Getting Caught Up With 1MTD/MYN Tasks

Jan 5, 2013

If you’ve gotten behind in your 1MTD or MYN system it’s not hard to dig out and start using the systems again—you can usually do that in minutes. Here are some simple steps to take. The first steps work for both systems, and the last one is focused on MYN.

Make sure you know the definitions of each urgency zone:

  • Critical Now section (high priority) is for items that absolutely must be done today. Move all other items out of there.
  • Opportunity Now section (medium or normal priority) is for items you might do today if you had the opportunity, but they are not due today. Some are not due for up to 10 days.
  • Over-the-Horizon section is for items that can wait longer than 10 days; some much longer, perhaps months.

Adhere to Size Limits of Each Section

The main reason people give up on any task system is the list gets too big. So right now reduce your lists to below the system limits. That means:

  • Reduce the Critical Now list down to 5 items or fewer (zero is okay).
  • Reduce your Opportunity Now list down to 20 items or fewer.

How? First, delete old dead items. Next, move all excess tasks to the Over-the-Horizon section, which has no limit in these systems. Be aggressive in doing this. Face it, if an item has been sitting incomplete in the top or middle part of your list for 3 weeks or more without causing harm, you can safely move it to the Over-the-Horizon section—so just move it, now!

Now you have a reasonably sized list in the Critical Now and Opportunity Now zones, so start working items there. Set a few hours aside each day to actually do your tasks.

Use the Proper Review Cycles

Tasks get out of control if you don’t keep up with them. Priorities shift often, and deadlines sneak up on you. Here is a reminder of how often you should review each section to keep ahead of them:

  • Review your Critical Now section many times per day, perhaps even once an hour.
  • Review the Opportunity Now section at least once a day.
  • Review the Over-the-Horizon section once a week.

As you do theses reviews, act on tasks if you can and adjust priorities of those you can’t as their importance changes.

MYN Strategies To Clean Up Your List: Use the Start Date

The above tips work with both 1MTD and MYN. The MYN system gains additional power by using the start date field, so MYN users, don’t forget to use start dates as you clean up your list. In the Critical Now and Opportunity Now sections you can occasionally just set the start date to the future, and that will hide items and reduce your list. But do that sparingly—only for items with specific future action dates; otherwise those sections will just overload again in the days ahead.

Better is to use the Defer-to-Review process—it’s a fantastic way for MYN users to clean up your entire list and not lose track of your long list of to-dos. You do that by using future start date assignments in the Over-the-Horizon section. Study that more here.


If after trying these techniques you find you still tend to lose control, write a comment here saying why; maybe we can find a solution for you.

Michael Linenberger
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6 Responses to Getting Caught Up With 1MTD/MYN Tasks

  1. Ted Leonard says:

    First of all I LOVE your books and your time management process. It was the first one I read that stuck with me and I actually started following. The area I am having difficulties with is in follow ups and waiting for responses from clients and internal resources. I am a busy Systems Manager for an outsourcing company and the majority of my tasks are looking for answers on items, assigning/ following up on tasks, and waiting to ensure needs get met ultimately ensuring the questions of my clients get answered promptly. I am not sure how to create tasks when the email responses to a topic seem to come minute by minute?

    • Michael Linenberger says:

      Hi Ted, it sounds like you know about the email follow-up task process taught in the MYN system? If so, don’t worry if the followup task you create is not against the latest email. If you open the an older email in the chain when the F: task pops up, you can easily find the latest (just click the top of the email, or use conversation views). The key is that you are following up on the topic in general. If you do not know about the email follow-up task process taught in the MYN system, it’s described about 4/5 of the through Lesson 7 in the Outlook book (page 187 in edition 4). Michael

  2. Les says:

    Hi Michael, I use your system and work hard to follow the rules but have lapses for one reason or others! So your post is timely reminder. What tips do you have when rate of inbound emails is overwhelming to the point that I find myself spending more and more time processing emails, converting to tasks and less time executing on actions?
    Cheers, Les

  3. Michael Linenberger says:

    Les, well, it only takes about 1 minute to convert an email to a task, often less. So unless you are getting 200 new tasks per day, I doubt you are spending more time converting them than doing them. But reading and replying to email—that’s another matter. That CAN easily exceed you work time. In fact, I think for most office workers these days it does, which is why the MYN system is needed. Some tips on getting better at processing mail (beyond converting to tasks in MYN):
    –The reading pane causes you to read unimportant mail, so turn off the reading pane and scan titles instead, and only open email with titles that might be important to you. As a result, I file a ton of unread mail into my Processed Mail folder (a good thing). And of course toss a ton. Some lower priority mail that I file I categorize as “Read Later” (but usually never do). All that helps leave time for real work.
    –Don’t forget that in MYN you flag deferred replies; don’t convert those to tasks. Then hold long non-urgent replies to end of day. I tend to write short quick replies if I wait till end of day.
    –reread the Outlook book, you’ll find a ton of other useful tips that did not sink in on the first pass.

  4. phrazle says:

    With a sizable backlog in the “Critical Now” and “Opportunity Now” categories, you can finally go to work. Dedicate a certain amount of time each day to getting things done.

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