Don’t use a Due Date, Use a Start Date!

June 22, 2011

There is a concept in MYN that actually represents an important new principle of task management. It’s to favor start dates on all tasks, over due dates, when scheduling tasks. What do I mean by that?

You’ve probably heard the concept that if you don’t set a due date on something it won’t get done. This principle sounds very proactive. It is the reason nearly all task management software programs have a due date field for their tasks. Nearly all paper tasks lists also show a due date space for you to write into.

But setting a due date for all tasks is another one of those old principles that sound good but don’t in fact work.

Why won’t it work? Because you’re trying to trick yourself and you aren’t that easily tricked. It’s like the person who sets his wristwatch ahead 10 minute thinking he’ll be on time for all meetings from then on. But after a few days he mentally adjusts to the time change and starts being late again. It’s the same with artificial due dates; if you set a date that’s fake you’ll know it’s fake and you’ll ignore it. In fact you may miss some important deadlines because you’ll get in the habit of ignoring all due dates you write down.

So don’t write a due date on a task unless there truly is a deadline for that task.

Set Start Dates on all Tasks

While ignoring the old, “always use a due date” rule, a corresponding important MYN rule in all my books is that I DO want you to follow is this: set a start date on all your tasks. Why? A start date in MYN plays two very important roles. The first role is to support FRESH Prioritization (look up FRESH Prioritization in the index of any of my books for more info on it).

The other role of the start date comes into play when you start setting start dates to the future. This allows you to schedule when tasks will appear on your list.

Essentially, what the future start date tells you is when you first want to see the tasks or when you first want to start thinking about doing the task. So, in essence, this is not a due date but rather it is a “DO” date. It’s the day you want to start thinking about doing the task. Tasks postponed to a future date like this I call Defer to Do tasks.

When you’ve got a lot of tasks on your list, setting tasks to the future (Defer to Do) is a good way to shorten your list–it allows you to hide tasks you don’t need to think about right now. When the date arrives, the task pops right into the top of your MYN task list, ready for action. You can decide then if the task is really “due” or if the momentum has passed for it. It prevents the uncertainty around fake due dates—it more accurately presents why you are setting dates on the task. It keeps the task list honest and usable.

So start using start dates on all your tasks per the MYN principles. All my books go into more detail on how to do that, especially the Outlook books.

Good luck!


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4 Responses to Don’t use a Due Date, Use a Start Date!

  1. Jackie Nagel says:

    This is an excellent idea and makes total sense! Just thinking about it begins to shift the energy from dread to anxious anticipation.

  2. Jess says:

    Long Question Michael

    Since you’ve advocated moving to Toodledo for it’s additional power and cross platform compatability and toodledo handles due dates differently than outlook and to my mind handles them correctly, have you changed your opinion on using due dates instead/with start dates. If i remember from the first or second edition of your book, you didn’t advocate using due dates at all partly because of the outlooks mashing/hashing of the due date/start dates relationship. But toodledo seems to have fixed that behavior, thus would you change your position on whether/how to use due dates if we have graduated from outlook to toodledo.

    i’ve been using due date in outlook as a “do” date exclusively and have largely ignored the start date (yes slap my hands) simply because i used pocket informant on my blackberry and found that pocket informant just screwed up start dates at every synch so i disabled start date on the advice of pocket informant staff and relied on due date much like you advocate start/do date.

    Now that i’ve left the BBerryy behind and have moved to toodle/ultimate todo list on an android phone and using taskunifier as my desktop app for toodledo, i have started resurrecting the idea of using the start date as you advocate in your books but wanted to double check if your thinking has changed given toodledo’s implementation of due dates seem to work as you would expect.

    many thanks

    • Michael Linenberger says:

      Great Question Jesse,
      I know exactly the evolution you have gone through; I went through it too, mainly since I was using the Blackberry too for a while. In fact my first edition of the Outlook book also used the due date as the do date. But that’s the past and now start dates are king in MYN. And yes, due dates in ToodleDo work great as a real deadline field. They work like I wish they would work in Outlook. There are a few minor gotchas, like if you advance a start date later than the due date, the due date does not auto adjust, so in ToodleDo you can end up with a task whose due date is set before its start date . But not a big deal. Also, there are some custom adjustments you should make in ToodleDo once you get serious about using due dates to make overdue tasks stand out better (I discuss those in the MYN-ToodleDo Video course). All that said, I found that when using ToodleDo as my main tasks system for a year, I still did not set that many due dates in the due date field. I fell back to my Outlook approach of putting the due date in the subject line. Not exactly sure why, but I have some theories. I’d be interested to hear how much you use them—write back after you try them for a while. Good luck!
      Michael Linenberger

  3. Paul says:

    Hi Michael,

    I’m just in the process of setting up MYN on Outlook 2010 and Touchdown HD (both are “musts” in the company I work for).

    I’ve found that it isn’t possible to set a Start Date without setting a Due Date, and this seems to be a “feature” of Outlook.


    Is there a workaround that you can recommend?

    Many thanks in advance!

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