5 Simple Ways To Shrink Your To-Do List

If you’re like me, you probably have a To-Do list that never seems to shrink down. If anything, you keep adding more things to your list, right?

While on one hand, having a To-Do list is important as it gives us direction for doing things in a prioritized order, however if we don’t see progress, it can cause us to feel overwhelmed and stressed.

The unfortunate thing is our To-Do is not a fixed list. Each day, there is new input coming in, which can either add to our list or replace something we had on our list. The ideal situation will be to only have things on our list that’s going to matter in the end when we complete them.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here are some simple ways to shrink your To-Do list down so that you can focus on the things that truly matter. This is applicable if you use a task management tool or if you have a manual To-Do list that you create on the run.

  1. Ask “Is it necessary?” Review everything on your list and decide whether each item is really necessary or not. If you don’t do them, what are the implications? If there is no risk associated with not doing them, then they can just drop off the list. I recently read the book, The One Thing by Gary Keller where he shares a really powerful focusing question which is, “What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or even unnecessary?”Just by taking the time to decide whether something is necessary or not, or just by doing one thing, a lot of other things can drop off your list.
  2. Apply the five rules for evaluating any new input. We all get new input each day from emails, messages, reminders or people asking us to do something. Use the five rules to decide what needs to be done with any new input:
      Delete — is it not worth your time and can simply be deleted off your list?
      Defer — can it be deferred to another time?
      Do — will you be able to get it done in a timely manner considering what you already need to get done?
      Delegate — can it be assigned to someone else?
      File — is it something for your information or reference only that you may want to keep?
  3. Ask “Is it aligned to a bigger strategy?” If you are to take on something new, it needs to be aligned to a bigger vision, mission or strategy. If you will not move forward towards something bigger, then why do it? Just this alone can free up a lot of time for entrepreneurs as we tend to get caught up in the busyness of doing things rather than focusing on the things that are part of an overall strategy.
  4. Apply the “If it’s not done by {date}, I will let it go” rule. Sometimes we need to be a little more disciplined and hold ourselves to a higher standard. If there are things on your list that has remained there for weeks, if not, months or years, then surely it can’t be that important. Test it out by setting a date to have it done. If you do get it done, then that’s great. If you don’t get it done, then make a choice to let it go and cross it off your list.
  5. Trust your instincts. I think we all know what’s important and what’s not important. Whenever something new comes in, just go with your first response to it and stick by that decision. Sometimes it may not work out as you had expected it to but for most of the time, you will find that your first response is good enough.

Having a To-Do list is an extremely useful way of keeping track of what needs to be done but it does require a review from time to time. The whole purpose of a review should be to reduce your list down to something more manageable. These are some ways in which you can do just that.

Question: What is another way to reduce or shrink a To-Do list?

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  • Sean Smith

    Oh man, this is such a big issue for me Neel! And for so many entrepreneurs, too. Thanks for the reminders and new ideas as well. =)

    • Neel Raman

      Thanks Sean! With new input coming in all the time, I think it’s important to have some criteria for evaluating the new input. I’m getting better at doing this. 🙂

  • Jane Ransom

    Love that “one thing” question!

    • Neel Raman

      Hi Jane, I now ask that “One Thing” question everyday which allows me to focus on what’s most important.