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  • Sara Torpey

Declutter Your To-Do List, Right Now!

When people come to me for coaching, it is often because they feel like they are losing the battle with their to-do list. They feel like there are so many things that need to be done, right now, and not only are they not sure where to start to begin to bring it back under control, but they also worry that they’re focusing on the wrong items. They are overwhelmed, unsure, and tired.


I hear them saying that they feel like they are incredibly busy, but aren’t sure they’re actually being productive.


Can you relate to these feelings? Have you felt like this with your business, or even your day-to-day life?


When clients come to me, they do so for a whole range of reasons related to goals, priorities, systems, and organization. During our early conversations, when it seems that this feeling of loss of control is a part of their work, we often choose to prioritize getting the insane to-do list under control first.


Maybe it’s something you wish you could do.


If that's the case, no need to wish - you really can!


But really, how do you do this, especially when it all feels so out of control to start with?


Step 1. You start by making a list. Not a to-do list. An Everything-List.


I usually suggest plain paper, but you can make your everything-list on whatever you have handy (or you can use this handy template!).


What goes on the list? Everything you can think of.


Don’t worry about categories. Don’t worry about having answers. Just write it all down. The items on the list might be all be related to your business, but they might be more than that - maybe you also work in another role, maybe you have kids, maybe there are things you wish you were doing for yourself and aren’t - just write it all down. Get it all out on paper. No organization needed.


No formatting. Just write.


In my experience, this is a list that is made over days, rather than in one sitting. Start today, come back tomorrow, and maybe the day after to re-read, add, and adjust as needed. Look at it again on the 4th or 5th day. You’ll be amazed to find that there are still things to add, each and every time.


When you have looked at your everything- list over two consecutive days without adding anything substantial, it’s finished.


I can hear you thinking. “Great. I now have a million things on my list. Good work, lady. Now what?!”


Step 2. Order the chaos.


Remember - there’s a template for this. You can get it here if you didn’t get it earlier)!


Look at all of your items, and think about the ‘buckets’ that each item might fall under. For business it might be things like ‘research,’ ‘social media,’ ‘marketing,’ ‘development,’ ‘things to learn,’ and then you might have others that relate to your life, to other roles, to family, or health. Choose ‘bucket’ headings where each bucket can capture a number of list items - if only one thing fits in the bucket, the bucket isn’t big enough. That’s a sign that you might want to think more broadly about what that item really is about.


Once you have ‘buckets’, sort your list items. Once again, no order needed. Just move things around, so that you can get a sense of the kinds of things you are working on, and what part of your business, life, or day they relate to.


So far so good!


Step 3. Categorize. It’s the hard one, but it’s worth it.


Pick a bucket (you’ll do this for each bucket, but pick one to start). Sort the items in the bucket into 3 sub-categories. You can color code, you can number - whatever floats your boat.


Category 1: Things that are absolutely necessary to be doing right now. Be discerning - absolutely necessary means that you can’t possibly move forward without doing that thing.


Category 2: Things that would really help you to grow in some way, if they were to get some energy/time put their way.


Category 3: Things that matter (or maybe don’t), but aren’t for right now. Think of these as the long-term dreams/projects/ideas.


Note!!! Everything on your list cannot be a category 1, or even a 2 - there are 3s in there :) If a bucket doesn't have any 3s take another pass through and see what you can re-assign.


Work your way through each bucket. What’s necessary? What’s important? What’s not right now?


Once each bucket has been sorted, you are ready for a de-cluttered to-do list!


Step 4: Re-make your to-do list!


I make a list each week, and then a sub-list each evening - you might be different, and that’s okay. I suggest starting with a week-view, and then breaking it down from there.


However you do it, here’s what you should consider:


  • Items in Category 1 need to have space in your week. List them out - I try to break them up over the week, some in each day. How much time do they need, and where do they fit?

  • Items in Category 2 deserve some space in your week. Choose 2 or maybe 3 (total, not from each bucket!) that you think are the most important/worthwhile right now, and slot them into a space.

  • Items in Category 3 aren’t on the list. Don’t panic. Category 3 items become Category 2 as things in Category 2 get finished! Then, and only then, do they move up the list!

Whew!!! How does it feel? What did you think of this process?


I would love to hear your thoughts - feel free to drop me a note, or connect on Facebook!


If you found this exercise useful useful, and would like to explore working together more (this is just one of the ways I work with clients!), I would love to chat. Schedule a free, no strings attached, one-on-one conversation here, so we can talk about your business!

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