Why I don’t assign deadlines by date


Think about the last time you came from a working meeting. If it was a productive one, you came out with an action, who is to do it and a delivery date attached to it.

This is of course by now what is de facto in business on what it means to have a good meeting.

This is great and by doing so you would be ahead of most other organisations which run meetings like some form of social engagement.

Once you start implementing you are guaranteed to run into a new problem, how do you keep track of all those dates?

Think about it for a second, if you have 2 meetings per day for 5 days each with 5 actions, then by the end of the week you will have about 100 actions to track.

Modern day tools will keep track of the dates but in most cases, they just exacerbate the problem. You will likely end up with a whole lot of overdue tasks highlighted in a bright red. This constant reminder of missed deadlines is guaranteed to stress up any project manager.

There is a better way, consider assigning tasks to a week instead of a date.

In this way of thinking, instead of assigning tasks: task1, task2 and task3 to say 6th, 8th, 9th Dec respectively. You instead say task1, task2 and task3 need to be completed by the Tuesday of 10th Dec. Here the assumption is you do your weekly check-in on Tuesdays.

Now if you have more tasks you simply bucket them to another week say the week ending 17th Dec (another Tuesday).

In the example here, we have a fictional person planning a trip to the coast, in a discussion with the wife, they come up with several actions they want to be done, the actions are then piled up into buckets with each bucket indicating the final day the work should have been done.


So what is to be gained by using this kind of structure? Let’s explore.

Establish a rhythm

At the base of any complex system is some few basic concepts.

Salsa dance has the mambo

Genetic material has 4 nitrogenous bases: Adenine (A), Guanine (G), Cytosine (C) and Thymine (T)

Project management has the timebox

By chunking the work into weeks, it’s time-boxed. This comes with all the goodness brought in by them. In this case, a nice rhythm.

You now know every week, there will be something to celebrate as done.

You can easily tell when overcommitted

This is the starting verse of a song by Billy Joel.

Slow down you crazy child You’re so ambitious for a juvenile But then if you’re so smart tell me, Why are you still so afraid? (mmmmm)

Where’s the fire, what’s the hurry about? You better cool it off before you burn it out You got so much to do and only So many hours in a day (Ay)

In the age where what you are is what you produce, it helps to get a reminder to slow down every other while. The question then becomes, how do you know when you have over-committed yourself?

The method I propose here makes it very clear, if in the past 4 weeks you have been having a list consisting of 4-5 tasks, then you note this week you have 10 tasks, something is wrong.

Given the very visual nature of the structure, you will note the difference just by seeing the different sizes of the list.

Longer term planning becomes easier

Human memory is surprisingly feeble. When you walk into the office in the morning, its very easy to make sense of the situation, navigate yourself in such a way as to ensure you are not hitting any furniture on the way and definitely passing all the usual pleasantries. Yet if I was to ask you right now to close your eyes and then tell me exactly what you saw, most likely you forgot most of the details of the morning.

Despite this limitation of memory, we have evolved an ingenious technique of dealing with it, chunking.

Chunking in psychology is a process by which individual pieces of information are bound together into a meaningful whole

By having your work in weekly lists, it’s now easier to think about the week as a chunk as opposed to multiple disparate action items. The psychological relief once you start practising this technique will be worth it.

How do you organize your tasks? Talk to me in the comment section below or on my twitter @jchex




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Software Project Manager