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Hey Flexattend, long time no tango :-)

I use the duration field mostly to mark off quick things, in conjunction with a context mode perspective I call "Quick Dash" which groups and sorts by due, selecting only those actions which are 5 minutes in duration or less. I do not put durations on the bulk of my actions; most with durations are probably repeating or template-based projects. I find it useful to have a list of quick and usually easy things to choose from when I'm feeling lazy or stuck or time-constrained -- I can possibly do something off that list and advance some project a little bit, and maybe after doing one or two of them I'll have built up some momentum and will continue on.

I do have a perspective that pulls out actions that don't have an estimate set in the hopes that I'll put in estimates, but I only use it when looking at the Quick Dash doesn't show anything appealing. Generally, the only actions with durations are the quick ones, or (infrequently) I'll have some project where I need an idea of how long the whole thing will take, and I'll put in durations to remind me.

As you might expect from the above, I use durations independently of start/due dates.

Another way of looking at it is that I make just enough use of the duration field to prevent me from using it for some other nefarious purpose, like a priority field :-)