After listening to David Sparks’ OmniFocus video series, I’ve been rethinking how I use due dates for tasks. Well, actually, I’ve been rethinking it for quite sometime. Usually when I’m postponing due dates.
I love the OmniFocus for iPad’s Forecast mode. It’s a custom view into tasks, that presents them in a timeline with past due tasks colored red and near term tasks colored orange. This is a great way to see what you are up against for the coming week or check out what slipped through the cracks.
The problem is that Forecast view is dependent on due dates. If a task does not have a due date then it is not presented in this view. That makes sense. How else would you define a timeline for tasks without a date for each task.
I’m not a strict follower of GTD but I do implement several of the primary principles. For example, I’m a big fan of dumping every task, project or plan into an inbox for processing. I also relentlessly use contexts for tasks so that I never end up staring at a list of tasks that I can do nothing about. Finally, the GTD review is the real strength of the entire system and I review my lists regularly.
Unfortunately, GTD also recommends assigning start and due dates to tasks. That’s where I think the system breaks down for me. I assign wishful due dates to tasks and projects that really had no hard deadlines. Then, during reviews, I would fiddle with all of the due dates again. Finally, the task would come due and I would just reassign the due date to the following week. Let’s face it, if there’s no hard deadline on something, then the due date is just a con to trick yourself into finishing tasks. In the end, you really just trick yourself into feeling like you have everything under control. You are just Sisyphus pushing your schedule up a hill.
Start Dates in OmniFocus have a functional impact on your task list. If your task Perspectives only show available tasks, then start dates prevent tasks from appearing before you can do anything about them. For example of I have a task to renew my car registration, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for that task to be visible for six months before my current registration tag is ready to expire. Setting a start date keeps my task list focused.
Several weeks ago, I cleaned up my tasks and removed due dates from almost everything. The only tasks that I retained due dates for were tasks that had solid immutable due dates. For example, car registration has a due date. Web hosting renewal has a due date. However much I would like my garage to be clean, there is no real due date. There’s just a date that I wish it would be done by.
Instead of focusing on due dates, I have set start dates for all tasks. That keeps my Perspective views tidy but does not set arbitrary end dates. Unfortunately, this new system drastically reduces the utility of the Forecast view on the iPad. I’m ok with that for now.