Lighten Your List by Letting Go: Decluttering Your To-Do’s

In an ideal world, a list that tracks your active work is tightly minimal and up-to-date. In the real world, to-do lists often become a slurry of things we actually will work on soon, things we feel guilty about admitting we’re not going to do, and things we want to do– but in reality won’t make time for until months in the future.

soft white feathers

Original image by Lindsey Bieda, words by Thekla Richter.

When your to-do and project lists get unwieldy and unintentional, your mental, emotional + energetic frequencies can get jammed with static. Overly long lists can:

  • Take longer to review, prioritize and maintain
  • Take up emotional and mental bandwidth
  • Cause list avoidance and disorganization
  • Convince you that you’re lazy, procrastinating or unproductive
  • Create stress by forcing you to repeatedly question your priorities
  • Cause you to over-focus on what hasn’t been done yet, rather than what you have completed
  • Make it harder to say a smart yes or no to a new commitment
  • Sap your focus and momentum
  • Contribute to overwhelm

“Do… or do not. There is no try,” said Yoda. If you’re not going to do it anytime soon, get clear on that fact. Give yourself permission to let the task go (for now), and stop spending your precious energy on keeping it in front of yourself.

Your to-do list can radiate pure intention. What needs to move out of the way to let your true goals shine?

When You’re Ready to Purge

Bring out your reddest red pen, your fiercest honesty and your gentlest self-compassion. Get your list or gather up your far-flung multiple lists. Do a brain-dump of the unwritten to-do list in your head while you’re at it – unwritten lists often need the most decluttering of all.

When you’re ready to start taking things off your list, just start crossing things off. Unsure what to keep and what to cross off? Ask yourself these questions:

1. Is it CURRENT? Have I taken action in the last 21 days, or will I truly take action on this in the next 21 days?

2. Is it REALISTIC? In my heart of hearts, do I trust that I can and will make time for and dedicate resources to this now?

3. Is it DESIRED? Do I actually want to do it? Does it speak to my values and feel right, even if I also feel some resistance?

For projects that aren’t quite passing that three-question test, here’s a bonus question:

4. It is as EASY AS CAN BE? Would this project meet the current, realistic and desired criteria if you just tweaked it to make it easier? Maybe you could do something on a smaller scale or less perfectly, hand off some or all it to your spouse/partner, pay someone else to do it, get super concrete on the very next step or otherwise transform the project into something that’s less daunting.

Follow your sense of rightness. Trust your heart. Cross stuff off and leave stuff on. You know what needs to come off your list.

Remember that if something you cross off affects others, you might need to also add something to your list: discussing this change with someone else or notifying them. Projects that only directly affect you are easiest to reassess, but sometimes the purging process can also bring to light the need for larger or more complex changes that involve more coordination than simply crossing something off. Do what feels right.

What to Do with Purged Items

If your to-do list item is current, realistic and desired, great! Leave it on the list. Otherwise, you can either cross it off completely – a great feeling! – or move it to a separate place to track.

Options for tracking elsewhere might be:

  • A someday-maybe list, a la David Allen’s Getting Things Done
  • An idea/brainstorming document or file, digital or paper
  • An all-day entry in your calendar, to reconsider doing it actively at a future date
  • A longer-term project planning tool, like a month-by-month project list or color-coded project calendar

A Decluttering Dare

What would happen if you crossed off or moved to another list 25% of the things on your list? How about 50% or 75%? Feel any lighter yet? Cross off as much as you can bring yourself to dare letting go of. If something matters, it will come back to you like something set free that knows it’s yours. In the meantime… dare yourself to work with a smaller list.

This exercise is great to bring to your list over and over again. You might find that you get fiercer each time as you feel how rewarding and safe it is to let some things go.

What do you dare yourself to let go of?

Luxuriate in Space

If you keep your lists on paper, I highly urge you to copy them out fresh + clean after a purge. If your digital system shows you crossed-off items, I encourage you to wave whatever digital wands will make them disappear. Part of the payoff of lightening your list is a cleaner, shorter new list. Gaze upon its beauty and enjoy your new-found space.

Acknowledge and celebrate yourself for the hard work you did. I hope that you feel fresh, clean + light.

How does it feel to lighten your load by the power of your will alone?

Love this post? Please share it with the buttons below. And I invite you to stop by my Facebook page with any stories of challenges and successes in list-purging.

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