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Using Start Dates, Due Dates and Priorities to manage your tasks

martingchapman says:
Use the four Priorities (P) and Due Dates to categorise your tasks, as follows;

Priority and Due Date
P1 – MUST complete by Due Date (mandatory Deadline)
P2 – WILL complete by Due Date (mandatory set/postpone Due Date as required)
P3 – WANT to complete Someday (optional Start/Due dates)
P4 – MAY complete One Day (optional Start/Due dates)
(note: in RTM terms P4 is “no priority”)

At the end of this post is an explanation of why I think a mandatory Due Date for P1 and P2 tasks is so important.

Start Date
Start Dates are entirely optional but should be used to define when a Task will appear on the “Action Now” Smart list (see below) so you can start working on it at the appropriate time.
Due Dates are mandatory for P1 and P2 tasks, whether they have a Start Date or not.
Due Dates and Start Dates are optional for P3 and P4 tasks.
No task can have only a Start Date, if it has a Start Date it must also have a Due Date.
When a task repeats or is postponed, RTM uses only the Due Date parameter to compute the new Due Date. The new Start Date will be set by decrementing the new Due Date by the number of days the original Start Date was offset from the original Due Date.

Use the following three “Smart Lists” to manage your tasks

Action Now
Shows P1/P2 tasks that are overdue, due today or not due yet but are on/past their start date (as a “catch all” it will also show P1/P2 tasks that do not have a Start and Due date).
These are the tasks you must be working on now.
A P1 task Due Date is the Deadline, you must complete it by then, only change the Due Date if the Deadline changes.
A P2 task Due Date is not a deadline but is the target for when you intend to complete it.
If a P2 tasks reaches its Due Date and you have not completed it, or you know before the Due Date that you will not complete it by the Due Date, then you must postpone it to a future Due Date that is more realistic (in RTM web use the “P” keyboard shortcut to Postpone tasks).
In this way you are dynamically reviewing and managing your tasks as an ongoing process, you do not have to put time aside to review your current task list, you are doing it every time you view the list.
Smart list parameters;
((startBefore:tomorrow OR dueBefore:tomorrow) OR (startBefore:tomorrow AND dueAfter:today)) OR ((priority:1 OR priority:2) AND (start:never AND due:never))
View settings;
If you are not RTM Pro - “Sort by Priority”.
If you are RTM Pro - Sort by advanced “Sort by Priority: Added Date: group by Due Date”

Action Next
Shows all P3 tasks, with and without Start/Due Dates.
These are the tasks you want to do NEXT when you have finished the current P1/P2 tasks, or have the capability to take on some more work. They are the “roundtuit” tasks that live in the back of your mind, to do when you “get around to it”, but they are not your current focus which is the Action Now list.
When you are ready to do one of these tasks change its Priority to 1 or 2 and set a Due Date, or Start Date and Due Date as appropriate.
P3 tasks can have Start/Due dates as indicators of when you think they could be done but they will not appear on the Action Now list until you change them to P1 or P2.
Smart list parameters;
priority:3
View settings;
If you are not RTM Pro - “Sort by Due Date”.
If you are RTM Pro - Sort by advanced “Sort by Due Date: group by List”

Action One day
Shows all P4 (no priority) tasks
These are the tasks you dream about doing but may never ever get round to.
If you decide you do want to complete one of these tasks someday, change its priority to 3 so it goes on the Action Next list.
If you decide to complete one of these tasks now, change the Priority to 1 or 2 and set a Due Date or Start Date and Due Date as appropriate.
Smart list parameters
priority:none
View settings;
If you are not RTM Pro - “Sort by Due Date”.
If you are RTM Pro - Sort by advanced “Sort by Due Date: group by List”

Why P1 and P2 tasks should always have a Due date.
A Due date is mandatory on P1 tasks because it is a Deadline date, P1 tasks must not be Postponed.

Why do I advocate always setting a Due date on P2 tasks, when it is not a deadline.
When managing your work it is very easy to procrastinate and put things off to another day, so to reduce this tendency all my P2 tasks have Due dates.
In reality these are the dates by which I will complete the task or Postpone it to a later date.
They then become “Complete/Postpone” dates and provide an automatic mechanism for reviewing my P2 tasks as an ongoing process.

