Every so often, I try to examine my toolset for possible improvements. Not so much in terms of finding new apps (although that happens too), but in terms of improving how I use the apps already in my toolset.

And, as I’ve mentioned in the past, OmniFocus is always one where I see bad habits creep in. There are a few that consistently make my “system” less efficient and increase rather than decrease a sense of anxiety.

Arbitrary Due Dates

This is one that has been a problem for me since I started using GTD type apps. I outlined this problem in the link above:

In my old job, all side projects, life responsibilities, and the odd Campaign Monitor task were added to OmniFocus. I was a heavy user of due dates, but the reality was these dates were fictitious. It was more a case of when I’d like this task to be done or worked on. This could be a problem as some tasks truly were due on a specific day, but they would be mixed in with other tasks in the Forecast view that were more wishful thinking than anything else.

I recognize this is a problem, yet I still have a fallback habit of setting these dates.

And after my recent analysis of my habits, I realized that there is another cause of my problematic usage of due dates: fear. Although these specific tasks are not due at a particular time, I have a sense of when I want to attempt to deal with them. And so I set a due date because I fear that I’ll forget about the task entirely.

This is not an issue of the task itself, but another problem entirely.

Daily (and Weekly) Reviews

The problem above? My lack of regular reviews. My sub-conscious wants to set these dates to trigger my memory at a specific time. Since I’m bad at reviewing my projects regularly, I’ve developed this habit of setting a due date to bring a task back to my attention.

If I were conducting routine reviews, I would see these tasks and flag them at the appropriate time. So the due date is problematic, but it’s not the problem. It’s the symptom.

Solution: Plan, Regularly

Sven Fechner details a better overall routine using different perspectives.

Each day in the morning and sometimes even the night before I sit down and plan out my day. There are things I need to do and things I want to accomplish and more often than not they are more than I have time for.

He has a planning perspective that he uses daily to create a list of tasks appropriate for each day. Cal Newport has a similar process:

I take time blocking seriously, dedicating ten to twenty minutes every evening to building my schedule for the next day. During this planning process I consult my task lists and calendars, as well as my weekly and quarterly planning notes. My goal is to make sure progress is being made on the right things at the right  pace for the relevant deadlines.

I would do well to come up with a similar habit. Daily might be overkill, but weekly is not quite enough for me.

Recurring Numbness

One last issue to mention is the repetition of recurring tasks. There are several tasks that my past self has deemed important enough that they should recur every 1 or 2 weeks. However, my present self often finds that, in the moment, I don’t want to tackle the specific task. Or, it doesn’t feel like a priority. I can check it off and ignore it for now, because it’ll just come back next week!

Solution: Analyze

In some cases, this is not a terrible thing. We’re not slaves to these systems. But if I find myself ignoring this task for the third or fourth week in a row, I ask myself a couple of questions:

  • Is this still important? Perhaps I can delete this task from OmniFocus entirely.
  • Has it become a habit? In some cases, the task in question has become a regular part of my routine and I don’t need to see it in my task list any more.
  • Does it need to be so routine? Perhaps the item is still important enough it needs to be done, but perhaps it’s not needed so regularly as I originally thought when making it a recurring task.

Just recognizing the act of ignoring this task for several weeks in a row is usually enough to cause me to pause and ask these questions. The answers tell me whether it’s fine to continue on as is, or to make a change.