Due Dates Collaboration

sparkle

Registered
This topic is about how to collaborate with people who don't use GTD to manage their tasks.

In my company, when we have a meeting, we use a table that looks like this:

Next Actions / Who / When

I like "Next Actions" and "Who" a lot. In fact, it's one of the key principles of GTD to define the very next physical actions.

The point I'm having troubles with is "When". In my GTD system, I'm very picky about setting Due Dates. I only do it, when it really is a "hard fixed" date - something you cannot postpone (like getting a train in time). No matter if it is important or not. When I'm setting due dates for things that are "just" important, my calendar easily gets diluted. You start to not trust your calendar anymore, because you cannot distinguish important stuff from stuff that needs to get done until a specific date.

The problem is, most people are not used to work that way. They seem to need Due Dates to get stuff done at all.

So, in these kind of meetings when the questions comes like: "What time do you need for this, 1 week, 2 weeks, is it ok?", I don't want to be the only one saying "I won't give you a Due Date. I'll tell if it's ready when it's ready (but I assure you that I'll work on it if it is important enough compared to all my other tasks...)." :)

How do you collaborate with people who are not used to GTD when setting Due Dates?
 

Cpu_Modern

Registered
It depends on your goals is what I would say; judging from the information I can gather from your post.

If your executive level boss asks you whether you need 1 or 2 weeks to accomplish a task, they may ask very politely and sincerley so. They may accept whatever answer you'll give them without a blink.

But there will come a day, when they talk about you, without you being there, and consider whether you are fit for a raise or - I don't want to sound too harsh here - it is better to not to prolong the colaboration with you.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
There is nothing at all wrong with target due dates. Colleagues will always ask when you can get something done for them. This is also a part of project plans where one can have multiple target due dates over several months. So....this is not anti-GTD.
 

TesTeq

Registered
So, in these kind of meetings when the questions comes like: "What time do you need for this, 1 week, 2 weeks, is it ok?", I don't want to be the only one saying "I won't give you a Due Date. I'll tell if it's ready when it's ready (but I assure you that I'll work on it if it is important enough compared to all my other tasks...)." :)
And now let's assume that you are responsible for delivering bricks to build a wall. Your manager needs a due date to schedule bricklayers' work but you say "I won't give you a Due Date. I'll tell you that the bricks are at the construction site when they will be at the construction site (but I assure you that I'll work on it if it is important enough compared to all my other tasks...)."
Due dates are essential in every kind of human cooperation.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
Absolutely! Due dates are part of working with people in any manner. I have several due dates on many different projects over the next several months. Some are target dates where teams have agreed on a project plans so that the work progresses in a timely way.
 

Gameboy70

Registered
The point I'm having troubles with is "When". In my GTD system, I'm very picky about setting Due Dates. I only do it, when it really is a "hard fixed" date - something you cannot postpone (like getting a train in time). No matter if it is important or not. When I'm setting due dates for things that are "just" important, my calendar easily gets diluted. You start to not trust your calendar anymore, because you cannot distinguish important stuff from stuff that needs to get done until a specific date.

The problem is, most people are not used to work that way. They seem to need Due Dates to get stuff done at all.
Your positing a dichotomy between fixed dates and arbitrary due dates, when I believe the real distinction is between internal and external commitments. Once you make an external commitment to provide a deliverable by a certain date, even if that date in principle could've been sooner or later, it's as much Hard Landscape as a bill or a birthday; you need to put it on your calendar and organize your project around that. This is very different than using a self-imposed deadline to urge yourself into action, which does indeed lead to calendar clutter.

If you need to push back against manufactured urgency, cite the existing commitments on your calendar: "I have to finish X by Wednesday, so I'll have time to work on Y afterward and finish it by Friday".
 

bcmyers2112

Registered
There are those who feel that DA's advice against using your calendar as a to-do list is a prohibition against "fake due dates" (in other words, due dates set by a boss, project manager or other person that may be somewhat arbitrary) but that's not how I interpret it. I think the idea behind it is twofold. First, using your calendar as a to-do list creates a subtle notion in your mind that you MUST get the list done that day. If life gets in the way as it often does and you don't finish the list, this often creates a sense of failure which undermines your confidence in your system and more important in yourself. Second, if you know your calendar is a mix of time-sensitive and non-time-sensitive information, this leads to a "numbness" (as DA puts it) towards anything in your calendar. So it's best to limit the calendar to that which is truly time-sensitive.

So the question is, what is truly time-sensitive? If your boss, a project manager, or even a colleague with whom you are working has the authority to set a due date, or if you agree to a due date, it's not "arbitrary" if failing to meet it has consequences. Those consequences can include negative performance reviews or simply a loss of confidence in you and the perception that you are not reliable. So by all means, it is reasonable in many circumstances to agree to due dates and those should go in your calendar.

By the way, if it becomes apparent you cannot meet said due date most people will be reasonable about allowing some renegotiation of the deadline if you approach them about it ahead of time. Which is yet another reason why it makes sense to have such due dates on your calendar. You can't be aware that you're going to miss them if you don't know what they are.

