Delete Your To Do List

by Brian on May 22, 2011 in Productivity

Do you keep a to do list? An actual, physical written down list of things you intend to do? Then this post is for you.

To do lists can be great, wonderful tools for helping you get things you need to do out of your head and onto paper so that you have a nice, tidy list to prioritize and cross items off as you complete them. But like a garden, your to do list can start to grow weeds and get filled with things that you don’t really want on it.

You know that you’re in trouble when you have to hunt through your to do list for the things you actually still intend to do now and aren’t putting off until some other indefinite time.

Progress on your to do list goes stagnant and productivity grinds to a halt.

Projects That Clutter Your To Do List

These non-priority to dos generally fall into one of three different categories:

Ongoing Projects

You have something on your to do list like write a blog, convert to the Paleo Diet, or start hitting the gym regularly. Maybe you got started and made some progress or maybe you didn’t. Time slipped by, but the item is still on your to do list. You think, “oh yeah, that’s still something I plan to do something about,” and so the item stays on the list ad finitum.

Projects that are no longer relevant

These are actually kind of a subset of ongoing projects. These are the ones that you haven’t made any progress on in a long time, or probably never even started. Maybe something like join Toastmasters to polish your public speaking skills was on the list. You were really into the idea of giving presentations and speaking from the stage at the time, but the enthusiasm passed. Now you still have a lingering feeling of “oh yeah, I wanted to do that” when you read the item, but the project is far removed from your immediate plans.

Projects that are no longer relevant especially come up a lot at work as other projects become more important or the direction and focus of your work changes.

Things you can’t or don’t want to do right now, but would still like to do someday

You put down something like buy a new car, then didn’t get the income you were expecting. You’d still like to buy a new car, but it’s just not feasible right now and you need to be focused on other things.

Your bike chain broke and you need to fix it. You aren’t really into biking right now. You could get it fixed right away, but don’t really need to since you don’t plan on biking any time soon so you wind up putting it off. You think “oh yeah, that needs to be done sometime.”

Delete Your To Do List

The solution is simple. Delete your to do list. Don’t just cross these items off, periodically delete your entire to do list and start fresh. The feeling of liberation alone is enough to clear your to do list once in a while.

If you don’t clear the whole list you get stuck in the mindset of “what can I eliminate?” A more valuable mindset is “what do I want to keep?”

I like to leave my to do list blank for a while and just feel refreshed in the feeling of emptiness. When you do eventually start your to do list again, only put things on it that are a priority now. The things you actually intend to do now. Don’t put down projects that are no longer relevant and the things you’d still like to do some day.

The “ongoing projects” are a bit trickier to handle as they may still be an immediate priority that you want to keep working on. Don’t put them back on your list as something generic like “make a website” or “eat healthy.” Instead, put down a concrete action item like “write one page of content about X” or “learn one new, easy Paleo recipe to put into meal rotation.”

Delete your to do list and start fresh at the beginning of each week as a general rule of thumb.

What types of things get stuck on your to do list? How could refocusing your action items each week help you? Comment below.

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