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6 ways to shorten your to-do list

As I re-organized my home office space, recycling used notepads, I came across faded to-do lists of years past. I noticed there were certain tedious tasks that never got crossed off, like “buy running shoes” and “organize birthday photos into a special album.”

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Productivity and time management expert Laura Vanderkam, author of “I Know How She Does it: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time”, says there is no point in putting something on your to-do list and not doing it. So, wouldn’t it be liberating to delete non-essential tasks all together? Vanderkam says the best way to do this is to keep the phrase “Minimize, Ignore, Delegate” in mind. To revamp your to-do list, and use your sweet saved time to do what you love, ask yourself these six questions before committing to a task:

1. If I really need to get this done, can I minimize my time commitment to it?

Prioritize your calendar. This really holds true for meetings. Say you’re scheduled to meet with someone for an hour, but the project is going better than expected, offer to shrink it down to a brief phone call, suggests Vanderkam.

2. Is this annoying task recurring?

Then put it on autopilot or delegate. For instance, Vanderkam does all her shopping online. “It’s time in the car, in the store, and your time is important. You can get recurring groceries, pantry items, grooming products delivered. There is absolutely no need to go to the store for most of this. Even one-off things—costumes, kid shoes, birthday presents—can be ordered,” says Vanderkam.

3. Do I have permission to be lazy?

“Ignoring and minimizing works at home too. Not all housework needs to be done. And if it’s done, it doesn’t need to be done to an incredible standard. Sure, you could tackle the toy collection on your floor, but they are just going to come out [again] in the morning, so maybe you can do something enjoyable,” says Vanderkam. On the other hand, if decluttering a closet is going to put you into a state of zen, then go for it.

4. Is this something that will make me happy and has long-term benefits?

“It’s about reminding yourself that much of what we do is not that important, and even the things that are important in the grand scheme of life might not be remembered a month from now,” says Vanderkam.

5. Is this more of a social obligation?

If you are feeling resentful about going to an event you really don’t feel like going to, it might be best to skip it. “If no one has been hurt [over you not showing up] there is no real reason for guilt,” says Vanderkam.

6. What is my purpose in doing this specific activity?

“Knowing why you are doing something can help you identify if it is the best way of accomplishing it,” says Vanderkam. “If you are throwing a holiday party because you think your neighbors are expecting you to, then why not just meet them for coffee [instead]?”

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