Take Charge of Your To-Do List

Take Charge of Your To-Do List

Gregory Han
Feb 18, 2011

If you are like people I know, then you have a to-do list a mile long. And, everything on that list feels like it's of the utmost importance. It is an unfortunate truth: your to-do list will actually never end.  Even though you may never have a truly completed to-do list neatly crossed off you can have a list that feels doable and a lot less stre

Recently I was preparing to go on a much-needed vacation with my husband. Instead of becoming giddy and excited about the idea of a sweet romantic getaway for two, I was irritable, exhausted, and, quite honestly, resentful of my pre-vacation to-do list. This list was full of work to-dos, family to-dos, and vacation prep to-dos.  I felt absolutely overwhelmed.

I realized that in order to gain clarity, and a better attitude, I had to re-invent my to-do list.  I had to transform it into a helpful tool. I took charge of my to-do list in three easy steps.

1. Make a New List: Get cozy and quiet in a place that is different from where you usually make your lists or plan your days. Make this time and space different somehow. Take some deep breaths and let yourself slow down. Now, write a list of all of your responsibilities for the day or week. (Don't forget to keep breathing while you write!)

2. Divide: Divide a separate piece of paper into two columns and label them: Must Do's and Would Like to Do's. Put the items from your list above into the appropriate column. Challenge yourself to place at least half (maybe even most) of the items from your initial list in the Would-Like-to-Do column. Closely examine what beliefs, patterns and resistance emerge. You may feel like everything belongs on the Must-Do side, but does it really? For example: If you believe that you must return every phone call or email on the same day you receive it, then challenge yourself. What would happen if one day most or even all of your emails or calls went unanswered? The world as you know it probably wouldn't end. Get creative and let yourself think outside the box.

3. Conquer: Next, fold the paper in half and hide your Would-Like-to-Do items. Number the Must-Do items in order of importance. Then, go forth, and do the things on this shorter, more focused list. Don't forget to celebrate what you achieve.

When I followed these steps myself, I realized that almost everything on my pre-vacation to-do list was really a Would-Like-to-Do item. There was very little that I actually had to complete before I went away. I had to make sure my most important work responsibilities were handled and that my kids were safe. Beyond that, I realized that even packing was optional! By focusing the list on only those things I absolutely had to achieve, I created for myself a new, more refreshing perspective and let go of my do-or-die to-do list.  I took charge of my to-do list.  Using the three simple steps above, you can too.

[Illustrations by Jordan Awan]

Originally published at Lifework by Julie Zeff

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