One of the key strategies we teach in our Smart Work program is the idea of managing the Start Date of a task, not the Due Date. The premise here is that if your task list is sorted by Due Dates, there is a greater risk that you may fall into the trap of leaving things until they get close to the deadline and have become urgent before you do them. So, we recommend sorting your task list by Start Date so that your tasks appear in your schedule when you need to start working on them, rather than when they are due.
But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t keep a keen eye on the Due Date. In fact, I think you should make your key deadlines highly visible so that they really stand out and don’t catch you by surprise. One of my clients told me a great story about a team member who was caught by surprise with a deadline.
The executive involved was getting pressure from the business on a critical deadline. He called the team member who was working on the task to check where he was at with the report, which was due by COB that day. The team member said to him ‘We have plenty of time, it is not due until the 1st of October’.
The executive’s response was ‘This is the 1st of October!’
The team member was obviously extremely busy with other priorities, and time had slipped by without him realising that the deadline was upon them. Thank goodness the executive checked, and they were able to get it over the line. But can you imagine how both their days, and possibly the team’s day was thrown into reactive chaos?
To avoid this situation, we recommend organising your task list by Start Date, but also highlighting key deadlines in one of two ways. You could put the due date into the subject line of your task like below:
Finalise documents for BAS return – D1/10 (D=due)
Alternatively, you could schedule an All-Day Event into your calendar on the Due Date. This will put a visible bar at the top of your calendar for that day. Being an All-Day Event, this does not block out your time for that day, but it does make the deadline visible in your schedule when you are forward planning. Sometimes I will put a reminder on the event one-week before the deadline so that I am sure it will be on my radar screen before the due date.
If you want to help your team reduce the unproductive urgency they have to deal with, work proactively and make your deadlines visible!