Do Dates vs Due Dates

One of the benefits of being Human, not Superhero (one of the nine characteristics of a Productivity Ninja) is that when you make a mistake, or as I put it, have a ‘doh’ moment, you can chalk it up as a point of learning, rather than a point of failure to beat yourself up with.

It happened to me this week with Father’s Day. This year I had bought my card well in advance, at the end of May. I remember feeling rather smug, and even thought of leaving it with my dad when I visited that weekend. But as it happened, we were busy enjoying ourselves, and when the time came to leave, the card was still in the wrapper, in my bag, and I thought to myself – it’s ok, I can post it, there’s plenty of time. Next thing I knew, it was Friday evening before Father’s Day, and I had missed the last post.

The problem with deadlines is they can have a tendency to creep up on us.

One minute they’re miles away, the next minute they’ve arrived. The time between well in advance and last minute panic doesn’t pass steadily – because let’s face it, there’s so much else going on.

It’s a classic case where a Do Date would be far more useful than a Due Date.

The idea was first introduced to me by fellow Ninja Dawn O’Connor, director of Think Productive Canada, who favours using the ‘Due Date’ field in Outlook Tasks as a ‘Do Date’ – the date you want to actually do the task rather than the date it needs to be done by.

Had I been looking for a Do Date to send my Father’s Day card, I would have picked a date much earlier in June to do this tiny task – given that I’ve been on the road all last week since Sunday. But because I was looking at the due date, I kept telling myself I still had time – until I didn’t.

The same applies for habits like getting to bed earlier, or leaving work on time. We can give ourselves deadlines for lights out or leaving the building, and overlook the fact that it takes time between deciding to stop what we’re doing, and actually making it out the door or into bed.

Think about it: what do you actually do on the way to bed, or out of the office? How much time does that actually take?

Granted, I don’t have the elaborate bed and bath time routines that my kids used to have, but I do at least have to get changed, go to the bathroom, clean my contact lenses, brush my teeth and set the alarm, and that always takes more than the minute I give myself when I decide it’s time for bed. And most nights I find myself picking stuff up on the way to bed – toys left on the floor, food left out in the kitchen, decisions to make for the next day like what to wear, conversations started with my husband that weren’t quite finished, and the book that I would love to be reading – had I gone to bed a little earlier.

The truth is, we’d probably have a much better chance of hitting that deadline if we give ourselves a defined time to start doing ‘bedtime’ or ‘work exit’, rather than just the time we hope to be done by.

What deadlines have a habit of creeping up and surprising you?

Whether it’s that big project with a deceptively distant deadline, a tiny task that theoretically could be done at any time, but in reality keeps falling through the gaps, or something you habitually find yourself running late on – what could you do with a ‘Do Date’ rather than a ‘Due Date’ for?

Let me know…

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