Spring clean your to do list - every week

This weekend marked the official start of spring in the Caucasian calendar here in Australia. It also marked the start of Kambarang on the Noongar seasonal calendar.

In Western cultures, we have a tradition of spring cleaning. It's not something I've really pressed into myself, especially at the start of a spring where I feel like I've only just unpacked everything after moving house.

However, I do like this idea of seasonally or periodically clearing things out. It is very easy to just accumulate things over time. They were, or at least felt, necessary at the time and so we picked them up. But we don't as often recognise when they're no longer needed. Especially if they're hidden away amongst everything else we have.

The same thing happens with our to-do list.

We write these to keep front of mind the things we need to get done. Some tasks we identify for ourselves, based on our prioritise or what we want to work on. Others come from our superiors, handing down work for us to do. Then juniors add to that pile with questions or support. And other teams are relying on us for things so we add those two. Plus there's clients. And emails. (My inbox is basically my to-do list, I've got to be honest!)


And that's just work. At home we have goals around fitness, health, cleanliness. And every goal brings with it tasks. Then our families, partners or housemates need things from us and that goes on the to-do list too.

And it doesn't really matter if you're actually physically writing or typing up a to-do list. The point is, our perspective on the total list of things we are responsible to execute grows and grows.

And I don't know about you but I definitely don't get all those things done over the course of a day or a week. So I take all the tasks left undone and transfer them to the to-do list for the next day or week.

And pretty soon that list can get pretty overwhelming.

But not only that.

The list also gets out of date.

Yep, that's right.

Many tasks we pick up actually have an expiry date. This could be for a lot of reasons - a deadline passes, a project finishes, a priority is dropped or a goal changes. Someone else does the task. We figure out an easier way. And so on and so forth.

Occasionally when these things happen - particularly if it's of the "someone else does it" kind of happening - we do remember to take those things off our to-do list. Or at least we don't just carry them forward into the next list.

But with some of the other changes, do we actually update our to-do list? When a project finishes successfully without us doing every last tiny task we assigned ourselves, do we clear those tasks off? When a priority at work changes and makes an activity less relevant, do we take ourselves off the hook for getting it done?

And most importantly...

When a goal or priority in our life changes, do we actually let go of all the tasks we were doing to pursue that goal or priority?

I'll bet you that a lot of the time, we don't.

We keep things on our to-do list even when they've expired. And it can create a lot of built up stress, guilt and overwhelm.

So here is your invitation to spring clean (or Kambarang clean?) your to-do list. If you only do it annually, or perhaps seasonally, that's definitely better than nothing. But I think at least every week we should be critically assessing our to-do list and actively picking things to not only take off the list, but move to a "to not do" list.

If you're hand writing your lists, you probably do this a lot more often than those of us that use digital task management apps. (I'm totally counting email as a digital task app yeah?) Because when you run out of room and rewrite your list, you might let yourself off the hook on somethings. That's maybe one of the drawbacks of those nice digital apps.

But even our analogue to-do list friends can benefit of consciously setting aside tasks that have expired.

How to spring clean your to-do list

Grab out your to-do list or fire up that app. Or open up your calendar or diary if you keep your to-do's there. If you don't actively keep a list of tasks (I don't keep one consistently, thank you, email to-do list), I'd recommend taking 5 minutes to write down everything in your head that you need to do.

Now, take a deep breath. Tell yourself it is ok to leave things undone. In fact, it is beneficial to free up your energy for tasks that are still "in date" as it were.

The logistical questions

  1. Has the deadline for any of these tasks finished?

  2. Has someone else already done this to an 80 percent or better level? (You don't need to do the extra 20%. Pareto principle that task!)

  3. Do any of these tasks belong to projects I am no longer responsible for? (Delegate those tasks to the team responsible for them. Even if you offered to still close them out in the kindness of your heart.)

The responsibility questions

  1. Are any of these tasks outside my core job description (or role at home)?

  2. Do any of these tasks have efficiency benefits when batched with other people's tasks?

  3. Do any of these tasks look like taking "over-responsibility" for one of my projects? (Over-responsibility looks like taking responsibility for manging someone else's emotions or response to a situation)

The goal questions

  1. Do any of these tasks belong to a goal that simply isn't relevant to me any more?

  2. Have I replaced any of these tasks with something else that achieves the same end that I enjoy more? (This question is good for nutting out forms of exercise you actually don't really like doing)

  3. Do any of these tasks belong to a goal someone else has for my life, that I actually don't want to (or need to) take on?

The management theory questions

These questions dive into some of those other task filtering frameworks and tools that are out there.

  1. Which of these tasks are neither important nor urgent?

  2. Which of these tasks should I defer, delegate or delete?

  3. Which 80% of these tasks will only achieve 20% of the results?

Clear out your to-do list

Any task that fails one of the questions above, you should seriously consider removing from your to-do list. Some of them you may need to hand back to their rightful owner. Some just simply no one needs to do any more. And others, while you totally could do them and get some result, are just not going to produce the high impact results you want to get for the investment of your time.

And some of them need to be moved to a "not to do" list so that you can relieve yourself of the mental load of wondering whether or not to pick them back up again.

Reflect on your new, tidy to-do list

Now that you have spring cleaned your to-do list, get ready for a new week with improved focus and hopefully just a little bit less stress and overwhelm.


Looking for more resources to level up your leadership? Swipe my list of top leadership resources to read, listen to or research here.