March 24, 2016
Perhaps the most powerful and unique thing about the MYN task system is the way it uses start dates to schedule tasks and to sort tasks. The use of start dates is what separates MYN from my simpler 1MTD system, and from virtually every other task system out there. It’s what makes MYN so effective.
But sometimes people get confused about how best to use start dates in MYN. So I want to talk about the right way to use them, so that you can get nimble with them and really get control of your workday.
Start Date Is really a Consideration Date
Recall, with MYN Outlook configurations, a task is hidden until its start date arrives. Given that, the start date you enter for a new task should either be the date you want to first start doing the task, or the date you first want to start considering the task, whichever is sooner. With that in mind, for most new tasks when you receive them, entering a start date of today makes sense. That’s because most new tasks have at least a little urgency around them and so you’d like to place them in view right away to allow you to find the best time to fit them in—as soon as you can.
But of course, if you put all new tasks in plain view, your task list will soon get very big and it can become unmanageable. You and others will think up tasks faster than you can complete them. And that’s why we have size limits in MYN—to prevent the list from becoming uselessly large. So, you need to find strategies to shorten your list, and one way to do that is to defer tasks to the future that just don’t make sense to think about right now. So you set the start date to the future for some tasks, thus hiding them and shortening your list a bit.
Don’t Confuse a Start Date with a Deadline
The confusion that many people have when doing this is that they confuse a start date with a deadline. Many people state in my classes “I want to see, right in my main list, all tasks with future start dates so I can think about them before they are due.” I point out to those people that the start date is not equal to the deadline. So if you know you will want to start thinking about a task early, ahead of its deadline, set the start date well before the true deadline. That way the task will pop up in your list in time to consider it and start working on it. Then, the best way to show the true deadline is to type it right in the subject line like: DUE April 15 Submit Taxes. Clearly, in this specific example, the start date on this task should be way ahead of that deadline so you can see it early and start working on it.
There is another way start dates are used in MYN. Once a start date arrives and a task is in your list, the role of the start date completely changes. At that point, its role is to show you how old the task is, and sort the older ones lower, per FRESH Prioritization. This is a great way to automatically highlight tasks that have more energy and to automatically place old dead tasks in a less prominent position in your list, particular when working in a long Opportunity Now section (the medium priority). Follow the FRESH Prioritization link to learn more.
However, sometimes people object to this too. They say they want the older tasks to sort higher in the list not lower. They state: “If something’s old, doesn’t it mean I’ve been irresponsible about doing it and so shouldn’t I have those positioned higher in my list?” But when somebody brings this up I ask them the following questions: “Think of your email inbox. Would you want new emails to go to the bottom of the inbox, and your oldest email to be at the top? After all, the older mail is being neglected, right?” Of course the answer is no. And that’s because newer emails tend to have more relevance and tend to need more attention. And that’s true with tasks. Because priorities change, old tasks tend to lose importance. But of course not all of them do, and if you spot an old task that seems too far down in your list, you can always promote it to the top of your list by changing its start date today.
Defer to Review
The best way to keep your daily list reasonably small in size is to aggressively move things to the Over the Horizon (low priority) section. But when that section accumulates over 75 items it will be hard to review each week. That’s where start dates come in. You can hide low priority tasks that don’t need review every week by using Defer to Review with future start dates—ones that are appropriate for the differing review cycles of each low priority task. This works great to keep your visible task count short and to allow you to only focus on the tasks you need to. Defer to Review is a longer topic so I leave that for your study.
So that’s it, that’s how to use start dates in the MYN system. It’s a very powerful feature that tens of thousands of people have found makes managing tasks much easier and much more powerful.