Your boss has a right to set due dates whether you feel they are justified or not. If you don't like being held to a schedule, then you would be best served to either find a job where you have total authority to decide what gets done when, or work for yourself. Even in those circumstances, though, it may be hard to find such autonomy: even a sole proprietor is going to be accountable to customers.

By the way, it's possible to color outside the lines a bit and still be successful with GTD. I'll give you a for instance: I have ADHD, and it's very difficult for me to remember to do routine tasks like paying bills and calling my mother. Back when I had a "GTD by the book or die" mentality, I bent over backwards to come up with a way to remember these tasks without putting them on my calendar. I tried checklists, recurring reminders using task management software, and other kludges. These things just made my life harder. Finally I started putting these tasks in my calendar on the day I'd be most likely to want to do them. Rather than breaking my GTD system, this little "deviation" from the book's standard advice has increased my trust in my system and myself.

I think the only thing that would truly be "anti GTD" (to borrow Longstreet's phrase) would be keeping stuff in your head rather than an external system.
 
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Gameboy70

Registered
I have ADHD, and it's very difficult for me to remember to do routine tasks like paying bills and calling my mother. Back when I had a "GTD by the book or die" mentality, I bent over backwards to come up with a way to remember these tasks without putting them on my calendar. I tried checklists, recurring reminders using task management software, and other kludges. These things just made my life harder. Finally I started putting these tasks in my calendar on the day I'd be most likely to want to do them. Rather than breaking my GTD system, this little "deviation" from the book's standard advice has increased my trust in my system and myself.
At the risk of veering into No True Scotsman territory, DA advocates putting any and all time dependent events—from bill due dates to TV shows you might want to watch—on your calendar, even for things you haven't committed to act on yet (the TV show is an option, not a commitment). Unfortunately, he articulates this much more explicitly in the out-of-print Getting Things Done … Fast seminar recording than the official (vastly inferior) GTD book. If something cannot be acted on before or after a certain window, it needs to go on the calendar; David recommends excluding everything else, though he's often "backpedalled" and suggested blocking out calendar time for high-focus activities, like the Weekly Review itself.
 

Gardener

Registered
At my job, I think that while people would of course like guaranteed due dates, what they're really seeking is some kind of contact to be sure that the task doesn't just vanish under the waves.

So the sequence of my communications might be:

- "I'll get in contact with you by Friday about schedule."
- I set a tickler for Thursday. Thursday or Friday I may email, "Still gathering data--my new target for getting back to you is Wednesday."
- I set a tickler for Tuesday. Tuesday or Wednesday I email, "I think that late May is an optimistic-to-realistic goal. I'll get with you in early May to let you know if that's still how it looks."
- I set a tickler for May 5. On May 6, I email, "Unfortunately, we didn't make optimistic-to-realistic; we're on the pessimistic end because the Blah effort has consumed resources that I wanted for you. I'm now looking at early July."
- On July 2, I email, "We're making good progress, but the delivery is likely to slip past mid-July--I'm looking at the week of July 20 to 27."
- And I deliver July 25.

And not infrequently, the customer perceives that as "on time". Maybe all of my customers are silently furious at me, but that's not my perception--when I keep in contact like this, and fulfill my contact commitments, the fact that my work estimates keep on slipping doesn't seem to upset them. This of course depends on company culture--in my company, everyone is understaffed, and people are used to tasks simply vanishing, so my keeping in contact puts me ahead. However, I think that the lesson that touching base keeps people feeling more secure and less frustrated would apply to a variety of environments.
 

TesTeq

Registered
So the sequence of my communications might be:

- "I'll get in contact with you by Friday about schedule."
- I set a tickler for Thursday. Thursday or Friday I may email, "Still gathering data--my new target for getting back to you is Wednesday."
- I set a tickler for Tuesday. Tuesday or Wednesday I email, "I think that late May is an optimistic-to-realistic goal. I'll get with you in early May to let you know if that's still how it looks."
- I set a tickler for May 5. On May 6, I email, "Unfortunately, we didn't make optimistic-to-realistic; we're on the pessimistic end because the Blah effort has consumed resources that I wanted for you. I'm now looking at early July."
- On July 2, I email, "We're making good progress, but the delivery is likely to slip past mid-July--I'm looking at the week of July 20 to 27."
- And I deliver July 25.
I don't think it is widely acceptable for bosses and customers.
If an employee is routinely "still gathering data" and has often "new targets for getting back" to the boss or client she is in a big trouble. Maybe she will not have to gather any data again...
 

treelike

Registered
The point I'm having troubles with is "When". In my GTD system, I'm very picky about setting Due Dates. I only do it, when it really is a "hard fixed" date - something you cannot postpone (like getting a train in time). No matter if it is important or not. When I'm setting due dates for things that are "just" important, my calendar easily gets diluted. You start to not trust your calendar anymore, because you cannot distinguish important stuff from stuff that needs to get done until a specific date.
One thing I have seen suggested, and found useful myself, is to write the date commitment as part of the project description. For example, "Deliver report by Feb 20th", "Cake baked and decorated by Jun 6th", "Everything prepared for trip on 19th July". This means you can be aware of all the date sensitivities during your weekly review.

