From Putting it Off to Crossing it Off – Tackle Your TO-DO List Once and For All

Blog Everything Else September 6, 2012

With the kids back in school, the holidays coming up, and Summer already behind us, there’s a lot of stuff you’d like to accomplish this Fall.

The to-do list keeps getting longer, and it feels like the days just get shorter and shorter.  And in fact, they do, right?

And let’s be honest.  Some of the to-do’s have been on your list for quite some time now.  Maybe even for years.

Hoping to finally finish up that first-year baby book?

The insane amount of digital photos on your computer nagging at you?

Do you have fantasies to “tag” each one, sort into chronological event albums, and create photo books for each year/event/rite of passage/family member?

We each have our own version of the stuff we’d love to have completed; stuff that’s not urgent, but that we hope to get to “one of these days,” right?

Having all this stuff on the to-do list can feel so overwhelming that not only do we not finish the list, too often it feels that we hardly made a dent!

You finish the day feeling crappy, stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, and unproductive, even though you felt busy the whole day!

Let’s get a handle on this situation, once and for all.

You deserve to go to bed each night feeling invigorated, productive, alive, purposeful, worthwhile, valuable, energized, elevated, inspired – and peaceful.

You feel me?

Here’s how.

I call it “What Not to Do.”

It’s a little reminiscent of TLC’s “What Not to Wear” with Stacey London and Clinton Kelley.  As in, get comfortable with trashing your stuff.

Except in this case, instead of old clothes, we’re tossing stuff on your to-do list.

Instead of doing them, we’re deleting them.

Here’s how.

Make a list of every single thing you can think of that’s on your proverbial to-do list.

When making this list, think through each aspect of your life:

Stuff relating to your home
Stuff relating to work
Stuff to buy
Stuff to mail
Calls to make
Emails to write/respond to
Gifts for others
RSVPs for events
Event planning
Stuff related to your car
Stuff related to your kids
Stuff related to your legal, financial, health, insurance, etc.
Stuff related to your spouse, your parents
Appointments to book
Stuff to read
Stuff to write
Stuff to make
Stuff to look up

And whatever else under the sun that comes up.

Now, once you’ve written everything you can possibly think of down on your list, give the list a good read, top to bottom.

You’ll quickly notice that everything on your list falls into one of 3 categories:

Stuff you NEED to get done.  (N)

Stuff you WANT to get done.  (W)

And stuff you feel that you SHOULD get done.  (S)

Now go down the list with a pen, and, item by item, put an N, a W, or an S next to each item.

Once you’ve gotten to the bottom of the list, and assigned every single line item an “N”, a “W” or an “S”, bring your eyes back to the top.

No go down the list again, but this time, for every line item that has an “S” next to it:  CROSS IT OUT.

For real.



If it turns out later that you regret taking it off the list, you can always add it back.  But for now, it’s a goner.

The stuff you NEED to do and the stuff you WANT to do need your attention.

Ok, so let’s get to the stuff you NEED to do.

Go down the N’s, and assign each one a designation of D, W, M, or Y, for Day, Week, Month, or Year, corresponding to how urgently it needs to get done.

For example, you may need to send in your credit card payment TODAY, send in a permission slip for a school field trip THIS WEEK, take your car in for 40,000 mile service this MONTH, and file your papers to get admitted to your state’s licensing bureau this YEAR before your passing test score expires.

You with me?

Do the same thing with the WANTS.

What do you WANT to get done TODAY, THIS WEEK, THIS MONTH, and THIS YEAR?

Next, pull out your day planner/calendar/iPhone/blackberry/google calendar – whatever you use.

I use iCal on the Mac, synced to my iPhone, and love it.

SCHEDULE all of TODAY’s N’s and W’s.

As in, literally put them in your calendar for today.

For example, schedule calling the pediatrician’s office back re your son’s allergy protocol at 10:05 a.m. (a NEED), your manicure at 10:45 a.m. (a WANT), grocery shopping at 12 p.m. (a NEED), lunch for yourself at 1 p.m. (a NEED), and calling your best friend in another state at 8 p.m., after you’ve gotten the kids in bed (a WANT).

Now when you look at today’s calendar, not only are you going to accomplish your stuff, but you’ll also notice there’s some blank space.

Don’t you just love blank space?

Next schedule all the N’s and all the W’s for THIS WEEK.

Literally schedule them into your week.  Precisely when they are getting done.

And so on with THIS MONTH’S and THIS YEAR’s needs and wants.

Let’s be clear.

The idea is NOT to complete all the NEEDS before beginning any of the WANTS.

That would be a tragic existence.  If you never did anything you actually wanted to do because you were always limiting yourself to things you need to do before allowing yourself any freedom, then you probably wouldn’t be very fun to hang out with.

The idea is for your time each day to be a lovely blend of things you NEED to get done and things you WANT to do.

And as for the things you tell yourself you SHOULD do, until that SHOULD is so important that it turns into a NEED or a WANT, all it is a GUILT-producer.

It just nags at you, and the longer it lingers on your list, the more it brings you down, making you feel like a loser for not ever getting to it.

So drop it.

Remember, if after time it really nags at you, and you regret that you crossed it off, you can always invite it back onto the WANT list, or even the NEED list.  But for now, as long as it remains a “should” – kick it to the curb!


Get out your pen and paper, and start writing.

Do it now.

Don’t skip any of the steps I laid out.  Each step is critical in making the “What Not to Do” list.

Once you’ve done it, let me know how it feels!

Leave a comment below and tell me what silly “should” you finally purged!

Remember, mama, the feelings of accomplishment, productivity, invigoration, purposefulness, peace – they’re all yours for the taking.

You just have to decide.


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