Is your to-do list overflowing with commitments, tasks, and small projects that you need to do daily, weekly, monthly?
Is your digital calendar an array of colors that no longer mean anything to you and that was your last attempt to get organized because you saw some 23-year-old YouTuber showcasing their productivity system?
From experience, when you have kids and a full-time job (or just kids or just a full-time job), the only way to get your to-dos under control is to live intentionally.
And to do that is to DELETE your to-do items.
Free up your calendar. Let go of everything you think you should do.
I get inundated by shoulds.
- I should take my kids to this event everyone is talking about;
- I should take that online class,
- I should read this book,
- I should have a date night with my husband (but honestly, we don’t really do those),
- I should go walking with my friend,
- I should answer some emails
- I should do my university assignment (because at some point, I decided it would be a good idea to go back to the university to start a new degree)
On top of all my shoulds, I love getting organized, and I (only recently) admitted to myself that I used organizing as busywork, an illusion of doing something productive.
Evaluating my To-Dos
Several years ago, I evaluated my To-Do list and (not without embarrassment) decided that most of the items on it did not have to be done.
Maybe they were items on someone else’s list, someone else’s to do, but as I wrote in this post about time management
One of my life’s guiding quotes.
Managing (and deleting) my To-Dos
Now, as I explain in this post, I add all my time-sensitive To-Dos to my Google Tasks, only because they seamlessly link to my Google calendar, where I keep everything that has a date attached to it.
Any more relaxed, task-based to-dos, usually go to “My Hub” where I can look at them now and then, but that aren’t urgent. And even when I do put something on that list, it doesn’t always get done and I am ok with that. Because often, I realize, it either resolves itself or I delete it because it doesn’t need to be done after all.
Ask yourself these questions before adding anything to your To-Do List
Here is the list of questions I ask myself every time I consider adding something to my to-do list:
- What impact does doing this task have on my life in 6 months, 1 year, 3 years from now?
- What projects will significantly uplift my life when I complete them?
- Is this the most important thing I could be doing right now?
- Will this activity or effort make a significant contribution toward my goals?
- Does this activity align with my purpose?
- Is this essential?
- What feels essential in the moment but pulls me away from what is most important?
Now, of course, to analyze it this way, you really have to know where you are going, otherwise, everything will seem essential.
I must admit that I still struggle with this because there are tasks that I enjoy doing (like organizing my Evernote Notebooks!) but that do not bring me closer to any of my goals and do not make any positive impact on my or anyone elses lives.
Then there are those activities, like cooking, that I may not enjoy (I am trying!) but that do have specific usefulness.
I still organize my Evernote Notebooks every now and then (it’s so relaxing!) because I tell myself that going through those old articles I clipped sparks up new ideas and inspires me again, but I do not put it on my to-do list. Yes, that used to be on my to-do list once upon a time. So was to organize my wardrobe. To clean out kids’ closets. To tidy up the pantry or clean my fridge. To call a friend I haven’t heard from in a while. To read an article or a book.
Now, none of those things ever go on my to-do list. They just happen when they happen and I never worry about them anymore if they don’t happen. (although, I will say that since I organized the Konmaire way 5 years ago, my to-do list looks so much simpler anyway)
We do, however, have to spend some time to make time, but once that is done, it does not have to be done again. I still fall into my old ways (because we are who we are), but I know how to pull myself out swiftly and efficiently now.
The same goes for time commitments. I carefully analyze every time commitment I have, except for when it is a social activity. It is for another article, but I think that people underestimate the need to meet with friends (even acquaintances who could turn into friends) regularly for their mental health.
Questions I ask myself (ideally before, but sometimes after) every new commitment
I recently joined the executive committee of an NGO (a voluntary position) and soon realized that the organization did not align with my purpose as much as I thought it would. Additionally, it was taking too much of my time and putting me under stress. It was like being stuck in a terrible job but not even being paid for it. Everyone I confided in and asked for advice said that I have to keep going at least until the end of the term otherwise it is just not fair. But ultimately, I had to decide for myself that it was not fair to me. As much as I wanted to fulfill my obligations and as much as I felt guilty, I had to resign my position from the committee. And I felt better for it; my life quality soared, I did not even realize fully just how much it was bothering me until I … deleted it from my life.
But it has once again taught me a valuable lesson – I have to always be mindful of how I choose to spend my time. And let’s face it, most of it is by choice, even if we tell ourselves it isn’t.
And I am not really talking about productivity here, but mindfulness. I’d rather spend hours watching (or rewatching) a TV show I enjoy than doing something else that doesn’t really bring me closer to my goals or doesn’t have to be done at all.
So ask yourself these questions for everything you are currently doing or are about to do. I have these questions in My Hub Template where I can refer to them often. You can paste them on your fridge, next to your desk, on the bathroom mirror. They are that important.
(Disclaimer: I had these questions for years but I didn’t come up with them. I copied them from somewhere, a book or an article, but unfortunately, I can’t remember where, so I can’t credit anyone. They have served me for years and I am very grateful for them)
- Does this opportunity excite me?
- Does it contribute to my life in a positive way? Does it align with my purpose?
- Am I keeping it on my calendar out of guilt or obligation? Is it a “have to” or “should”?
- Am I keeping this commitment/activity because of other’s agendas or expectations?
- What are my fears about dropping this activity/commitment? What is the worst-case scenario?
- If I say “yes” to this commitment, what am I saying “no” to?
- Am I saying “yes” only to the things that truly matter to me?
- If I didn’t have this opportunity, what would I be willing to do to acquire it?
- Who is someone in my life who knows me well enough and can tell me whether this activity/commitment is serving me?
Do a Weekly Review for better results
A weekly review is a great tool to keep mindful and analyze your time and obligations. I usually do it by journaling answers to these questions. I aim to do it weekly, but this doesn’t go on my to-do list and it doesn’t get done every week (or most weeks), but it is always uplifting when it does get done. I highly recommend it (but don’t make it another to-do item!).
Here are my questions, but I change them, depending on what I am currently trying to focus on.
- How am I doing with my morning routine?
- How am I doing with mindful eating?
- How am I doing with being kind to myself?
- Am I mostly doing activities that align with my goals (not doing what doesn’t need to be done)?