Removing items from your task list

I am the kind of person that usually thinks of things to do far faster than I can actually accomplish them, no matter how hard or fast I work. As a result, my task list can easily grow to a huge size very quickly. To combat this rapid growth, I have started finding ways to remove items from my task list, even if I don’t accomplish them. Some people refer to this process as “triage.”


I take a hard look at every item on my list, and ask myself, “Is this really necessary? What will happen if I don’t do this task? Will my life be significantly affected?” If the answers are “No, not much, and no,” then I move it to a “things to do if time” list. I use Google task lists, so this process is pretty easy.

How often do you think I get around to doing things on my “things to do if time” list? You guessed it: not very often. But that’s OK, because those tasks are always there and if I do ever come up with the time, I can go to that list. But there are only so many hours in the day, so getting those unnecessary items off my primary task list saves me a lot of frustration and time, as I only have to think about what actually needs to be done every time I look at my list.

Don’t do list

Some authors discuss the concept of having a “don’t do” list. The idea is to intentionally reduce your task burdens and free up more of your time for things you love, or just give yourself more down time. If you find yourself doing tasks that you find very unfulfilling, but you can’t bring yourself to completely delete them, try moving them to a “don’t do” list, and see what happens.

Method for finding tasks to remove

A method I use to see if a task is needed or not is to imagine what would need to happen in order for me to take the item off of my list. For example, a while back I came up with a task for myself to evaluate a code development platform. For those less familiar with software development, a code development platform is used to help write code that generates computer programs. This kind of task sat on my list for quite some time. Every time I looked at my list, I would see this item and decide very quickly that I didn’t have time for it now, but that I would get to it eventually.

Then one day I tried my method: what would I need to do in order to check this box? I thought, “Well, I would need to find a website where I could download it, then actually download it, then install it, then try to learn all of the features, and then try to do some actual code development using it.” I then realized that the amount of work involved in doing this task was greater than I thought about when I first put the item on my list. I recognized that while I would learn a lot in the process and that knowing at least a little about the new platform could be handy in the future, it simply did not have high enough priority to justify that amount of time. I acknowledged that this wasn’t likely to change any time soon, so I then made the decision to move it to my “do one day if you have time” list. If I hadn’t gone through this process, it would probably still be on my normal task list, cluttering things up and making me think several times a day about how I’d like to do that someday.

If you find your task list is growing out of control, give this a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised how much stuff is on your list that you don’t actually need to do or is not a good use of your time right now. If you discover a great example, please feel free to share it below.

One comment on “Removing items from your task list
  1. Linds says:

    I tend to have a problem with repeatedly postponing tasks that I’m either dreading or that I think I don’t have time for. However, often these tasks are actually relatively small but inconvenient (like having to make a phone call at a certain time of day), so repeatedly postponing them and seeing and feeling guilty about them every day ends up taking more time in the long run than doing the tasks to begin with would have. So another technique I have is to ask whether this task will require more of my time (either because it won’t be fresh on my mind anymore or because I’m taking the time to postpone it every day) if I wait to do it later instead of doing it now. Sometimes that can be a good motivator to complete small but annoying tasks that clutter your to-do list.

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