Declutter your To-Do list

Issue number #009
16 March 2023
Reading time: 4:20 minutes

Sometimes we are snowed under the things requiring our attention.

No matter what we do, it seems like the number of things we have to tackle is growing faster than a bamboo tree.
But worry not, I have a few tips to help you out.

We will first clear up the old backlog and after we will set up a process to prevent new backlogs.
And we will do it with time blocks and 5D triage system.

A. Clearing backlog:

Set aside roughly half an hour to one hour of your time. You might not use it the whole time. But it’s better to have plenty of time on hand, so you can sort out your tasks and do some of them. Which ones you can do on the spot I defined in point A. c) 3.

a) Clean out your memory.

Our mind is not a place to hold every bit of information about our lives. Having everything in your head is like having tens of programs opened on the computer at once. The computer will slow down, unable to handle all the requests. Or imagine that you have ingredients for five different meals on the worktop. How will you make sense of the mess? Declutter is the keyword.

Cleaning your memory is easy. Just take a notepad and write down everything that you have to do. Everything.

Don’t worry about the order or dates. Just write down the task, one below the other. If you forget something, it’s not a big deal either, because you can always add them later.

b) Prepare a time slot

For the next step select a time during your next week, when you will do nothing but tackle the tasks at hand. Create a time slot of roughly 2 hours or more. If you are struggling to do that, create two slots of 1 hour or 4 slots of 30 minutes. Again, depending on the amount and type of your tasks, you might not need to use the whole time.

Remember, that these time slots are provisional. No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy. Pivoting based on circumstances is not giving up. It’schanget of methods while persisting on the goal.

c) Use the 5D method

Take your list. For each task ask the following questions. Perform the suggested action in each step. A lot of the tasks will disappear before you reach step 5.


Does it have to be done at all? Check the consequences ^ of not doing the thing.
Consequences are too severe? Go to point 2.
No consequences or bearing consequences is less painful than performing the task? => DELETE. 

(^ Note: to evaluate consequences consider your values, cost of resources, etc.)


Does the task depend on other tasks or does it have a specific date/time?
No, => go to point 3.
Yes, => go to point 4. 


How long will it take?
Longer than 3 minutes? Go to point 4.
Less than 3 minutes? => DO IT NOW. 


Does it have to be done by me? Can someone else do this?
Remember, it’s OK to ask for help. You don’t have to do everything.
Yes, I have to do it. Go to point 5.
No, someone else can do it. => DELEGATE

(Mark down who will be responsible. If relevant, add information on the expected result, what resources you will provide, the timescale, and when you will check up on the progress.)


Schedule the task and mark down any dependencies.
If the task has a specific time, schedule it for that time.
If you decided to delegate – see the note above.
If there is no specific date/time, schedule it within the task slot you prepared earlier.
Within one block schedule tasks with a maximum of 80% of the time frame.
Remember, that tasks tend to take longer than we expect. 

And that’s it.

By now you should have a lot less on your plate.
You deleted, did or delegated some tasks and scheduled the rest.

But how can you prevent this from happening again? That’s quite easy.

B. Preventing new tasks build-up 

To prevent being snowed under again you have to do three things a) Triage, b) Schedule, and c) Time

a) Triage

The biggest problem with hoarding tasks and responsibilities is usually our inability to say No. Saying No to requests is something I had to learn. I was always willing to help and do things for others.

But I had no filter. Often I ended up promising so many things, that I forgot some of them. Instead of helping I disappointed those whom I wanted to help.

Learning to say No solved that problem. Now I am in default No, with optional Yes.

My first reaction now is:
“I don’t think that I would be able to do that, but if anything changes, I’ll let you know.”

Guess who feels better? A friend to whom I told “Yes” and later had to cancel on him?
Or a friend to whom I first said “No” and later came back saying that I can do it after all?

To triage of the requests, I use the 5D process BEFORE accepting the task. That way I let into my To-Do list only the things I have to do or I care about. Because of that, I am much more likely to finish them on time and in good quality.

b) Schedule

I use time slots for most things.

I have time slots for all repetitive tasks I have to perform on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. It goes into my time slot if it doesn’t have a specific time.

When some event comes up, I schedule it around those slots, not during them. This way, I always have time to do my tasks.

(Of course, emergencies are something else entirely.)

c) Time

When I accept a new task, it goes straight into a relevant slot in my diary.

When the time slot is 80% full, the next task is going into the next time slot. And, if it involves someone else, I tell them: “The earliest I can do it is in two weeks if it is still relevant to you.”

Then it’s up to them to decide if they still want my help.

Side note: Don’t let emergencies created by someone else’s incompetence become your burden. You are not responsible for cleaning up the mess created by other people. If you do, they’ll never learn.

I hope this will help you to keep your To-Do list manageable and your mind sane.

So here’s my tip:

Create blocks of time for similar tasks. Delegate, delete, and defer tasks mercilessly. Do only those tasks which you have to do because of your prior commitments or tasks you want to do based on your values and goals.

Happy tasking.

Stay awesome and have a great week.


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