How to Knock Stuff Off of Your To Do List



















One of my favorite productivity gurus is David Allen of Getting Things Done fame. He teaches us that getting things out of our heads and  into a system that you can trust such as a notebook or productivity app is the only way to go. We walk around thinking of stuff all day long and it stresses us out! He suggests doing a brain dump and then start sorting out your thoughts and turning them into actionables.

A lot of  things that we have on our to-do lists are not actually actionables.

For instance  I have “deal with insurance bill” on my to do list. But it is actually a project, not an action. (Sidenote: don’t be afraid of the word “project”–they come in all sizes and just means that you have multiple steps to resolve an issue.)  David Allen would say “So, what’s your next action?” as in, what is the action that needs to take place to advance the project? In order to “deal” with it I need to 1. collect my receipts and bills, 2. compare them to current insurance bill and then 3. call the insurance company (ugh). Even though this is an unpleasant thing to do, each step will probably only take 15-20 minutes at the most. I can knock it out in an hour and get on to doing the more pleasant things on my list of things to do (such as: buy fresh flowers or sketch new embroidery project). This principle can be applied to anything you are dealing with at home or at work. And it certainly breaks things down into doable size actions that can be scheduled or knocked out once you have spent a few minutes thinking about what actually needs to get done.

Declutter the house is not a to-do. It’s a project made up of tiny little actions. Some of those actions are a royal pain and some of them are actually pleasurable, but if you put them all in one lump that it won’t get done, you won’t get to experience the pleasure of a finished result and you most certainly will prolong the pain. You can spend weeks, months or years avoiding taking care of stuff that is far easier to do than you are imagining. I pinky swear. And when you get to something hard, enlist some help from a family member or friend. Or pump yourself up by wearing your favorite shirt or listening to a shake your booty song. Or both! Empower yourself by breaking down some of the stuff on your to-do list and start feeling better about making the easy stuff easy!

If you haven’t already, give this simple but super effective tool a test drive and let me know what you think! Are you a fan of David Allen? Do you have some secret weapon that you use when you are trying to go Ninja on your to-do list? Let me know in the comments below! I love hearing from y’all.


  1. homemakersdaily says

    I can completely relate to this comment from your post: “I make simple things hard. All the time. And then I feel put upon. And resentful. Because all of a sudden I have a mountain of things to do and they all feel hard. But the reality of it is that they aren’t particularly hard, or unpleasant.”

    That’s me, too! And I tend to dread things because I don’t want to do them but in the end, they aren’t really a big deal at all.

    I like David Allen’s stuff but it doesn’t work for me. I have to have a daily to-do list. However, I do have a page in my planner where I “dump” everything. Then I transfer it over to my daily list or I leave it there and work from that list if I happen to get everything done on my list. My life is very unpredictable so I designed a system that would work for me regardless of what kind of day I had.

    But a good system doesn’t necessarily mean I get it done. I mastered my system – now if I could just master ME!!!

    • says

      It sounds like you have a good system already! I think it’s important to keep flexible but I have to admit, I tend to be a little too scattered with my to do lists and should probably stick to one list and one schedule. I love your blog, btw, and you’ve inspired me to check out Franklin planners again. I really like their system and maybe going back to their system might keep me on the straight and narrow. Wink! Thanks for stopping by. -Lisa

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