I remember one particular day in high school — a couple of weeks before homecoming — when I felt completely stressed out by all of my responsibilities.
I had no idea how I would do it all, so I made a list — a very long list that took up every single line on my piece of paper.
Yes, getting that string of tasks out of my head felt somewhat helpful, but here’s what happened when I looked at the list:
I felt paralyzed.
I didn’t know where to start, and I knew there weren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done, so I simply ran around like a crazy person, checking off whatever I could and probably snapping at my family members and friends throughout the day.
Sadly, this crazy list-making habit followed me to college and into motherhood. Even now, I have an overambitious tendency to pack my lists tight. And if I don’t do something to counteract my need to achieve everything in one day, it destroys me.
My husband knows me well. He can take one look at my planner and see my nuttiness coming from a mile away. So he reminds me over and over again: “Write out your list and then cut it in half.”
That’s good advice, right?
But how do you cut your list in half? I can’t just ignore my commitments or throw away my dreams. Every item on my list is there for a reason, and I’m not going to magically feel less stressed if I attack it with a pair of scissors.
Well, fortunately, there are some powerful “ninja tricks” from David Allen’s best-seller, "Getting Things Done," that showed me the specifics of how to cut my to-do list in half and get twice as much done in the process. I’m here to show you how.
1. Scrub your list
These preliminary steps are taught in just about every time management book:
- Delete whatever you can
- Delegate whatever can be delegated quickly
- Do whatever can be done in less than two minutes
Once your list is “scrubbed,” it will contain the following:
- Things that you really want or need to do
- Things that can only be done by you
- Things that require your focused time and attention
2. Make a someday list
When you look at your edited list, you’ll realize that not everything needs to or can be done right now. But you don’t want to throw those ideas into oblivion, right?
So create a “someday list" that will hold all of your not-necessary-right-this-minute ideas until you’re ready for them. I use a magazine holder for paper lists and physical items, and I use an Evernote list on my phone to capture everything else.
Then I review these about once a month (or less often, if I’ve got a lot on my plate). Easy.
3. Create calendar triggers
Next, you’ll take any tasks that could be assigned to particular days and write them on your calendar.
Let’s say you just bought a new microwave that needs to be installed. You need to call your repairman and talk with him about a few other things as well, so you set a calendar trigger for next Friday, when (a) you know your schedule is open, (b) you’ll have all the information you’ll need to discuss with him and (c) your children will be playing happily with their friends.
If you don’t end up making the call during that exact hour, it’s OK. You can reschedule when you look at your calendar. But it gets the task off your list for now and provides a logical option for getting it done.
4. Cluster tasks to be re-evaluated after a certain date
Whenever I’ve created a long list, there have always been a handful of tasks that can actually wait a couple of weeks before I need to think about them.
I cluster those on a large Post-it note (it could also be done via Evernote or a productivity app), and I stick it on my planner page two weeks into the future.
That gives my mind space, which does something incredible to my mood.
When the time comes to look at that list, I’m often able to delete quite a few things, and the added perspective helps me move forward on the important tasks with greater confidence.
Here’s a visual example of how an overwhelming list can be transformed into something totally manageable.
Pink = Someday
Blue = Calendar Triggers
Yellow = Items Clustered to Be Re-evaluated After a Certain Date
Everything Else = Stays on the List
Maybe this seems like a lot of extra work, but here’s why I’m convinced you should give it a try:
- The focus is empowering. Once you figure out which tasks are really most important to you, your life starts lining up with your priorities.
- You see progress. Small wins inspire you to do more because you can see that you’re actually doing something.
- You feel less overwhelmed. Once I move the highlighted items off the list above — using a someday list, calendar triggers and a clustered list for the future — I end up with way less than half of what I started with.
Yes, there are still things to do, but smaller lists won’t give us stomachaches.
We are mothers raising children, which puts us in one of the most unpredictable (albeit beautiful) workplaces imaginable. We can’t do everything all at once, but we can empower ourselves by creating doable lists that will enable us to get the most important things done. Are you with me?
QUESTION: What strategies have helped you to reduce the lengths of your lists?
CHALLENGE: Make your list for this week, or pull it out if it’s already made, and cut it in half using the strategies listed above.
This article is courtesy of Power of Moms, an online gathering place for deliberate mothers.