When is this thing really due?

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Are your calendar and task manager filled with due dates and deadlines you regularly fail to meet? I’m not talking about statutory or contractual deadlines; I’m sure you have these under control.

Because you have to.

Bad things happen when you miss “hard” deadlines.

I’m talking about “soft” deadlines, dates you assign to your tasks and projects that you would like to meet but often don’t.

There are ways to turn a soft deadline into a hard one, making it much more likely that you’ll meet it. Tell a client when you’ll have something ready for them, for example, and they (and your fear of losing the client) will usually hold you accountable to getting it done as promised.

But there’s something else you can do to prevent yourself from missing soft deadlines.

Stop setting them.

Many “experts” advise scheduling due dates for everything. The problem is, most people aren’t very good at estimating how long things will take, or what they will be working on weeks or months in advance, and wind up missing many of their due dates.

When you routinely miss soft deadlines without penalty, your brain learns that it is okay to miss due dates, and eventually ignores them.

It’s dispiriting to continually move tasks from one (missed) due date to another. It makes you feel like your tasks are in charge of you instead of the other way around.

A better system is to reserve “due” dates for hard dates only (meetings, filing deadlines, appointments, and things you’ve promised to get done). For everything else, use a “do” date or “start” date.

“Do” dates and “start” dates are aspirational. You plan to do something or start something on a certain date, but there are no negative consequences if you don’t. They’re not deadlines, they’re reminders.

For long-term projects, or projects you’re not sure you’re ready to start, you can also schedule periodic reminders or “review” dates.

Or you can do what I do.

I only record hard deadlines.

Everything else I need to do, or want to do, I keep on lists, and schedule hard deadlines to review those lists.

Once I week, I go through my lists and decide what I want (or need) to work on that week (or soon). I move these to another list.

I go through that list every day (or the night before) and decide what to work on that day.

I may not know what I’ll be working on next week or next month, but I get things done and never worry about missing a deadline.

If you use Evernote for your lists, check out my Evernote for Lawyers ebook

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