Too Much to Do! Trimming the to-do list

“I feel overwhelmed by my to-do list! It’s so long that sometimes I don’t even want to look at it! I have tried to schedule things, but I can never get to all of it! It’s so stressful!”

Having a to-do list can be a big help in keeping track of commitments to ourselves and others. But, sometimes the list does get too long to manage! What then?

It’s time to do surgery to trim the to-do list!

This is the first of three posts on managing your to-do list and getting the to-do list items into your planner so that you actually do them! (If you don’t have a to-do list yet, the next two posts will be more helpful to you than this post.) 

To trim the to-do list, you will need to set aside some time – an evening when you are not too tired, or some time on a weekend when you won’t have too many interruptions. Then gather your to-do list and a pen or pencil.  Now, sit down with yourself and get to work!

1) First, admit that you can’t do everything you might want to so. If you have ADHD, you are likely to have more ideas than time. Celebrate your creativity but accept that time is limited – each day, week, month and year.

2) Consider what’s most important to you. What do you need to do for your work? Family? Self-care? If you were to look back on your life at age 75, what would you be most proud of? What would you say were the most meaningful and satisfying experiences and commitments? What do you really, truly value? Who do you want to be?

3) Now, get out the scalpel to trim that list!

•  Go through your to-do list one item at a time. Ask yourself, “How does this item support what I must do for work, family or self care? Or what I value or who I want to be?”

•  If you know that an item doesn’t support either necessities or your bigger vision, cross it off! It may have been a good idea at the time, but you’ve re-evaluated: let it go!

•  If you are really not sure whether to keep or omit an item on your list, start a new list. This list will be for the “maybes.” You can do items on this list if you’ve got extra time someday. You can also check this list from time to time to see whether you are ready to omit or schedule each “maybe” task. If months pass and an item lingers on the “maybe” list, perhaps you’ll decide it’s time to cross it off.

If you’ve been firm with yourself on this task, you should see a to-do list that is at least a bit smaller than the one you started with. 

4) Finally, take some time to actually schedule the items on your to-do list on your planner or calendar. If a task is too big to do all at once, break it into component pieces, and schedule each of those step-wise. This translation from to-do list to planner or calendar is the way to make sure items on your list will actually get done. A subsequent blog post will look at this scheduling process in more detail.

5) Ongoing management of your to-do list takes some attention. Each time you want to add something new to your to-do list, ask yourself again,  “How does this item support what I need to do for work, family or my self or what I value or who I want to be?” Then, omit, schedule, or “maybe” list it right away!

If you implement this approach to trimming your to-do list, and stick with it, you may never have to be overwhelmed by a long to-do list again!

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