"Due" Dates vs. "Do" Dates

As a college student, I have a lot of things “due” on certain dates, but I, of course, want to “do” the majority of the work for those assignments before that due date. So I made a generalized “due/do” table for when things are due for the semester and when I plan to do them during the week. It works great for assignments that are always due on the same day of the week, but not every professor organizes the workload that way.

I use Omnifocus and Google Calendar. I like to keep things digital because it’s convenient and time-saving.

Does it make more sense to put the actual due dates in Google Calendar and set the “due dates” for when to “do” work in Omnifocus? Or is there a better way to integrate this soft/hard due date information?

For example, I have Modern Physics lab reports due every Wednesday. I try to get the majority of that work done on Sundays. So I would put the due date, Wednesday, in my Google Calendar. And I would put the “due date” to do that assignment in Omnifocus on Sunday.

It seems to generally work, but I don’t like the fact that there’s a sort of disconnect for each task. Especially when it’s a type of task that isn’t due on a scheduled day every week. I have to manually look up when the task is actually due on Google Calendar. It’s not automatically integrated into Omnifocus.

Does anyone have any suggestions or comments on the issue?

I would recommend leaving the due date as the “true” time when the task is due, not when you intend to do it. For that I would use the defer date. That way, the tasks pops up in your perspectives when you can or want to do it, but in case of changing priorities, you can still adjust the execution, knowing when the task is truly due.


Ah. So are you saying that you can set defer dates before the due date? I had originally thought defer dates were to push a due date further into the future if you didn’t get to it.

Yes, a defer date (also known as start date or - in GTD terminology - tickler date) would logically always be before the due date. In other words:

defer date: This is when I can or want to start working on this
due date: This is when it has to be finished


Wow! I feel so silly never knowing that. This changes everything! Thank you for clarifying!

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Here are some suggestions on assignments from the other side of the fence if you will …

  • Set an overall due date to when the assignment is to be submitted.

  • Set defer dates only when something from OUTSIDE your control resets when you can actually work on the assignment. Do NOT use defer dates to set when you want to start working on something. Whether you realize or not, you want to start on any assignment as soon as you have it in your hands.

  • Break the assignment in to four parts (Action Groups) in an OmniFocus project

  • Prepare: Review all problems on the assignment. Make sure you know what the questions are asking. Create a mental or physical checklist of things that you might immediately see will be needed to solve the entire assignment. Set a due date on this as two lectures before the assignment is due. Allow yourself this as a way to ask questions on the assignment.

  • Do: Attempt every problem. Get as far as you can. Set a due date as the lecture before the assignment is due. Allow yourself this as a way to ask remaining questions on the assignment.

  • Finish: Complete everything. Clean up the formatting. Dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Turn it in. Set the due date as a reasonable time before the assignment is due. I suggest an hour. For computer assignments, this is a leeway for computer glitches. For assignments handed in during the lecture, this is a leeway to be sure it is really done before you walk in to the class.

  • Review: Review your answers in comparison to the key. Note any remaining questions. Set a defer date as after the due date for the entire assignment.

When you sit down with you list in front of you for the day, do anything that is due that day. Then, flag anything else that is on your next actions and do them.

I would hope that your instructors are using the classroom management tools effectively that you do not have to enter your own due dates in a calendar app. In case not, I’m not sure that I’d waste my time doing it myself. Trust the OmniFocus Forecast view to be your one source to track assignments. Otherwise, you’ll likely confuse yourself (… did I put this in Google too or not … oh gosh … and I missed this one too … or maybe not … wait I better check this one too) and ultimately waste too much just time managing what you think you need to do instead of just doing what you need to do.



I also use several other tricks in OmniFocus. In the preferences setting, I set due soon to 1 week. I always like to get ahead of myself and try to finish tasks early so that I don’t hit the last minute frenzy and burn myself out.

I set the defer date to a time that is several days before the due date. Usually one to two weeks prior to the due date.

For example, I might have a defer date of April 1 and a due date of April 7.

When the task is about 7 days out, I see my task 's status turn yellow, I know that I really have to work on it now.

Psychologically, we tend to be concerned with events that are due within the next 7 days. Anything further is at the outer boundaries of our mind. But as time passes, events start approaching and we become more concerned as the due date draws closer.

The yellow status circle is a powerful reminder to get my butt into gear. It works best when I set “due soon” to 1 week.

Another adjustment I make is to change the view settings in the forecast perspective to show deferred tasks. Whenever I visit the forecast perspective in enmorning, I can see a list of tasks that became available today. Or I can look into the next few dates and see what will become available in the very near future.


Just to add my own two cents here, I take a slightly different approach, but still make heavy use of defer dates and — in my case — flags and I’m also fairly hardcore about the weekly review process.

I leave “Due Soon” set to “Today”, although even that doesn’t have a huge impact for me due to the way my perspectives are formed. My main working perspective, which I call “Hotlist” is set to only show me available flagged or due items. This means that the only items that are going to appear in here are those that are due today, or are flagged and are past the defer date (or have no defer date).

I plan each week when i get to my desk on Monday morning. That’s when I grab a cup of coffee and pull up the OmniFocus “Review” mode. I go through every project that’s due for review and decide what I’m going to do about it this week, if anything…

  • If I know I’m not going to get to a project this week at all, either because I just don’t have the bandwidth, or it’s just not that important/urgent, I leave it alone and move on. It will not show up in my Hotlist at all during that week, but will come up again during the next review cycle for that project.
  • If there’s something with an upcoming due date, I will either leave it to float until that due date (if it’s something I know can be done quickly enough), or flag it so that it appears in my “Hotlist” right away. So I might see a task that’s due Friday — or even next Wednesday — and realize that I need more lead time to work on it, and flag it right away so that it stays on my Hotlist.
  • Anything that I see that I want to start working on this week gets flagged.
  • Defer dates are then used to schedule my week; if I don’t plan on getting at something until Wednesday, for instance, I’ll flag it and set Wednesday as the defer date. It’s off my radar until then, but will pop up Wednesday morning.

The result of all of this is that my “Hotlist” contains tasks that are actionable in the short term — I usually go for a 1-3 day window or things I want to do, depending on how full the list is, but I find that too much clutter gets very distracting and causes me to lose focus, so I make heavy use of defer dates to keep the list manageable and prioritize based on what I’m going to do first, deferring other tasks to later in the week, and leaving almost everything that’s not actionable for the current week unflagged and waiting for the next review cycle (the exception is those tasks that have a fixed and known future start date, which will stay flagged with a defer date for that future time — I’m still going to see most of those in my reviews, but if I know the defer/start date when I create the task, it makes more sense to just pre-set that from the beginning).

I also rarely worry about due dates that are on the distant horizon, as I break my projects down into bite-sized chunks with next actions that are always nearer-term. I may have a report or article due on Friday, but there are usually a half-dozen or more other things that need to happen before that final due date, and those are the near-term tasks. For example, if I’m writing a review of a product, I’ll have steps for photographing the product, doing testing, taking notes, etc. Those actions will have shorter-term due dates, or simply be flagged, leading up to the final task, which includes the deadline to publish the actual review.

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