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How to lớn Only vì chưng Things You Actually Want to lớn Do

Christine Carter explains how to lớn shorten your to-do list & feel more motivated to lớn tackle it, all at once.

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By Christine Carter | November 29, 2016

Can you remember the last time your to-do menu was short enough lớn be, well, do-able? How about the last time you looked at your list và actually wanted to do everything on it?

Earlier this spring, I started getting loads of requests for help managing too-long task lists, and so I published this process for organizing them. Ineffective task lists make us feel lượt thích we have too much to vì in too little time, which makes us feel overwhelmed. Ironically, this makes us worse at planning & managing our time.


You might have a perfectly organized task list, though, that is still triggering overwhelm—I just went through one with a client, and frankly I was exhausted just looking at it. If your task list is sending you into an “I don’t have enough time to vị all this” tailspin, it’s time khổng lồ whittle that puppy down into something more manageable.


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This is a different process than organizing your to-do list, or formatting it in a more effective way. This is about shortening that list—dumping the stuff you dread—without suffering the consequences of not doing what you actually have to vị to get done.

In an ideal world, we would all be able khổng lồ apply Marie Kondo’s world-famous principles for cleaning out our closet to lớn our to-do list: Anything that doesn’t “spark joy” we put in the trash (delete) or give away (delegate). Most of my clients start off with very little on their task danh mục that they look forward khổng lồ doing; one recently declared that she only puts stuff on her to-do list that she doesn’t want to do, because she remembers to do what she actually wants to do.

So here’s how khổng lồ transform a too-long to-do list into a các mục of only the things that you actually want khổng lồ do:

1. Highlight all the items on your to-do các mục that you dread doing

Hold each task list item in your mind’s eye, and notice how it feels lớn think about doing that thành tựu in your body. Do you lean forward a little, feeling a longing to get right lớn that task? (Don’t highlight items that feel lượt thích that.) Or bởi vì you get a sinking feeling in your stomach, with a corresponding desire to lớn put the task off as long as possible? Highlight anything that makes you feel anything akin lớn aversion.

Highlight all the things that you’ve been procrastinating on because you simply don’t want to vì chưng them. And highlight the things that are on your list because you feel lượt thích you “should” vị them, or because you feel like you have to bởi vì them, but that you don’t want to vì or wouldn’t say you are choosing to vì (or wouldn’t say with some delight that you “get” lớn do).

In other words, highlight the things you plan to vày simply because someone expects you to vày them, or because you’ve always expected yourself to do those things, or because doing them would bring you status or power nguồn (but no actual joy in the process).

2. Delete or delegate as many highlighted items as you possibly can

Start by deleting, then move on khổng lồ delegating. Be truthful here; if you know in your heart of hearts that you’ll probably never vì a task thành quả anyway, or that there will be little consequence if you don’t vày a highlighted tác phẩm on your list, just scratch it off the list & be done with it.

You may feel relieved, or even accomplished (given that your danh sách is getting shorter so quickly!). Or, you may feel anxious or even sad while doing this. Acknowledge your emotions, whatever they may be, as you madly delete items from your task list. Be curious about whatever you are feeling, và accepting of your emotions—but no need to get involved in them.

Maybe you need lớn mourn (a little tiny bit) the fact that you are never going to lớn make those photo albums (that you hate making but really felt like you should make). It’s normal lớn feel sad, or a sense of regret—but also, be real: You aren’t grieving anything tangible; you’re grieving the loss of a fantasy. For example, you’re giving up the fantasy that you are the type of person who makes photo albums. Or who writes strategic plans. Or who answers every single email. Oh, well. Let yourself feel what you feel, và move on. This is a process of letting go.

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If a highlighted task is something that absolutely does need to lớn be done and thus can’t just be deleted, try khổng lồ think of someone else who’d actually enjoy doing it, and make a plan for how you can delegate it to lớn that person. If you don’t have an assistant or employees or children khổng lồ delegate to, consider neighborhood teens & retirees who’d lượt thích experience, your company, or a little extra cash. Or, think of people who need help with something you enjoy doing, & negotiate a trade with them.

All of this may seem lượt thích a lot more work than just doing the task yourself, but I promise, you will thank me later. Having a task danh sách that is both short enough khổng lồ not be overwhelming & that is loaded with things you’ll enjoy doing is worth the initial inefficiency.

3. Transform anything left on your menu that is highlighted into something that you actually want khổng lồ do

© Scott Ableman / Flickr/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you can’t delete or delegate tasks that you dread, then you’ll have khổng lồ make them better. Be creative. My favorite way to do this is lớn pair a not-fun task công trình with something you want to bởi vì more of. I’ve been known to sit on the lawn in the sun & make doctor appointments, và I listen to lớn fun audiobooks while driving lớn pick up kids and while cleaning the house (I just listened to lớn A Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes và I highly recommend it). My co-worker and I have been putting off reviewing our financial systems for, oh, years, but we just made a plan to bởi it together this summer poolside. There will be margaritas involved, and, needless to lớn say, we aren’t dreading the task anymore!

Understanding the value a task has for other people is another good way to lớn make it more fulfilling (thus decreasing the dread factor). In a stunning series of studies, Adam Grant found that briefly showing people how their work helps others increases not only how happy people are on the job but also how much they work và accomplish.

Grant’s most famous series of studies were conducted at a gọi center with paid fundraisers tasked with phoning potential donors lớn a public university. As anyone who’s ever dreaded making a cold điện thoại tư vấn knows, these people probably did not have the to-do danh mục of their dreams. People receiving cold calls from solicitors are often annoyed & can be downright rude. Employees must endure frequent rejection on the phone and low morale at the office—all in exchange for relatively low pay. Not surprisingly, call center jobs often have a high staff turnover rate.

In an effort to lớn see if he could motivate điện thoại tư vấn center fundraisers lớn stay on the job longer, Grant brought in a few scholarship students (who presumably had benefited from the fundraisers’ work) for a five-minute meeting where callers could ask them questions about their classes & experience at the university. In the next month, that quick conversation yielded unbelievable results. Callers who had met the scholarship students spent twice as long on the phone as the fundraisers who had not met any students. They accomplished far more, bringing in an average of 171 percent more money.

What made the difference? What, essentially, shifted the task of making cold calls from one people didn’t enjoy to one that they did? A shift in the callers’ beliefs about the meaning of their work for other people, and an increased sense of their purpose, value, & impact. So find out what value your work has for other people. How are you making their lives or jobs better?


You’ve just Marie Kondo-ed your task list! Everything left on it is now the stuff you actually want khổng lồ do, the tasks that “spark joy.” If you’re like my client who doesn’t need khổng lồ keep a list of the things she wants lớn do, you no longer need to lớn keep a to-do menu at all—you just need lớn remember to delete, delegate, or transform the things you don’t want to do.