Let’s talk about your to-do list.
For years, my to-do list looked like this:
- birthday party
- Fujitsu gig?
I would look at it and immediately want to begin drinking. In Thailand. On a nudist beach.
Let’s deconstruct that list.
Okay, I need to plan my daughter’s birthday party. Cake, food, balloons, when should we have it? I don’t know. Okay, paralyzed, move to the next item.
Taxes. Heart pounding, pile of receipts, oh god running out of time, SHIT. Okay, I’ll handle that when I’m braver and smarter. Next.
Childcare. Yes, I need childcare so I can work. Juggling five different sitters is a nightmare. But can I really put my baby into a kennel where she might cry and no one would pick her up and oh my heart is hurting at the very prospect and I’m a feminist but this sucks and– shit shit shit!!! I have to get SOMETHING done today! Okay, next.
Let’s see, I am waiting to see if this project has come through or not. In the meantime, I’m holding all the weekends in June just in case and also they want me to hold July too, and if I get the gig it would be great money and be easy peasy but in the meantime I can’t plan anything this summer including my daughter’s birthday party.
OH MY WORD. IT WAS THE MERRY GO ROUND FROM HELL.
Here is something I did not learn until I was in my 30s:
A birthday party, taxes, and childcare are not To-Dos. Not action items. I mean honestly, how do you ‘do’ birthday? How do ‘complete’ childcare?
Those things are PROJECTS made up of many many actions.
I know this seems basic, but understanding this one concept quite literally changed my life.
Your mind, it is a simple creature. It needs simple instructions.
When it tries to process cake and balloons and invitations AND put it all on hold because you can’t commit to a date yet, your little mind, it wants to kill itself.
We have to be kind to our minds. To-do lists full of big, vague, undefined and therefore un-complete-able projects are MEAN. Just plain mean.
To fix this, you need to learn two crucial skills. They are simple. The hardest part will be remembering to do them.
To-do list ideas for when yours isn’t working
1. Break your to-do list down into smaller tasks
So for example, the birthday party requires these smaller steps:
- set a date
- tell people
- order a cake
- plan some food
- buy the food
- handsew garland bunting to strew delicately across the yard along with organic twinkle lights (just kidding!!!! That was a test to see if you were reading. Crepe paper, people. Crepe paper.)
- remind people
- put in earplugs
But really? Even this list is kind of terrible. How am I going to tell people? Email? Evite? Handmade letterpress with silk bows? Skywriting?
2. Get very clear on what physical action each list item requires
This brings us to the second skill: attach a physical action to each item. Another way to think of it is that each item on your to-do list should begin with a VERB. Sometimes you can do, physically, with your body.
Here are some good ones:
- call X
- email X
- make a list
- buy X (tricky: online? drive there? trade for eggs? just pick one.)
- write down a plan
- drive to X
- ask X about X
If you will get in the habit of breaking things into teeny tiny steps, and getting clear on the exact action you will take on each, life will get a lot less stressful.
That’s a bold claim, but I believe it’s true.
But I want to leave you with one final tip. What about that last item, the potential project that was holding up everything else?
3. Create a separate mini-list for things you’re waiting for
This is a brilliant concept I learned from David Allen, author of Getting Things Done. (It’s a great book, but before you go out and buy it, I need to warn you that his system will take you approximately ten years to master. Ok, I’m exaggerating, but my system is simpler and you can master it in one week. Week 5 of The Queen Sweep, to be exact.)
There, you’ll list the things you can’t take action on until something outside of your control happens– in this case, a phone call with a yes or no and, if I was lucky, a firm date. But also list the date by which you are just going to move forward.
For example, if it was mid-March, and I wanted to plan the party for late June, I might decide that if I hadn’t heard back by April 16, I would make a phone call. Or that if I hadn’t heard back by May 1st, I was just going to pick a date, commit to it, and hope for the best.
I have a lot more to say about managing your time and how to keep track of it all, but start there. Take your list, your dreaded, loathed horrible to-do list, and break things down into concrete actions.
If the list is so long you want to visit me on my nudist beach in Thailand and steal my umbrella cocktail, take a few deep breaths and ask yourself,
4. Ask yourself, if I could only get ONE thing done today, what would I want it to be?
What would give me the most relief or make me feel proud?
Boom. (Hint: if this were your list, I’d recommend Call my accountant and plead for mercy.)
There’s a ton of energy locked up in your clutter, and when you clean that shit up, you get to put that glorious momentum toward the things you really care about.
P.S. Want more inspiration on clearing out your clutter and taking charge of your life? Sign up below for a free video series or follow me on Facebook to see tours of my daily life!