Due versus Defer - Best Practice

A number of OmniFocus Gurus say Due Dates should be used sparingly, but the discussion ends there. Conceptually I understand the point of this but tasks without a date or have a defer date need to be managed and so time wise this seems to be a wash up for many?.

Quickly skimming this forum there seems to be quite a bit of discussion about this issue but no settled best practice approach.

Surely there is one?

Use due dates in those cases where the deadline is externally imposed. Use due dates as markers to give yourself a reward for completing something “on time”. Whatever the case, have a definitive reason to set a due date. Otherwise, when something as hard-set as a due date has more than one meaning on your planner, you will be using due dates excessively.

As for defer … defer when something has an external limit that prevents it from being possible until that time. For example, some folks say that can only make hay when the sun shines, so defer any hay-making tasks until sunrise. The alternative is to put projects on hold or to put tasks into a Waiting For context.

The best practice is whatever you make it from this point.


JJW

Personally I don’t use defer dates as I like to see the full picture of what’s ahead of me. But then I use due dates for frequent tasks more than infrequent ones and I keep bumping the due date.

Without this the mundane would never get done. And if I hid things from view with defer dates I wouldn’t be able to pace the tasks.

Martin, I used to practice the exact same method you describe. It was, as far as I was concerned at the time, the only way to ensure nothing slipped through the net. It worked well for me up to a point.
However; the more complex my OmniFocus database got with numerous small tasks that fell into the category of me placing arbitrary due dates on them, the more the system started to creak with rows of red circles screaming for attention! As you allude to, this meant ‘bumping’ the due dates into the future only for them to reappear and swamp me more red circles. It was unsustainable.
I read somewhere a suggestion about dumping all these sorts of tasks into another system. Sorry but that doesn’t work for me. I need everything in one system. I’ve tried and it only muddies the waters.
I decided to start using other methods such as using defer dates only for these regular but not critical tasks and accessing custom perspectives to see them. I would have a trigger action with a due date to remind me to check these perspectives.
However, Omnifocus has moved on since those days and we now have the custom tag that we can assign to any task to force it to appear on the Forecast perspective and in other perspectives where required.
I now use this method when reviewing my regular tasks and instead of using hard due dates, I now attach the custom tag to them and I have them appear in Forecast and in my custom perspective ‘Priorities Today’ where all tasks that are due soon and are tagged with the custom tag appear come what may. Additionally, this perspective also is set to show flagged items which I occasionally use for the same sort of tasks.
I used to be reticent to use flags at all, but I have gotten so used to regular reviewing of my tasks that I flag frequently and unflag frequently during review.
I have a dedicated chores perspective that catches a lot of tasks on this basis. It used to be a nightmare when using hard due dates, but with the modifications to my system and a different way of looking at these things, I’ve transformed my efficiency and calmed my stress levels.
Is it perfect…no. I sometimes miss the odd task but then it’s never critical anyway. If I have a chore that is critical it gets a due date. So bins collection every Monday is critical but disinfecting the kitchen sink isn’t.
I’d be interested to hear how others in the forum manage these sorts of tasks but for now at least (and for some years now) this is my preferred method.
Please don’t think I’m criticising your choice of method, I’m not. It’s just that I identify so strongly with what you are doing.

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I use due dates for “hard” deadlines, and defer dates to plan my week / day, taking my cue from @joebuhlig here:

Deferring tasks gives me an outline for any given day, without putting in the hard stop of a due date. this allows me to reschedule when needed/preferred, and keep balancing my workload with full transparancy.

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Thanks for this @revstu.

There are two kinds of “bump” I do:

  1. I didn’t do it today so I’ll have to, ahem, defer it to a realistic next opportunity.
  2. I did it today but I need to do it again next week on the same week day.

I don’t tend to get overwhelmed by red flags.

What does get tedious is bumping a fortnightly task by 2 weeks once I’ve done it - and I have a lot of these.

What I’ve never got on with is repeating tasks. Or just manually adding 1 task each week/fortnight/month. And I don’t get much endorphin out of ticking off a recurring task.

@MartinPacker That was exactly what I used to do. I can only imagine you don’t get too exercised by the appearance of lots of red circles? Perhaps you are more judicious in setting due dates than you give yourself credit for?

Personally I became overwhelmed with red circles but then I probably have lots of trivial tasks that you don’t 😑!

I’m glad you are happy enough with your system. I have tried other apps but they congregate all the tasks in one big overwhelming list in much the same way as due-dating every OF task and I can’t focus with lists like that.

I work off a very tightly controlled Today Perspective that only has a very small number of tasks shown at any time. I manage this with careful use of defer and due dates and setting my OF system to show only the remaining part of the day as ‘Due Soon’. This keeps my focus on just a few tasks at a time, and with the new custom tag (and flags), I can add to this perspective as I see the need. However, I guard this perspective very jealously keeping it exactly for what I need to remain focused.

If you are finding it annoying to defer your dates there are good scripts available to batch defer those tasks if they become difficult to manage. Perhaps you already use these?

I don’t really understand your issue with repeating tasks? I have a lot of repeating tasks and they are extremely useful for a whole buch of scenarios.

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Thanks to all who commented in this thread. I originally was perplexed about the best practice thing - use due dates sparingly. I thought perhaps there was a magical workflow I did not know about. In fact the best practice claim is moot or at least use case specific.

If you have low volumes of action tasks a due date regime is quite doable - but if a user has a lot of stuff going on in any one day there clearly needs to be some sort of filter to ensure mission critical stuff gets done. Obviously context and personal preference determine how OmniFocus is actually exploited. Slow on the uptake … but I think I have “got it” now. :-)

I don’t understand my issue with repeating tasks, either. :-)

It’s probably twofold:

  • Something about the mechanics didn’t work for me early in their life. I vaguely recall it being something about what happens if you move or delete one - as I would.
  • I don’t get much out of ticking off a completed task. But then most of my tasks aren’t “one and done”. I’m doing more of those now - and am going to be leaning on templates more to generate “one and done” tasks. For example, the tasks around running a client engagement.

What you’re gently telling me is it’s time for a rethink. If so, I would agree. But not quite yet.

Thanks @revstu!