From Shawn Blanc:
I virtually never use Start Dates, and so my daily to-do list is usually filled with a dozen items which I want to do that day, but perhaps only one or two of them need to be done.
David Sparks recommends using Start Dates to populate your future-to-do list, and use Due Dates only for those items which have consequence if they are not done by the day they’re due.
Over the past week, I’ve been talking a lot about OmniFocus, but I haven’t really focused in on the biggest change that came from adopting this system and watching David’s excellent walkthrough1. When using Things, everything had or didn’t have a Due Date. OmniFocus, on the other hand, introduced the idea of Start Dates.
I used to use Due Dates to remind me to start tasks. Now I only use them to remind me when they are due. This way when I see yellow (OmniFocus’ default color for items that are looming) or red (items that are due or past due) I know I need to focus and get them done. Using Due Dates in this way alongside Start Dates gave me a clear way to separate the “want-to-do” items on my list from those I “need-to-do”.
At first, like Shawn, I never used Start Dates, but over time, they have become the best way to focus in on my day. Sure, I could use flag the tasks I want to accomplish and leave everything on the list, but using Start Dates to either defer tasks until a specific date or even push something forward a day or two gets unnecessary information temporarily off my screen and out of my head. More than anything else, this has helped me to better plan my days and balance the work I want to do with the things that need to get done in a given day.
If you haven’t experimented with Start Dates, give them a try. While your mileage will certainly vary, this subtle shift was game changing for me.