To-Do Lists – Prune and Prioritize

In this final installment for September on my favorite to-do list methods and tools, I’d like to recommend a great time management technique from Julie Morgenstern in her book, Time Management from the Inside Out. No matter how you decide to keep your to-do list, paper or digital, managing it requires some planning and some decision-making. Morgenstern suggests you approach your list using her “4 D’s.”

Delete: If something has been lingering on your to-do list for weeks, months, even years, it’s time to make a hard decision. Is that item still relevant? Is it worth the precious time it will take to accomplish? Will the benefits still outweigh the time you take away from something else to get it done? Many times, we move items from list to list, week after week, without acknowledging that perhaps its time has passed, or it’s no longer something we want or need to spend time on. If that’s the case, let it go.

Delay: Busy times in our lives come and go, and sometimes, it’s a good idea to put off something that may not need our time and attention right now. Different from procrastination, delaying a task requires assessing its timeliness and importance as it relates to other items that may be more important or for which the deadline is more pressing. Sometimes just moving the timeline for something forward a few weeks or even months can open up time for other priorities.

Diminish: Sometimes the project on our to-do list is huge and requires a good chunk of time and energy to accomplish. Generally, these kind of things on our list are multi-task events which require multiple time-sucking steps. Some projects require a huge commitment, but others may not necessarily require the same. Ask yourself if you can reduce your project to make it easier to get done in a shorter time period with essentially the same result. For example, one of my clients had traditionally sent holiday cards to all of her clients, friends and family, which numbered around 500 cards. She had always insisted upon hand addressing and writing a short, personalized note in every card. When we found boxes of unused cards in her office closet, she confessed that she hadn’t had time to prepare and send them for the past two years. I suggested diminishing the project in this way – that she had her cards printed with her company name and have her assistant input and print up address labels for all of the recipients. Then, to add the personal touch she craved, she would hand sign each card, perhaps including a short note with only a few of the more significant recipients. While she initially balked at the shortcut, she ultimately decided that actually getting the cards out to people, rather than having them sit in her closet another year, was more important. She diminished her project, which only then took about two hours one evening, and essentially accomplished the same thing – to reach out and touch the important people in her life at the holidays.

Delegate: If you’re one of those individuals who is under the impression that, in order to get something done right, you have to do it yourself, this D is for you! Often, we just take on the burden of doing everything ourselves and are reluctant to ask for help. This can stem from perfectionism, fear of being turned down, or looking weak, or just a bad taste in our mouths from a previous negative experience. It’s important to realize that many times, our to-do list is overburdened and our calendar is overscheduled because we simply haven’t reached out for help. Perhaps the person you could ask may need some help and guidance the first time you delegate a task to them, which may take longer that first time. However, that initial time investment may pay off in spades down the road when you can make space in your calendar for something else! If you’re a perfectionist and feel that no one else can do it as well as you, consider that fresh eyes may bring a new perspective and a better way to do it. Or maybe it may not be done as perfectly as you would do it, but it’s sufficient, and more importantly, it’s done (and not by you!) Sometimes we need to take a step back and realize that done is better than perfect. Whether in the office or at home, you may need to ask for help, even if it means taking a little extra time initially to teach or to oversee the person you’ve delegated the task to. You may find that people are more willing to help, and far more capable than you realized. One point I always make to my clients with teen-agers at home is that they are far more competent than we give them credit for (or that they would like us to believe.) If your teen-ager can record and upload a video to TikTok, they can certainly empty the dishwasher! Don’t be afraid to ask.

And I like to add a 5th D of my own – DO IT! Once you’ve pared your list down to the most important, most timely, and most relevant items, prioritized and delegated what you can, it’s time to just get it done!

Lisa Griffith

About The Author

Lisa Griffith is a speaker and consultant who provides services, both on-site and virtually, to help busy professionals organize their offices, systems and calendars. In addition to business and home office organizing, productivity and time management coaching, she provides workshops & seminars for business and community groups.