How you can stop asking “When’s it due?”

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You know how it goes… You are given a task and the first thing you ask is “when is this due?” Often there is no due date, it just needs to get done at some point. Or, you are given a due date, but one that has no weight behind it and when you question as to why it is due by then the answer comes back as “just because.” That’s helpful (sarcasm).
Many task management tools give you the option to set a due date for each task. When I first introduce people to actually creating a task list, they quickly add due dates to everything based on when they want to have it done by. Absolutely every single task. This approach is incredibly granular and the result is messy. After setting due dates on everything, what happens is that you end up with too many tasks “due” on the same day. Very quickly the task list, which seemed like a really good idea at the time to help you get over the feeling of overwhelm, feels overwhelming. All these deadlines and tasks that are overdue constantly staring you in the face, demanding your attention. It’s enough to make you want to throw in the towel and resort to older methods of no task management system at all! Chaos!
For me, at least, it all comes down to prioritization and areas of focus. Instead of adding a due date to everything and then watching the storm of tasks bear down on me, I leave 80% of my tasks without a due date. Only those tasks that need to be done by a certain day, not on a certain day warrant a due date from me. Those tasks that are to occur on a certain day are not really tasks. They are events and belong in a calendar. However, those events may have tasks related to them that are indeed due by the date of the actual event. An example of this would be preparation for a presentation or meeting.
With 80% of the tasks in my list staring at me wondering when they will get some love, I organise those on a weekly basis as part of my Weekly Review. During this time I review every task on all my lists and for each of them I decide when I wish to work on them. Not a specific day, but a timeframe. Those tasks that I need to make progress on in the following week are added to my “Upcoming” list while everything else is added to my “Later” list. Each day in the following week I spend just 5 minutes reviewing my “Upcoming” list deciding what are three top tasks are for the day. These tasks are then moved up to my “Today” list, and that’s where my focus lies for the day. When all the tasks on the “Today” list are completed, if time permits I go back to the “Upcoming” list and pick another one that I can get done.
So, “when is it due?” is not always the right question to ask. A better question to ask might just be “when do I want to focus on this?” Now you have control over the task instead of the person that gave the task to you. And once you’re in control that ugly beast called “overwhelm” is easier kept under lock and key.

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