How to Manage Tasks Without a Due Date

How to divide your tasks into time-based buckets and create a review cadence so you don't get overwhelmed.

How many tasks do you have that don’t have to be done on a specific day?

Two common strategies for handling these are to schedule them on an arbitrary day, or to not schedule them at all, and hope they don’t get lost in an ever expanding list of things to do.

Today I’m going to teach you a different system that might work for you, or that you can adapt to your needs.

Why Arbitrary Dates Are Bad

Why not just set arbitrary dates for tasks?

Because too often we let our task manager dictate what we do each day. If it’s in our task manager, we do it, regardless of whether today is the best day for a task.

To help ensure we focus on what is most important each day, it’s helpful to keep scheduled tasks to those that have to be done on a specific day.

Otherwise, priorities change and schedules shift, so how could you know when to schedule a task a week or two in the future, much less a month or more?

To effectively manage your time, you need to avoid pre-committing to things on specific dates until you know when they should get done.

Why No Dates Are Bad

One solution to this is to never assign dates at all. But that leads to the opposite problem.

Instead our task manager showing us a task on a day it doesn’t need to be done, it never tells us about the task. The task just gets lost in the ever-growing list of unscheduled tasks—a list that can quickly grow monstrous and overwhelming.

The solution to both of these is to categorize your tasks by timeframe, then set up a cadence to regularly review these categories.

Categorize Your Tasks By Timeframe

Instead of specifying a specific date to do a task, specify a timeframe during which the task needs to get done or reviewed next. For instance:

  • This Week
  • This Month
  • This Quarter
  • This Year

This balances the need for tasks to get done within certain timeframes, with you being able to manage your time each day and be strategic about what you decide to do.

To give yourself more flexibility, you can also use more abstract categories:

  • Next
  • Soon
  • Later
  • Future

Then assign your own timeframes to each, and adjust these timeframes as needed:

  • Next: in the next 7 days
  • Soon: in the next 30 days
  • Later: in the next 3 months
  • Future: more than 3 months

If you are using a traditional task manager to manage your tasks, you can use tags or categories to assign the timeframe. If you are using a board-based system like Personal Kanban, make each timeframe a column on your board.

Review Timeframe Categories

Merely creating categories and assigning tasks to them isn’t enough though. You need to review your categories so you don’t forget about the tasks.

During the review, you’ll move any tasks whose timeframe has shifted to the new timeframe.

For instance, when reviewing the “Soon” category, you’ll move tasks whose time is approaching into the “Next” category, and tasks that no longer as pressing to the “Later” category.

Each day, you can then grab tasks from the “Next” category to decide what to work on for that day.

Create a Cadence To Review Categories

To ensure tasks get addressed in the correct timeframe, you’ll need to create a cadence for reviewing your categories regularly.

For instance, you might review each category using this cadence:

  • This Week / Next: Each day
  • This Month / Soon: Beginning of each week
  • This Quarter / Later: Beginning of each month
  • This Year / Future: Beginning of each quarter

Using a review cadence helps you optimize your time, so you don’t review tasks that are too far out, but don’t forget to review tasks whose time is approaching.

Schedule Recurring Tasks for Your Reviews

The final step is to making this system work is to schedule recurring tasks for your reviews. This helps ensure you review each category at the appropriate time.

For instance, you might have these recurring tasks set up in your task manager:

  • Every day: Review This Week / Next tasks
  • Every Monday: Review This Month / Soon tasks
  • 1st of the Month: Review This Quarter / Later tasks
  • 1st of the Quarter: Review This Year / Future tasks

When each task is due, open up that category in your task manager and review each task to decide whether it should be moved forward, back, or stay in its current timeframe.

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