Jun 30, 2022
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Choosing the right productivity method is all about selecting a strategy that optimises for your specific goals and objectives. If you choose a method that optimises for something you don’t care about you are guaranteed to not get the result you were looking for.
The “earliest due date” method optimises for reducing the lateness of the most late task at the expense of very other task that could also end up being slightly late.
If the most important thing to you is ensuring that no single task can be very overdue, “earliest due date” might be a good choice. In this article we’re going to be looking at how the “earliest due date” method works, it’s benefits, drawbacks, and when you should use it.
The “earliest due date” method works by looking at all available tasks and picking the one with the shortest due date to work on first. This means you need to ignore every other aspect of the task, such as its priority or how long it will likely take, and just stick to the order of the due dates of each task.
This is a simple productivity method to follow because you can forget about making tricky trade-off decisions about choosing the right task to work on and focus purely on working on the task with the due date that is set to expire the soonest.
When given a list of tasks, the “maximum lateness” of the tasks is the amount of time that the task has gone furthest past its due date. If your top productivity priority is to minimise the most overdue task, the best strategy to choose is to start with the task that is due the soonest, and work towards the task that is due the furthest away.
This is the optimal strategy if all you care about is reducing the “maximum lateness” of your tasks.
However, because this method is optimal for reducing the “maximum lateness” of the most late task, it comes at the cost of all other tasks on your to-do list. This means that all of your other tasks are likely to become slightly late.
This is a tradeoff you will have to take into consideration.
The “earliest due date” method is good if all of your tasks take a similar amount of time to complete and all have a similar priority. If this is the case, and you are willing to risk having the majority of your tasks slightly overdue in order to prevent any single task going overdue, it might be a good method to choose.
The main benefit of this method is that it will reduce how late any given task will become.
There are a couple of drawbacks of the “earliest due date” method. The most obvious is that you will likely have more tasks become overdue by focusing on the task with the soonest due date. Under certain circumstances this is a tradeoff that makes sense, but for most people, having more tasks overdue is probably not the outcome that they are looking for.
The second obvious drawback is that all of your tasks require due dates. If the tasks in your workload don’t already have due dates this could be an administrative nightmare that negates any benefit from implementing the method. Ideally you would only choose this method if the tasks you are working on already have due dates.
Finally, if the tasks in your to-do list are widely different in terms of duration, priority, or the type of effort that is involved, it might also mean that the “earliest due date” method might not work for you.
You should use the “earliest due date” method when the most important thing to optimise for is reducing the “maximum lateness” of a given list of tasks. As this comes at the cost of making every other task slightly more overdue, you need to make a conscious decision as to whether this is the right thing to optimise for.
This method is also particularly useful if all of your tasks are very similar.
You should not use the “earliest due date” method if you have a wide range of tasks that have very different durations, priorities, or requirements. This will very quickly lead to problems where the lateness of every other task will be increased.
You should also not use the “earliest due date” method if either you don’t care about minimising the “maximum lateness” of a set of tasks, or if it’s not acceptable to cause every task to become slightly more overdue.