Due dates don’t work when you leave tasks to the last minute.
My favorite suit is dirty. There are little grease stains down the front of the jacket. It’s been dirty for almost a year. That’s going to be a problem if I need to attend a job interview or wedding any time soon.
When I first noticed the grease stains, I pulled out my To-Do List app. I think the app was Wunderlist. Or Apple Reminders? Or maybe another of the dozens of apps I’ve tried to use to force myself to get more things done.
Whatever app I used, it gave me two options.
Enter a specific due date and time.
Don’t enter a due date at all. Add the task to my ever-growing "someday" list.
Here’s the thing: those options suck. I didn’t want to assign a specific date. Dry cleaning a suit isn’t a specific date kind of thing. It’s not something I have to do at exactly 9 a.m. this Sunday. I don’t even know what I’m going to be doing at 9 a.m. Sunday. It probably involves sleeping.
But, I don’t want to forget to dry clean my suit. It needs to stay on my radar. The moment I get a wedding invite, I’m going to wish I’d gotten around to cleaning that suit.
This problem bothered me for years. I’m a little absent-minded, so I love To-Do lists. But, for most of my life, I keep repeating the same cycle with every task. I enter a task into my to-do list app of choice, add a date and time, and then keep rescheduling the task. Eventually, I remove the task without getting it done because the reminders get annoying.
As tasks accumulate, the overwhelm grows. Long ago, my iPhone Reminders app became cluttered with dateless tasks I’d never look at again. It's full of dated tasks I’ve postponed forever. At this point, Reminders is annoying, not helpful. It makes me feel guilty about all the tasks I'm not doing.
One day, I realized that I only have the bandwidth to get a few things done each week. I had fallen into the habit of assigning every new task to the next Saturday, then choosing a few of them to focus on each week.
As a procrastinator with an overwhelming To-Do list, I learned to view the world in terms of weekly, monthly, and yearly priorities. Arbitrary due dates don't work for me. If I know what the top few things I need to get done this week are, I can squeeze them in at some point.
But I won’t squeeze tasks in if my Reminders app forces me to add an arbitrary date to them. I won't squeeze tasks in if they're just part of a long list, either.
When I realized that I naturally batched my To-Do list by week and month, I searched the app store for an app that would help me do that better. But, every mobile app I found had the same problem. Wunderlist, IOS Reminders, Remember the Milk, Todoist, and more had all designed their apps around the arbitrary due date model. It was as though someone had decided that there was only one way we’re allowed to think about getting things done.
I began using Monday.com, along with a complicated series of automatons. Monday allowed me to enter tasks, then associate them with a time-frame. This week, next week, this month, next month… The system worked, but it was clunky and ugly.
Finally, I made Strongweek. It’s the time-frame, priority-based To Do List app that allows procrastinators to chunk tasks the way they will anyway. Enter a task for “Next Month” in January, and you won’t have to see it again until February when it moves to “This Month.” After a couple of weeks, it’ll move to “Next week,” then “This week.”
No To-Do list app is perfect. Batching your tasks this way won’t solve all your problems. But there’s no reason to hold onto a mindset that doesn’t work. By forgetting due dates, you permit yourself to get back to things when you’re ready. Batching tasks by weeks, months, and years allow you to prioritize and focus on the things you can get done when you need to.
I won’t get my suit dry-cleaned next Sunday at exactly 9 a.m. But I will get it done sometime this year. And that’s all I need.