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?


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