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.