Banish the Overdue Task!



What happens when you don’t accomplish everything that was on your list for today? Usually, we either leave that stuff in an “overdue” status, or move it to tomorrow without really evaluating when it actually should be done. But how is that working out for you? Does the tomorrow list just keep getting bigger? There are days after tomorrow, and when we are thinking about our task lists, we should be thinking beyond today and tomorrow.

If you’re an ambitious person, let’s face it, your task-eyes are bigger than your task-stomach, and you’re just not going to get to it all, every single day. You’re a real human, living in the real world. So in all likelihood, what you’ve put on your list for today is a stretch and you might not get to to it all and that’s ok.

When thinking about tasks and timelines, there are a few philosophical things to consider:

  1. Work expands to fill the time allotted.  So, if you have a bit more on your plate than you think you can handle, well, that might actually be a good thing.  You’ll be pushing yourself to accomplish more, in a shorter time. And you’ll be more likely to do it as a result of the time constraints that you’ve put around your work.

  2. If you are prioritizing appropriately, what you didn’t get to today is, by definition, the least important stuff you had to do today.  So instead of feeling bad that you didn’t get it ALL done, feel GREAT that you got the important stuff done, which, honestly, is better than most people are doing.

  3. Over time, and with practice and attention, it’s possible to get better at estimating more realistically what you can accomplish in a day.  Pay attention to how much buffer time you need. Pay attention to how much time you need to answer incoming email.  Pay attention to how long it takes you to submit those expense reports. As Peter Drucker so famously wrote, “What gets measured, gets managed.” And when you start paying attention, you’ll get better at estimating what is actually doable in a day, for you.

And that’s all well and good, but I bet you’re thinking, “Well, what do I actually do with those tasks that aren’t done, but are still sitting on my TODAY list?”  

Well, I’ll tell you: You go ahead and reprioritize them.

You change the next action date to the next date that it makes sense. Maybe that’s tomorrow. But maybe some stuff came in today that is more important for you to do tomorrow than these items still hanging out on your today list.  So, you just reprioritize them for later.

When you have a true system for your tasks, you can think of it as a sort of a living, breathing thing. It isn’t static, because neither is your work or your life. It needs to be flexible, and most importantly, it needs to reflect real life. The reality is that you DIDN’T get those things done today, and it helps no one to leave them in that anxiety heightening, often bright red, with-an-exclamation-mark state in your to-do app.  

We can’t go back to the past, so leaving something as overdue is unrealistic. It needs to be prioritized for the future to reflect the reality that that’s when you’ll get to it. The future.

So please, banish the overdue task.

You can only move forward, so do it.

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