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In a GTD system, I have (among other things) a list of "next actions" organized by context, which are things that I have decided I should act on at my discretion, and a calendar, which shows things that need to happen on a particular day.

How do I register items that are actionable now but have a deadline by which they should be done? If I put them in next actions, then I have no solid way of making sure they get my attention when then deadline comes around, because next actions are not organized by date.

If I put them in the calendar, I will end up doing everything at the last minute, or I'd have to sprinkle my system with "reminders" that I will go numb to.

A typical example of such a task is answering a letter or email on some official business or paying a bill.

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4 Answers 4

I simply schedule an email sometime in the future to remind me to do something. I guess I would call it a tickler email. Since email is one of my inboxes for actionable items, I can trust that I'll see it in time to complete a task. Combined with constant processing, its unlikely a task would be overlooked.

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So this is a tricky one - here's my take:

First of all let's distinguish between 'tasks that have to happen on a particular day/time' with 'tasks that have to happen by a particular day/time', which is what I think you really are about.

So, embarrassingly, and against a number of sources of advice, my next action list is sorted by the time that the task arrived in the box, newest tasks at the top, oldest at the bottom.

One of my ways of dealing with the inefficiencies that the sort-by-entry-time method causes is to make a rule that everyday I must do the oldest task in the list and I make a general conscious effort to attack the list from the bottom up. This means I've got a 'time-window' in my next actions - I always know that all of the actions have arrived on the list in the last n days, normally this is a around five, right now it's about three. Having this 'sliding window' of next actions has the nice consequence that I know that I'm very likely to get to anything that's needed in the next five days in advance (I also review the list every morning to make sure nothing goes missing) - this nicely takes care of any deadlines further away than this. One of the really nice things about adopting a GTD-like workflow has been that deadlines tend never to get any closer than that and the problem solves itself

If, on the other hand, you get handed something that needs a very fast turnaround - that classic example is a boss giving you something and saying 'do this my tomorrow' - then we have a different problem, and actually my approach is to do it immediately - if I can't do it immediately - then it stays in my (external inbox) - marked unread so it will catch my eye every single time I look at my inbox. Those are the things that really need working on and, by definition, everything else in your stack is not as urgent...

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+1 for details on how you handle your list - very enlightening and one I'll probably adopt. Thanks, Joe! –  Kristina Lopez Oct 6 '12 at 1:30

The simplest possible solution that comes to mind is to annotate the task name with the due date: Pay electric bill (Th 7/7). This allows you to quickly see at a glance when a task is due. The downside is that the item won't be highlighted in any way when it's due and it would be easy to miss.

Depending on your tool there are probably meta data options available that are slightly more powerful. For example, if you entered the same task into RTM as Pay electric bill ^Thursday it would automatically enter the due date in the appropriate meta data field, and then on that date the task would show up underlined and in bold to indicate it was due. I assume other GTD tools have similar features.

That way the task is on your list right now, but it will be specially highlighted when you really do need to make time for it.

If you really want to get fancy you can even set up a search list (i.e. query) that will look for any tasks due in the next X days, which you can review at some point during the day to see what's going to be due soon.

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My answer is to put them on both.

The deadlines go on the calendar,and the next action goes in the next action list. Next to it I put the deadline for the whole project, which both keeps me motivated to move forward and reminds me to occasionally take time to focus on the project as a whole.

That, coupled with a good weekly and/or daily review, should give you enough reminders that you don't have to keep up with it yourself.

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