On the subject of setting due dates... I would suggest that the GTD person uses the same process as the non-GTD person except that the GTD person has that full inventory of all the other projects that are going on in his or her life whereas the non-GTD person will only be aware of what they are aware of. The date is always going to be an estimate though.
 

bcmyers2112

Registered
To echo what others have already said: in a lot of professional and other collaborative situations, "it will take as long as it takes" isn't an acceptable answer. Sometimes you have to commit to a timeframe even if it is tentative, and it makes sense to include that information on a calendar because it is date-specific information.
 

Gardener

Registered
I don't think it is widely acceptable for bosses and customers.
If an employee is routinely "still gathering data" and has often "new targets for getting back" to the boss or client she is in a big trouble. Maybe she will not have to gather any data again...

Hey, I just had a review, and thus have extremely recent evidence that apparently it's working. :) Edited to add: And, really, would a boss rather have an employee snap to, salute, and offer a quick and unconsidered estimate, or would they rather wait for something closer to accuracy? It seems not unreasonable that accuracy and regular updating of expectations might be somewhat valued.

Negotiating schedule might not work in some companies where staffing is closer to sufficient and tasks don't just fall out of the lifeboat entirely. However, even in those companies it strikes me as better than the original post's concept of refusing to entertain any dates at all.
 

bcmyers2112

Registered
Hey, I just had a review, and thus have extremely recent evidence that apparently it's working.

That it's working doesn't surprise me. What you described is what I meant by "renegotiating the commitment."

When I was in a supervisory position, I was always happy to talk with people who came to me as soon as they were aware they couldn't meet a particular timeframe. Usually we were able to work something out to the satisfaction of all involved.

Now that I work with clients who expect me to meet certain timeframes, I've found the same to be true. Most customers are OK with renegotiating a commitment as long as you're proactive about approaching them before the agreed-to deadline to discuss it. In fact, it makes you look professional in most customers' eyes.
 

TesTeq

Registered
And, really, would a boss rather have an employee snap to, salute, and offer a quick and unconsidered estimate, or would they rather wait for something closer to accuracy? It seems not unreasonable that accuracy and regular updating of expectations might be somewhat valued.
I think bosses prefer employees who offer quick and CONSIDERED estimates and then - most of the times - deliver. Why? Because these employees have got deep experience and knowledge. If these people cannot deliver nobody would. It's not about saluting, it's about the art of estimation and productivity.
 
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Gardener

Registered
I think bosses prefer employees who offer quick and CONSIDERED estimates and then - most of the times - deliver. Why? Because these employees have got deep experience and knowledge. If these people cannot deliver nobody would. It's not about saluting, it's about the art of estimation and productivity.

But that assumes that "quick" and "considered" can be achieved simultaneously. And that assumes that the company is not desperately understaffed. "Productivity" can cover only so much understaffing.
 

TesTeq

Registered
But that assumes that "quick" and "considered" can be achieved simultaneously. And that assumes that the company is not desperately understaffed. "Productivity" can cover only so much understaffing.
I think that it is possible to give quick and accurate estimations for in-my-area-of-expertise tasks.
I agree that we cannot give considered estimations in the "desperately understaffed" environment where everybody tries to keep his head above the moving sands around. ;-)
 

Gameboy70

Registered
Most customers are OK with renegotiating a commitment as long as you're proactive about approaching them before the agreed-to deadline to discuss it.
This. Taking the initiative in the follow-up is the key. What erodes trust with customers is when they're the ones who have make the first contadt for a status update.
 

bcmyers2112

Registered
At the risk of veering into No True Scotsman territory, DA advocates putting any and all time dependent events—from bill due dates to TV shows you might want to watch—on your calendar, even for things you haven't committed to act on yet (the TV show is an option, not a commitment). Unfortunately, he articulates this much more explicitly in the out-of-print Getting Things Done … Fast seminar recording than the official (vastly inferior) GTD book. If something cannot be acted on before or after a certain window, it needs to go on the calendar; David recommends excluding everything else, though he's often "backpedalled" and suggested blocking out calendar time for high-focus activities, like the Weekly Review itself.

My point is that I include some actions that aren't truly time-dependent. For example, I have a recurring reminder in my calendar to call my Mom every Sunday. I can obviously call her any day of the week. But with ADHD, it's easy to forget things that for others would have no trouble remembering to do. I tried lots of kludges, like creating a reusable checklist in Evernote, for example. The kludges didn't work and sometimes I'd go weeks between phone calls (which may sound like I don't care about my Mom, but that isn't the case -- again, people with ADHD are more forgetful). The only thing that worked for me was putting it in my calendar. This may contradict standard GTD practice, but it's what I needed to do.
 

Gameboy70

Registered
My point is that I include some actions that aren't truly time-dependent. For example, I have a recurring reminder in my calendar to call my Mom every Sunday. I can obviously call her any day of the week.
No different than the Weekly Review, which could be done any day of the week. Whether you perform the review exactly every 168 hours is beside the point. The calendar is used to establish a cadence, not hit a mark. It's informational, not directive—the weekly entries tell you, "If you want to do this weekly, here are the fence posts." A task list or a checklist would be a poor substitute.
 
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