Feeling a little rushed? Sometimes the thing that’s designed to keep us on track ends up beating us to a pulp. That’s why we need solid strategies to reduce our to-do lists.
Dog-piled by my own to-do list. The tool that was supposed to help me ran me over, leaving me defeated and still overwhelmed. Without keeping my priorities in check, I’d become my own cruel taskmaster, and for what? It wasn’t like I was out there saving lives or brokering world peace. Good grief, I wasn’t even on deadline.
My youngest daughter noted my stress and suggested I take my list and give every task a scheduled time. Forget it! That idea scared me because I knew deep down that I had too many items on my list. I also knew it was time for a change. Time to scale back to the essentials.
Did I hear you say that everything is essential? I disagree! Not if you want to keep your health and your sanity. Now I’m going to show you how I cut the infamous to-do list and made it start working for me.
First let me tell you a secret: you can choose how to spend your time. As a freewill human being, you don’t have to do anything. You don’t even have to go to work. Of course there are consequences for every decision you make, good and bad, but the point is to realize that you have the power of choice. That, in itself, should take a load off your mind.
Your time is valuable and must be treated as such. There is no such thing as free time—every minute you “spend” will cost you something. For every task you complete there will be a trade-off in another area, which is why every single task must earn its place on your to-do list.
Nothing should go on your daily list that you don’t fully intend to accomplish. Remember, the purpose of the list is to keep you on-task and motivated, not to make you feel defeated at the end of the day.
Here are 3 questions to ask yourself to reduce your to-do list:
- Is it necessary? Not every task you have in mind needs to be completed. Really. It’s okay to let some things go. This is a tough one for me, but I’ve come to realize that my house doesn’t have to be spotless. It doesn’t even have to semi-clean. Now, I’m not advocating chucking your responsibilities entirely—no one wants to see you on an episode of Hoarders, but some tasks can be done sporadically and in moderation. Even at your day job, my guess is there are tasks that can be eliminated, or….
- Can this task be delegated? You are not the best person to do everything. You are not even the best person to do most things. There are items that you need done that can reasonably be done by someone else who has more time or can be bribed—er, paid or bargained with. Simple example: I can pay my kids to do chores. They might not be done the exact way I would do them, but that can be hashed out over time. At work, it might be time to share certain responsibilities so you can focus on what you do best and what’s in the best interest of your employer. There are myriad ways to delegate whether it’s hiring out, bartering, or trading for tasks that already fit into what you’re doing…get creative!
- Does this task help me reach my short-term or long-term goals? There are dozens of items that fill up our days that count for nothing—literally nothing—in the scope of life. If the task passed muster with the first two questions (necessary, can only be done by you) then you must decide if this item will propel you toward your goals. If all the tasks you originally wanted on your to-do list pass all three questions and your list is still unreasonably long, then I suggest you revisit your life goals. If you’ve lasered in on what matters most to you, then the list of things that you can acceptably spend time on should be getting shorter. Be ruthless. You should also learn to be judicious in saying yes to requests that don’t fit any of the criteria. That doesn’t mean don’t help out a friend or volunteer, etc.—to the contrary! By taking charge of your day you’ll have more time to spend nourishing healthy relationships.
Once tasks have earned a spot on your to-do list, you can easily divide it into three parts: this month, this week, today. Having your tasks separated makes the list more manageable and gives you direction on where to start first, and items that are fine to roll over to tomorrow.
Example: I need to do my taxes this month. I need to go to the bank and deposit checks this week. I need to pay bills today or things will get ugly.
See? Easy peasy.
Take charge of your to-do list and your day, and gain more time for life!
What do you do to reduce your to-do list?
If you’ve reduced your to-do list and you still need more time, check out my 25-page PDF guide, Time Management for Writers.
This program will take you step-by-step through the process of aligning your schedule with your writing goals. If you’re ready to reclaim massive quantities of time, this is the program for you!