To-Do: Don’t Forget the Start Date

Daily Shoot 06.12.10 [Unfinished]
Creative Commons License photo credit: colemama

Do you feel drained by looking at a long list of stuff to do? Me too! So… I don’t do it anymore.

But I do have to write stuff down. If I don’t write it down, I won’t remember it.

So I note everything. I keep a list of all the stuff I need to do, and when I need to do it by.

This works, but until about 6 months ago, I always had a long list of stuff that never seemed to get smaller. Every day there was this LIST that taunted me for not beating it down.

Until I finally laid down cash and bought help.

My To-Do-List

I use a program called OmniFocus to keep my to-do list in order. It’s expensive, and does all kinds of nifty stuff that I like. But lots of cheaper programs do most of what you need:

  • Of course, they keep a list of stuff that you need to do.
  • Most allow you to combine similar tasks into projects, or even across projects.
  • They allow you to set a due date for a task.
  • They alert you in some way as tasks become due.

Great. Those are all great.

But the main, most important, day-saving, life-affirming feature that I never want to be without is:

Starting Dates

Recently, I was chatting with a friend about her to-do list, and she said that she never uses the Starting Date feature. I nearly dropped my turkey burger before boring her with a longish lecture about the beauty that she’s missing out on.

So what’s the big deal about starting dates?

Let’s say that I have a task that’s due on the 30th: Write help topic on Peeling Bananas.

I figure that’ll take a couple of hours, so I’ll schedule the task to START on the 29th, one day before it’s due.

And… so what?

So, today, when I look at my list of tasks to do, Write help topic on Peeling Bananas is not there.

Rather than see a huge, intimidating list of 40 tasks that all need to get done in the next month, I see a list of 3 tasks that need to get done today.

In short, I don’t have to know, see, acknowledge, or admit to anything except today’s work.

This small thing, this hiding away of things I don’t need to do today, brings me huge satisfaction.

Finishing those few tasks, and clearing my plate for the day, feels much better than finishing a few tasks on a long list (while constantly adding more tasks to the end).

And of course, if I finish today’s tasks by the end of the day, I can look at those that have later starting dates. But how often does that happen?

So if you’re looking for to-do list help, I suggest you look for starting dates. It made a huge difference to me.

Do you have any tips for keeping to-do lists, or generally getting things done?


One Response to “To-Do: Don’t Forget the Start Date”

  1. June 28, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

    OMG I’m famous! And I have started using ‘start dates’ in my to do list 🙂 I agree that it’s nice not to see the future tasks crowding the list. And for the record, I use “EasyTask”, via an iPhone app and a mac desktop client (and I assume there is also a windows desktop client). They all sync together for me to have my latest to do list anywhere.

    BTW, I’m heading to Cafe di Sol for buy one get one free burger night tonight! So glad you introduced me to that place.

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