Defer to Review: How to Keep your Task List Short

Sept 14, 2011

In the last blog post I showed you some simple rules that help keep your MYN task list well managed. In particular, I focused on how to keep the Critical Now and Opportunity Now tasks list well under control and at an appropriately small size.

But what about the Over-the-Horizon section? That’s the low priority tasks section in Outlook and ToodleDo, and it quickly becomes a dumping ground for all your extra tasks. There is an easy solution however. I teach a simple yet very powerful process called Defer to Review—it keeps the Over-the-Horizon section small and meaningful, and it works great. Defer to Review is written up thoroughly in Lesson 9 of the Outlook book, as well as starting on page 73 of the book Master Your Workday Now! but here’s a quick overview.

As you continually move lower priority items out of the Opportunity Now section into the Over the Horizon section, that section may become too large to review easily each week. Using Defer to Review solves that by having you schedule a future date to review each task next. With full MYN settings (in either Outlook or ToodleDo) the future-dated task then disappears until that date arrives, thus emptying the list each week at the end of your review. Presto—your Over-the-Horizon section is now under control!

Here are more details. Each Monday, as you review each task in the low priority section, if a task is urgent you escalate it. But if you decide the task can wait longer, then keep it at a low priority and set its start date to a future Monday when you want to review it next. Some tasks you will set to next week, but most tasks you’ll set to a later date perhaps three or four weeks or even three or four months later—many just don’t need another review till then. That way you only review tasks each week that really need review. As a result, only a few tasks will appear in the low priority section each week; all others remain hidden until their start date arrives.

For example this Monday 5 or 10 tasks may pop into your low priority section. You’ll then consider each; a few you may escalate to the high or medium priority level, but most you will probably decide to defer on for later consideration in the low section. At the end of that quick review the low priority section is empty and you can now focus the rest the week on your Critical Now and Opportunity Now tasks, knowing that everything is under control.

This is a fantastic way to keep your task list well managed, and to keep laser-focused on what’s currently important. I encourage you to start using Defer to Review right away. Again, for more information, review Lesson 9 in the Outlook book or page 73 in the book Master Your Workday Now!


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12 Responses to Defer to Review: How to Keep your Task List Short

  1. Jerry says:

    Michael in the book I don’t think you advocate start dates on evey task. You suggested weekly, monthly, three month review lists etc. Is adding start dates to every task a revision or just taking advantage of toodledo? also I Was struck by lack of project list. Is your assumption that tasks and our daily lives supersede need for a gtd style project list? Loved the book by the way. has anyone applied your concepts to omnifocus ? I use it now but find myself getting bogged down in it, though I’m concerned toodledo with tos of start dates may feel cumbersome and artificial. I’m a film producer with tons of gtd style “projects” and trying to simplify.

  2. admin says:

    Jerry: thanks for your comments. Actually, I do advocate start dates on every task in my Outlook book: on pg 75 in a 3 page section called “Always Set a Start Date”. I recommend it for any automated system that has a start date field. I talk about project lists in Lesson 12 of that book. Someone did mention to me they were able to use MYN in Onmifocus, I have not tested. I think you’ll like the start date approach, give it a try. Best, Michael

  3. Jeff says:

    Hello Michael,

    I encourage you to develop your MYN system in the context of Omnifocus. I have read your Outlook-book but will move to Omnifocus because you can login from anywhere. Syncing Outlook with your phone or tablet is a hassle and it really shouldn’t be necessary anymore nowadays. (The cloudversion of Outlook is not compatible with your system.)

    • Michael Linenberger says:

      Thanks Jeff, for your comment. You know, if you are trying to avoid Exchange and are looking at Omnifocus “because you can login from anywhere” I am confused on how you think that’s the right solution. It doesn’t have a PC solution, nor a good browser version. Nor an Android solution. You might have other reasons for wanting to use Omnifocus, but “login from anywhere” certainly is not accurate. If “login from anywhere” is your goal, and you are down on Exchange, I encourage you instead to look at Toodledo, which is a true multi-platform cloud-based tasks solution that works with ALL computer, smartphone, and tablet platforms—ALL of them—its browser version works on all platforms and it has compatible apps for all phone/tablet platforms. And it’s basically free (Omnifocus costs $80 bucks for the Mac and $40 bucks for the iPad version and $20 bucks for the iPhone version… you’re out $140 bucks by the time you reach just 3 platforms, and you still are not “logging in from anywhere” yet. Toodledo is basically free for ALL platforms on a browser and $3 bucks each for the apps). Also, my company has lots of free and paid training material on how to use Toodledo and how to integrate it with MYN. Finally, I also have to take issue with your comment “Syncing Outlook with your phone or tablet is a hassle and it really shouldn’t be necessary anymore nowadays” –that confuses me too. My iPhone, iPad, Android phone, and Windows tablet, (and my Mac and PC) all sync with Outlook through Exchange day after day, minute after minute, with zero intervention needed from me. I set it up once years ago. That’s the experience of most users. How is that a hassle and somehow not up to modern standards? I have issues with Outlook tasks on the Mac, but syncing is not one of them. In comparison, you should read the horror stories on the web of people who try to sync their Omnifocus account to Android for example, or to a PC. (See Now there’s a hassle! If you are on a Mac and not liking Outlook for tasks, again, check out Toodledo: Michael

  4. Jeff says:

    Thanks you so much Michael for sharing your knowledge with us. I think you discovered so well what works for you over the years and I really appreciate the realism of your approach. I think you managed to improve the GTD system (for example by introducing priorities to it), to such an extent that it also really works for many others. For me it does.