You may think giving tasks “Complete/Postpone” dates generates unnecessary overhead however, it forces me to look at them and think about when I will do them, or when I will look at them again in the future (postpone) or even, if I still need/want to do them now.
Having a “Complete/Postpone” date keeps them popping up and encourages me to action them. I can either work on and complete them, or postpone them to a later date when they will pop up for action/review again.

I have tried working with and without “Complete/Postpone” dates and I am far more productive when tasks have them because they “nag” me into doing them, eventually I get fed up seeing the same task pop up again and again and this forces me to complete it.

It is so easy to postpone selected single/multiple tasks using the “P”+”X” keyboard shortcut (web interface) where “X” is the number of days/weeks/months or even years to postpone, I do not see it as a burden.
Also, if you are constantly postponing certain P2 tasks then you should consider if these tasks should be P2, maybe they are really P3 or even P4 tasks and you should re-classify them.

A P1/P2 task without a Start and/or Due date will appear on the “Action Now” Smart List, this is a safeguard in case a P1/P2 task gets added with no dates, however I also have the RTM default set so any new task automatically has the Due Date set to Today, so this should not happen.

To use my setup you do not have to use “Complete/Postpone” dates for P2 tasks (undated P1/P2 tasks will appear on the ”Action Now” Smart List), but I strongly advise you try and use them from the start to get into the habit of fully managing your tasks.
Posted at 11:50am on December 8, 2017
martingchapman says:
Correction to the above regards postponing a task;
The existing paragraph -
"When a task repeats or is postponed, RTM uses only the Due Date parameter to compute the new Due Date. The new Start Date will be set by decrementing the new Due Date by the number of days the original Start Date was offset from the original Due Date."
Should read -
"When a task is Postponed RTM increments the Due Date only, the Start Date does not change. However when a task with a Start Date repeats RTM uses the repeat interval to compute the new Due Date. The new Start Date will be set by decrementing the new Due Date by the number of days the original Start Date was offset from the original Due Date."

Apologies for any confusion.
Posted 5 months ago
stevenfischerwi says:
Thank you for sharing your approach. I am going to give it a try. I appreciate how specific you are in guidance around respecting priority and deadline - I too find this self-discipline is the only way to keep myself productive.
Posted 15 weeks ago
martingchapman says:
Cheers Steven,
Any problems or questions post them here and I will respond.
Martin.
Posted 14 weeks ago
stevenfischerwi says:
I've implemented your approach and have a few suggestions and comments:

- Viewing P1 and P2s grouped by day is brilliant, especially how it encourages built-in reviews

- Suggestion: I tag tasks with a #w for things I'm waiting for. I adjusted the Action Now smart list to show 'waiting for' tasks on the day they are due.

- Suggestion: I like the ability to drag-and-drop tasks when I am planning my work session. I created an "Action Now Sorted" smart list that is sorted by drag-and-drop. I can then drag things around to my hearts' content when I want to plan my day.

- Frustration: I have a P1 deadline due Friday, but unless I look ahead at Friday I might prioritize less important tasks due Today over it.

- Frustration: It's difficult to get sub-tasks to show up in the smart list, even if they are due today. I learned that it's because RTM will not show sub-tasks in a smart list if the 'parent' task is also visible.

Thanks again for getting me started!
Posted 14 weeks ago
martingchapman says:
Steven, thanks for the comments, here are my thoughts;

- Viewing P1 and P2s grouped by day is brilliant, especially how it encourages built-in reviews
Thanks, I do not have the discipline for regular reviews so this way, doing them “on the fly” works best for me.

- Suggestion: I tag tasks with a #w for things I'm waiting for. I adjusted the Action Now smart list to show 'waiting for' tasks on the day they are due.
I have a tag (called “wait”) for these tasks, and I have added the tag to my Favourites which shows any task with the “wait” tag, irrespective of Start/Due Dates. The “Action Now” Smart List should show any task with a valid Start/Due Date, with or without a tag so you should not have had to adjust the smart list parameters to show your #w tagged tasks.

- Suggestion: I like the ability to drag-and-drop tasks when I am planning my work session. I created an "Action Now Sorted" smart list that is sorted by drag-and-drop. I can then drag things around to my hearts' content when I want to plan my day. 
If that works for you then great. Personally I only use drag and drop to order Project sub tasks (more on projects at the end of this post). I prefer to let normal tasks order themselves based on Priority and Start/Due Dates, moving them around adds another layer of decision making that I find unnecessary.

