Defer Until or Place on Hold

I’m trying to work out when to use Defer Until and when to place a project On Hold. I seem to find myself picking one or the other with no real consistency. Does anyone have any advice on how they make the distinction between placing a project on hold or deferring it instead.

Since only Projects (or Contexts) can be placed On Hold, I will place a project on hold

  • if it is Someday/Maybe but for whatever reason I want to capture ideas or plan it more before removing it from OF.
  • if it cannot be completed this week due to a big change handed to me by health, family, or boss

I use Defer Until only for projects to the completion of which I am committed but literally cannot start until the defer date. One example as a teacher would be to order awards for a Speech Meet. I cannot place the order until I know the winners and that only happens on a future calendar date. These projects might also be considered action groups in a larger, sequential project.

Defer Until is more useful to me at the level of tasks, especially in repeating actions.

Interested to see what other users have to offer.

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I only use defer for tasks. Most of the time I defer a task:

  • if I cannot start it before some condition is met, for example a certain date to be reached
  • if I find my next list too full: I defer tasks that are not urgent

I put projects on hold for things I want to do more thinking about or that are not very concrete (someday/maybe), for example “Holiday trip to China”

An important difference between defer and hold: you will encounter deferred tasks automatically when the defer date is reached, you have to check the hold list (someday/maybe) every once in a while (I use review for this).

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I use a combination of both, although it’s important to note that I also primarily work from lists of flagged items on a daily basis, so that basically creates an extra level of actionability for me.

Essentially, with the exception of some very specific projects and contexts, anything that isn’t flagged is off my immediate radar and only comes up during review periods – daily or weekly reviews. My weekly reviews include everything that’s flagged for review, however I only do “full” daily reviews when I have a shortage of actionable tasks – no sense looking for more things to do when I’ve already got a full plate. I’ve already written about this in a much longer post at Removing Duplicate Tasks from Forecast View? so I won’t repeat myself too much here.

I use defer dates in two ways, which I’ll refer to as “hard” defer dates and “soft” defer dates. “Hard” defer dates are at some fixed future point where I know that I won’t be able to do something before that time, as others have already described. These tasks will be flagged and have a defer date set on them, so that they come up in my “Hotlist” (all available due or flagged items) when the defer date arrives.

“Soft” defer dates are usually only used on a weekly basis, as part of my weekly review. On Monday morning, I go through everything, flag what I want to accomplish during the upcoming week, and then defer things that I know that I probably won’t be able to get to until later in the week. That’s all part of my weekly planning cycle, and just keeps my “Hotlist” from getting cluttered at the beginning of the week. I very rarely defer things more than a week out in this case, as anything that I’m not going to get to this week will simply be picked up during the next weekly review.

I will place projects “on hold” in much the same way as anybody else here does – generally things that have some external action holding that them is outside of my control. For example, if I’m waiting for a client to get back to me with a go-ahead for a project where there’s no need for me to take any action whatsoever, that project goes “on hold” until it can actually begin. That said, if it’s something I need to follow up on, then the project remains active, with the next action being to contact the client and ask if they’ve made a decision yet.

I use three “on hold” contexts for individual tasks as well… Waiting, On Hold, and Simmering Pot.

Waiting is for things where I’m specifically waiting for some other external action to occur. However, because of the way OmniFocus handles on hold contexts, I often don’t set a task to “Waiting” until it’s otherwise available. I’ve been sort of thinking about the ramifications of making “Waiting” an active context instead of an “on hold” context for that reason, but haven’t had time to really work that out yet.

“On Hold” is for individual tasks that may be on hold for whatever reason. This usually is only used for items from single action lists, where I can’t realistically put the whole list “on hold.” It’s really just a substitution for not being able to mark individual tasks as being on hold.

“Simmering Pot” is for tasks that need some more thought or brainstorming before I can move forward with them. Someday/Maybe stuff tends to go into here, as well as other longer-term projects. Often this is where tasks in single action lists live before they’re later turned into full projects. Basically, stuff on the back burner that I don’t want to forget about, but that hasn’t fully been fleshed out yet.

Great writeup by jdh!

I forgot that I also have projects on hold that contain items where I am waiting for. Mostly this is waiting for someone to do something.