    Oviously you have to spend 100 bucks for having Omnifocus on your desktop and your iphone, but the desktopversion from Omnifocus is so much more than just a taskmanagementsystem like ToodleDo. Money shoudn’t be an issue if it works for you and saves time and hassle.

    For me syncing my phone with the Outlook on my desktop is a hassle, probably because I do it manually. I thought that the only automatic syncing solution was using the Cloud based Outlook 365 solution and that your system was not compatable with that. Although I think your system isn’t compatable with Outlook 365 (please tell me if I’m wrong: is it possible to change all the MYN settings within the cloud?), I must have missed the automatic syncing option. I do like Outlook tasks so:

    Do you have an instruction manual to set things up with ‘Exchange’, as you mentioned?

    Many thanks in advance.

    • Michael Linenberger says:

      Jeff, well, it sounds like your reasons for using Omnifocus go well beyond MYN-related task management features , and I am sure they are worth the extra cost—I hear nothing but good things about those extra features in Omnifocus. It’s mostly a Mac product, though, and with the Mac having only about 8% of the computer OS share, it’s hard for us and our limited resources to justify the same level of support for it as compared to Toodledo, which works on all platforms. Or for Outlook/Exchange, which is used in 80- 90% of all businesses. Those two products cover basically all platforms and most workers for us. Regarding Outlook syncing. Okay, now I see you are trying to sync without Exchange Server, and that’s really hard, I agree–but you are bypassing the cloud solution when doing that. Outlook’s cloud solution is Exchange Server, which works quite well (“cloud” is just the latest name for internet-server access to data—been around for decades. I have to laugh when suddenly it’s discovered). Office/Outlook 365 is just the latest version of that long history of cloud computing. Outlook 365 is really three products: The Exchange Server, Outlook 2013 which installs on the desktop, and Outlook Web App (OWA) which is only browser-based. The third (OWA) is not robust enough to support MYN task configurations, but the desktop application version of Outlook 365 (Outlook 2013) is quite good for MYN. And Exchange Server connects MYN tasks with lots of iOS and Android apps. All these version details are written up in the early part of Lesson 2 in my Outlook book 4th Ed. Mobile solutions in Lesson 6. I suggest you re-read much of that, it may clarify some other things for you as well. Hosted Exchange (which is what you need for Outlook sync if you don’t already have Exchange through your company) I mention in Lesson 2 and write up a bit more in Appendix A. I mention 3 hosted Exchange vendors: Microsoft, Godaddy, and Intemedia (links in Appendix C of 4th ed). There are many many more. Regarding giving you an instruction manual for Exchange, each vendor one has its own set configuration/setup screens, and the Exchange setup has nothing to do with our MYN system, so it makes no sense for us to document this. Just deal with the vendor’s support dept if you have any issues when opening a hosted Exchange account. I like Godaddy’s support the best, so maybe start there. Good luck! Michael

  5. Ed says:

    Good reply Michael.

    I’m curious if you have written toodeldo setup instructions for the ipad and iphone versions.

    Also, I just bought your new book as a PDF because the previous edition helped me immensely. I am relying more on Toodledo now since I went with a Mac last summer and outlook 2011 tasks is so poor. I also need to connect with exchange on my work PC.


  6. Jeff says:

    Dear Michael,

    I understand that it’s hard for you and your limited resources to justify the same level of support for Omnifocus as compared to Toodledo, but it would be nice if you would give OF a little-bit more attention. Mac OS may have only a 8% market-share, but I think there are more considerations to make than looking at this percentage. If you analize the amount of Mac users between productivity minded people, the percentage would be quite different.

    If you take a look at the platforms used by readers for example you can see that 35% of the readers uses Mac, 6% Ipad and only 24% uses Windows. (see:

  7. Craig Kennedy says:

    Setting up MYN is pretty simple in Omnifocus. Given that contexts are not that helpful anymore in my opinion (and in fact Michael indicates he does not use them), you can easily use the context field in OF for priorities. You can even name them “Critical Now” “Opportunity Now” and “Over the Horizon”.
    You then set up a Perspective that groups tasks according to these “Urgency Zones”. You can also sort them by “Date Changed” so that newer modified or added tasks float to the top.
    If you want to highlight “Target” Opportunity Now tasks , they can be flagged.
    Finally, the start date allows you to “Defer to review” tasks.

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