Does your task management system work well for you? Are you frequently missing deadlines or pushing tasks into the future? Maybe the problem is how you think about deadlines.
Beginning with the DayTimer system in the 1950s, task management systems have helped millions keep on top of their daily grind. And whether you use post-its stuck to your monitor or the most sophisticated of computerized project management platforms, all of these systems have had one thing in common. The ubiquitous due date.
Even the most basic of systems has two fields, the name of the task and the date it is due. You may be able to create different views of your tasks, sort them in various ways, and assign complex priority formulas, but that due date is always looming out there.
Ready for you to miss it.
You turn the page, virtual or paper, and there it is, due today: Open an Alpaca Farm!
Oops, I don’t think I can get that done today.
Project management systems have tried to solve that problem for decades with Gannt charts, PERT charts, and complex dependency tables. The problem with these is the complexity of the system often outweighs the complexity of the problem. I once watched someone spend two weeks creating a plan to manage a two-day project.
A few systems are finally using a much simpler method to handle this problem. Instead of a single date field, there are two. Some call it the start date. I prefer August Bradley’s method of referring to it as the do date.
This isn’t the date it is due; that may be too late. This is the date you are going to do it; the do date.
I touched on the subject in this article but long before I heard of this method, I emulated it by putting the due date before the project was due. It didn’t matter how small or quick the task was, the latest I would set the due date was the day before.
Too many unknowns come at us every day to wait until something is due to begin working on it.
As you add things to your task management system, you need to think about the due date, if it has one. Then you need to think about the do date. When will you do the task? As I and many before me have discussed, a task should be a small finite piece of work that can be done quickly. If it takes more than a day, it’s not a task; it’s a project.
Break the project down into tasks. Determine the due date. Then set a do date. I will do the job today that is due tomorrow.
But that’s not the true beauty of using do dates. I’m retired now. I don’t have many due dates. But I have many things I have to do. Daily, weekly, biweekly, my task management system has almost a hundred items in it, 98% of them repeat.
Take out the trash on Thursday. That has a due date. And that particular task will be done on the due date.
Wash the car? There is no due date. It doesn’t matter when or even if I do it. But I still wash the car. Along with dozens of other things. And since I don’t want any of them to fall through the cracks, I still track them in my task management system.
But there are very few due dates. So what do I do? Do them when I think about it or get around to it? Do them all today?
No, I assign each a do date. I spread the tasks out so that no particular day is overwhelming, but no task lingers too long. Some things I do daily. Like, write an article. Some are done once a week or once every two weeks. It doesn’t matter; as long as I record the do date, nothing is forgotten.
And isn’t that the whole purpose of a task management system? To not forget to do something?
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to elaborate on this some more, but I have something else to do.