Nov 1, 2015
You probably know that the main difference between the two task systems I teach: the MYN system and the One Minute To-Do List system (1MTD), is that MYN uses start dates on all tasks. This use of start dates in MYN leads to a ton of advantages such as keeping your visible list shorter, setting follow-up tasks, and using Defer-to-Review to keep your low priority (Over-the-Horizon) list well under control. It makes MYN a much more powerful system and one capable of handling a lot more tasks.
But again and again as I teach MYN in person, I see an initial “misunderstanding” crop up about how to set start dates, and I want to cover the solution to that misunderstanding here in case it affects you. Here is how this problem usually shows up.
Typical Problem Scenario
In my live classes I have all participants make the MYN settings in the To-Do Bar including the setting to hide future-start-dated tasks (by the way this is shown in Chapter 3 of the Outlook book). I explain why we do that and I then show them how to glance ahead at future-dated tasks (using the Tasks folder or the Calendar’s Daily Tasks view; see chapters 2 and 4 in the book to review those).
Then, as an exercise, I instruct everyone to start entering tasks—real tasks they are concerned about. I do that so the participants can get a feel for the usefulness of the MYN settings. However, inevitably, as they are doing that, someone raises their hand and says “Hey there is a problem, I can’t see my future dated tasks and I need to see them so I can plan ahead for them—I want to see them in my To-Do Bar.”
I assert that statement stems from a misunderstanding, and it is easily fixed.
Here is what I say to that person, and what may help you if you have a similar reaction: “Set the start date earlier on those tasks you feel you want to plan ahead for.”
To be clear, here are my MYN instructions, contained in all my books and classes, on how to set the start date on a task:
Set the start date to the day you want to do the task, or the first day you want to start thinking about the task. If you are not sure what date to set, it is probably best to set it to today. (And don’t get a start date confused with a deadline, you set the deadline separately and only if needed.)
The underlined part the above statement is key. If you want to work on a task say on Thursday, but you want to start thinking about it three days ahead of time, then set the start date three days earlier, to Monday. But only do that for tasks that really need future planning. And I assert that many tasks do not need future planning.
Examples of tasks that usually do not need future planning:
- Call Bob to check in on progress. This task is to call Bob at any time on the day it pops up (let’s say it’s three days from now). Do you really need to see it days ahead of time to plan for that? You are just going to ask him a quick question. (But if you do have some work to conduct before that call, create a separate task for that work and set a date appropriate for the work).
- Write Weekly Status Report (start date set to Friday). Years ago when working for a software company I created this one every week. The status report was impossible to write until Friday (end of week) and it was quick to do so I set it with a Friday start date. No need to see it ahead of time.
- Pay phone bill (this is a bill that you intend to pay online near the end of the month). Why would you need to see that on your list all month long? Just set the start date several days ahead of the end of the month. Perhaps set a deadline for the last day you can pay it.
I am sure you can think of a lot more similar cases.
Why this Happens
One reason MYN students get this wrong at first is they confuse a start date with a deadline. A deadline is when the task must be completed. The start date is the date you want to first start working on the task, or be aware of it, which for many tasks is well ahead of its deadline. So don’t treat the start date as the deadline date. Now, in many cases the two are the same, particularly for small quick-action tasks. But not always.
Another reason why some people want to see all future tasks in their list is that they have a problem with worrying about the future. They feel they need to worry about it all constantly or things will fall apart. Well, I think they really need to get over that problem. One of the main advantages of setting future dates on tasks and hiding them is that it allows you to spread your tasks out over time so that you only worry about what you need to worry about on any given day. It helps decrease your daily load, and it helps decrease your constant feeling of overwhelm. Take advantage of the system’s ability to help you with that!
You Can Look Ahead
And remember that you can always look ahead at your future tasks, using the views I mentioned above, should you want to reprioritize or change some scheduling of future tasks. Some people do that at the end of each day, to take a glance at tasks they scheduled for the next day.
Now, all that said, over 50% of tasks I receive (or think up) each day I create with a start date of today so they are visible immediately, even though I doubt I’ll get to them today. In today’s work world we are being handed lots of “do this now” tasks, so certainly, mark them with today’s date and try to get them done as soon as possible. But many tasks can be postponed, and you should use a future start date to do that if you can. Again, it will help you to spread out your work and ease your sense of overwhelm.