Recurring projects/actions, start/schedule dates and today/tickler views

Daniel Westergren

This is obviously done differently in different tools. But I'm just looking for general advice from those who are more experienced with the GTD workflow. My questions are regarding date, recurring projects/actions and today view.

The software I'm using (Amazing Martin) has start date, schedule date (= do date), due date and end date (= soft due date or artificial deadline), for both projects and actions. Both projects and actions can be recurring, but recurring projects must contain at least one action.

Recurring projects get a start date, recurring tasks instead get a schedule date (although it will be possible to have tasks get start date instead later on). For each action of a recurring project I can choose to automatically set a schedule date for that action X days after the new instance of the project is created.

In both cases I can optionally choose a due date and/or end date (soft due date) X days after a new instance of the project/action is created.

I use a Today view to show all actions that are to be done today (basically actions due within X days or scheduled for today + actions that I star myself).

My questions:
1) What would a recommended GTD workflow be for recurring projects and recurring actions? Would you use both use recurring projects and recurring single actions? Should they get a start date (that is, not necessarily displaying in today view) or a schedule date (which would make the single actions or actions of that project show in today view)? Or could you see the use for both start date and schedule date for recurring projects and actions, depending on when the action(s) has to be done?

2) Projects and actions with a start date are basically tickler items. Would you show them in today view to get your attention (even if they may not have to be done today), in a separate tickler view (for new actions with a recent start date) or simply just having them show up in the Next Actions list whenever their start date has come?


Grant Grueninger

HI Daniel,

When software makes GTD confusing because of its features, or how it has implemented its features, I fall back to imagining a paper-based system. So, in this case for recurring items:
1) Repeating a task is very expensive (a recurring daily 5-minute task takes 1250 minutes a year, assuming a 5-day workweek with 2 weeks off, not counting ramp-up, ramp-down and task maintenance), so first, try to eliminate it. If you can't, try to automate it. If you can't, try to delegate it. If you still can't, then:
2) In your paper-based system, it would go into your "tickler file" (if it has to start on a particular date) or onto your calendar (if it has to be done on a particular date or at a particular time). If it's in your "tickler file", it'll get dumped back into your inbox on the tickle date.

So, back in your software, try to set it up as close to that tickler/calendar approach as possible. Whether or not to use single actions or projects should depend on the task, not its recurrence - a project is an objective that takes more than one physical action to complete (e.g. "Plan vacation to Tahiti"). A "next action" is simply a physical action ("search web for vacation spots in Tahiti"). So, most likely unless it's "take out the trash", you'd make it a project and have it start on the next start date.

As for start/schedule/due/end dates: I used to set a start and end date (e.g. 1st of the month, due on the 14th) so the project would re-appear in my projects list (I used OmniFocus), but now I try to avoid automatically-recurring tasks/projects; instead I think "what's the longest I can possibly defer this into the future" when I complete the project, and I defer it manually until that date.


Daniel Westergren

Thanks for a good explanation! Remembering or being prompt to add a new start date for the project when all its actions are completed is a good way of doing it. Only that in most tools the actions of the projects would likely not be included again once they have been completed already. In an ideal tool, there would be an option to re-activate all the project's actions when prompted to set a new start date (or complete the project)...

Also, in Amazing Marvin, like in many other tools, you can set a project or task to repeat X days after it's completed, which is basically the same as setting a new start date. Only that I have decided X when I created the recurring project, instead of when I finish an instance of it.

But in summary: start date for tickler items, schedule date for calendar items.

A related question, which can also go back to the paper-based system and what is written in the GTD book, do you have reminders for projects or tasks on their start date? That is, should it catch my attention that a deferred project has become active, or should it simply just become available in the active project list and consequently its next actions to show up in the next actions list? That is, if there are actions in the project, which it doesn't necessarily have to be.

There's a fine line between tickler items and someday/maybe's...

Grant Grueninger

Ideally, I’d have things that “become active” (that is, come out of the tickler file) go back into the inbox like they would with paper. But, in practice, I’ve found just having them appear on the project/action list is sufficient. I debated that when working on the GTD app I’m writing, and ended up with deferred projects just re-appearing in the Projects list, partly for technical reasons (reprocessing a project could lose data), but also because I check my lists daily as I work anyway, so I’ll notice if a project appears, and having to re-process it seemed like unnecessary extra work.