As humans, we have an innate desire to ‘do.’ If there’s a gap in our schedule or day, then we look for something to fill it, whether it's an extra email, a flick through social media, or a new task that you’ve now decided to bring forward. There’s always something on our to-do list, which leaves very little room for spontaneity or time to just ‘be.’
Writing a physical list may not be your style, but think and dig deep; there are ‘things’ that you need to do that you’ve stored in your mind for a rainy day. You’ll add them to your plan when you know you’re approaching a lull or a quieter day.
Having a list isn’t wrong; it’s an organised approach, plus a way of arranging day-to-day tasks that you know need to be completed. So, we’re not suggesting you banish the to-do list. However, there’s only so long the list can grow before it can feel overwhelming and unachievable. If you tick one thing off your list, try celebrating that achievement, and don’t immediately rush to replace it with something else. This can lead to feeling like you’re constantly running rather than walking and, in time, lead to burnout.
Managing our to-do lists
According to The Times Higher Education, the default mode of human problem solving is adding, not subtracting. Can you remember when you removed something from your to-do list without completing it? Or did you simply move it to another day and add something else?
This constant need for addition, combined with the stigma of doing more and being incredibly busy to prove worth and achievement, can be a one-way road to an ever-growing to-do list. The more we normalise celebrating subtraction and removing non-essential tasks from a list, the more we’ll feel comfortable about not needing to fill gaps with more things.
Have we not sold it to you yet?
Just think, by not filling every spare gap in your day, you’ll leave more time to do things that make you happy. Time to reflect, live in the moment, and proactively spend more time on things you may have previously rushed just to pop a tick in the box.
How to reduce your to-do list
With that in mind, here are our simple tips and suggestions on how to reduce your to-do list.
First thing’s first. Step away from the list for a couple of minutes and come back to it with a critical mindset. Is everything essential? Does it all need doing today? Can anything be moved to another day, week, or month? Or can it be removed altogether?
We have a way of convincing ourselves that something is a high priority, but when looking at the bigger picture, it may be worth less timely stress than we thought. So, have a good look at your list, try and remove at least one thing from today, and don’t replace it with something else! If everything is a ‘priority’, then nothing is actually a priority.
Don’t fill the time that you’ve booked in
If the 1-hour meeting you’ve scheduled at work doesn’t last the entire hour, don’t feel the need to extend the conversation or use fillers to ensure you use them all of the time. If it’s over in 20 minutes and you’ve covered everything you need to cover, celebrate that you’re ahead of schedule and that you’ve just won some time back.
Whether you choose to jump onto the next task now to win yourself some time back at the end of the day or spend 40 minutes grabbing coffee and relaxing, that’s up to you, just try and not replace it with a new task.
Schedule in time to do nothing
This one may feel odd, but some need regular reminders to take a break. Whether at home or work, schedule time to do nothing at all. Set the alarm, reminder, or calendar notification - whatever works best.
Try and be realistic with your timings to give yourself the best possible chance of taking on this scheduled ‘do nothing time.’ If, for example, you know you have a meeting between 9 and 10, don’t book it within this period; instead, choose a time during the day when there are no scheduled meetings or events.
Doing nothing at all looks different for different people. Doing nothing can mean physically doing nothing or doing something that you usually don’t have the time to do.
If you want to take it back a couple of steps and learn more about time management and creating efficient to-do lists, we have some fantastic courses within the CPD Courses Catalogue on our website. There are thousands of different courses, events, conferences, workshops and seminars that can help you to categorise your daily tasks and remove any stresses around being out of control when it comes to managing time.
Established in 1996, The CPD Certification Service is the largest and leading independent Continuing Professional Development accreditation organisation working across all industry sectors.
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