How To Declutter Your To-Do List [Organizing Mission #43]

Declutter Your To Do List

Welcome to Mission #43 of our 52 Get Organized Missions.

An unrealistic to-do list undermines your effectiveness in two ways:

  1. Having too many tasks distracts, overwhelms and confuses you – taking focus away from items that matter
  2. Inability to complete items de-motivates you and reduces your self confidence.

Give your productivity and motivation an instant boost in this mission – by decluttering your to-do list.

If you’ve completed the previous mission Get Organized Mission #42: Simplify Your Life – Time then you will love this week’s mission.

Remember: you only need 30 minutes for the basic mission. Extended Options are below.
If you’re new, you might like to start here -> 52 Organizing Missions.

Get Organized Mission #43:
Declutter Your To-Do List

Step 1: Take a To-Do List Reality Check (5 minutes)

Now I’m going to say something you might not wanna hear. Ready?

There’s never enough time to do everything on your to-do list.

Time and energy are limited – but the tasks, reading, errands, home improvements, shopping, family commitments, emails, and other demands are endless.

Now for the good news.

There is enough time to do the important things.

But – and this is the reality-check part – as long as you harbor the fantasy that everything is doable if only you locate the right diary system/assistant/task-management software, you won’t focus on the important things.

And important things – whether having milk for a harmonious breakfast or completing a client proposal – are the only ones we want on our to-do lists.

Step 2: Declutter Your To-Do List (20 minutes)

Now that we’ve made peace with reality, let’s find the to-do list miscreants that cause us to feel overwhelmed and under-motivated, and stop us focusing on the important stuff.

Keeping in mind the limits of time and infinity of tasks, scour your to-do list for items that aren’t an excellent use of your time. They might include the following.


Malingerers are tasks that have been transferred onto successive to-do lists since what seems like the dawn of time.

If you haven’t done them by now, simply let them go. One day you may suddenly get motivated to do them unbidden by your pesky task list – and you can feel great if and when that happens.

Meanwhile, save yourself the daily frustration of failing to complete them, and put a line through them.


Busywork is anything that makes you feel virtuous without actually contributing to your priorities. For many people, this is where the bulk of to-do list clutter is found.

Examples of busywork include:

  • Attending meetings where you gain/contribute little or nothing
  • Reading and replying to emails where you gain/contribute little or nothing
  • Preparing reports on information that could be accessed by the user on an as-needed basis
  • Working on low-value projects
  • Making something perfect that only needs to be good (believe me, I know how hard this one is!)
  • Embellishing a task with extraneous formatting, information, research, etc
  • Completing something purely out of habit – not worth
  • Over-complication – long, detailed or intricate projects where simple, direct tasks would suffice.

None of these pieces of busywork are bad in themselves – they simply steal time and energy away from things that matter. So let’s put a line through them and make room for more important to-do items.

OPP (Other People’s Priorities)

It’s a rare person who doesn’t have a few OPPs on their to-do list.

OPPs can be so ingrained that you don’t see them unless you really look. Hiding places include:

  • The way you should raise your children
  • The kind of work you should do
  • The way your home should look or function
  • The kinds of meals you should cook
  • The activities a man/woman should enjoy
  • The sort of books you should read.

(Hmm, the word ‘should’ sure comes up a lot in OPPs – a good clue. :))

Check your to-do list for items that don’t reflect your own priorities – and put a firm line through them.

Step 3: Review Your Decluttered To-Do List (5 minutes)

Now that you’ve removed your to-do list clutter, let’s review what remains.

Your to-do list should now be shorter, more focused on your priorities, and more motivating. (If it isn’t, you may need to repeat steps 1 and 2.)

Enjoy the greater clarity and confidence you’ll feel as you tackle your slimmed-down to-do list each day.

And don’t let malingerers, busywork or OPPs find their way back!

Dos & Don’ts

  • Don’t get distracted by the apparent importance of tasks that don’t contribute to your priorities. Keep reminding yourself of the time you’ll gain for the important things in your life
  • Do be ruthless! Every piece of to-do list clutter is costing you effectiveness, productivity and motivation. Get rid of it!

Extended Organizing Mission Options

Want to go beyond this 30-minute organizing mission?

  • Complete this mission as a family. It’s an excellent way to understand what matters to each family member and delete to-dos that hold no meaning for anyone. You might be surprised to learn what these are!
  • Complete this mission with your boss. Getting clear on exactly what your boss expects from you will make it much easier to identify and eliminate the to-do list clutter.
  • Complete this mission with your business partner or team. Removing low-value items from each of your lists can give your business or department a fresh burst of energy.

Ready, Set, Go!

Remember – move quickly, act fast, don’t overthink.

Start The 30-Minute Timer

Before You Go: Check In!

Please add a comment below to say you’ve completed this week’s Get Organized Mission and you’re keeping your commitment.

And see you back here next week!


You can now get your weekly organizing mission delivered to your inbox. Click here to sign up for 52 Organizing Missions.

[Image: / CC BY 2.0]

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