed and adopt the 2+8 Prioritisation technique. You will feel much more in control and the trust you have in your system will give you the peace of mind knowing you are on top of everything.
For further reading on this subject, check out Peter Akkies post on the OmniFocus blog.
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