- Frustration: I have a P1 deadline due Friday, but unless I look ahead at Friday I might prioritize less important tasks due Today over it. 
Does this P1 task also have a Start Date? If not then it is right that it only appears on Friday in which case you can only work on it on Friday. Otherwise, if you can work on it before the Friday deadline then give it a Start Date. Then, when the Start Date comes the Friday task will appear towards the end of the “Action Now” smart list and as it is P1 it should have a red marker so it stands out. Whenever you scan the “Action Now” smart list looking for tasks to work on make sure that you scroll to the end, then you will not miss anything. Also, can I suggest that if you have a P2 task due today but you are not going to work on it because you choose to work on the P1 task due Friday, then postpone the P2 task to after Friday, don’t leave it there with today's Due date as it clearly does not need to be completed by today.

- Frustration: It's difficult to get sub-tasks to show up in the smart list, even if they are due today. I learned that it's because RTM will not show sub-tasks in a smart list if the 'parent' task is also visible.
What are you using sub-tasks for? I only use them for project actions. I set up a Project with a top-level task as the container for the project actions, which are then added as sub-tasks of the top-level task. This is the only time I use drag-and-drop, in order to organise project actions into the order in which the project needs them to be done. I then allocate Start/Due Dates to the project sub-tasks as appropriate. I never add Dates to the top level “Container” task, all this task does is hold the project action tasks and it never appears on the “Action Now” Smart List, however any project action task with Start/Due Dates will appear on the “Action Now” Smart List on the allocated date. I have a tag called “project” added to my Favourites. I allocate this tag to the top level task of every project (but not to the project sub-tasks) this way I can easily review my projects by selecting this tag.

Hope this helps – Martin.
Posted 13 weeks ago
emily (Remember The Milk) says:
Hi Martin,

Great setup! Thanks for sharing all of this -- you're this week's Tips & Tricks Tuesday winner, and we've added a free year of Pro to your Remember The Milk account. :)
Posted 12 weeks ago
martingchapman says:
Thanks Emily, much appreciated.
Posted 12 weeks ago
stevenfischerwi says:
Martin - thanks for the detailed reply, you are a guru :). Your guidance on projects and sub-tasks was especially helpful.
Posted 11 weeks ago
jebr says:
Hi is the logic correct? “((startBefore:tomorrow OR dueBefore:tomorrow) OR (startBefore:tomorrow AND dueAfter:today))” - wouldn’t the startBefore:tomorrow being true make the 2nd AND condition redundant? - if it is true the 1st condition is true, if not the AND would be false.
Posted 11 weeks ago
martingchapman says:
@stevenfischerwi
Thanks for the kind words, glad to have been of help.

@jebr
Yes you are correct, well spotted.
It is a hang over from when I first wrote the query.
Initially I build in all the possible query parameters, test the query and then take out the apparently redundant parameters one by one to make sure the query still works.
In this instance I missed the fact that the second parameter is actually redundant and can be removed.
I have now taken it out, but will monitor for a few weeks to make sure nothing changes.
For anyone (still) interested the simplified Action Now Smart LIst looks like this -

(startBefore:tomorrow OR dueBefore:tomorrow) OR ((priority:1 OR priority:2) AND (start:never AND due:never)) NOT isTagged:true NOT isSubtask:true

Thanks again for taking an interest and pointing this out - Martin.
Posted 10 weeks ago
jebr says:
I was impressed with your set-up so have been trying to move over to it - mainly having to add start dates to things I can do early so they appear in the Action Now list. I also had lists of house refurbishment ideas with P1 and P2 tasks - I ended up just excluding that entire list from the SmartLists.

Thanks for taking the time to write up your set-up along with the reasoning!
Posted 10 weeks ago
martingchapman says:
@jebr
You're welcome, glad you found it useful.
Perhaps you could take the house refurbishment ideas a step further and turn them into projects, using sub-tasks as described above.
If you are not ready to do them yet make them P3 or P4, but having them structured into projects may make it easier when you do decide to do them.
Posted 10 weeks ago
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