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Posted on Aug 7, 2013 in How to simplify, Inspiration | 4 comments

To do list: Decide what to do


I was listening to this TED talk recently on Stress-free productivity.  The speaker, David Allen gave one of my favorite pieces of simplifying advice, to write things down.  I will get even more specific than that: Write things down as we think of them, and write them in one specific place.  Developing this small habit has increased my sleep significantly, because I was one of those people who would lie down and relax, only to have all the things I had forgotten to do that day pop into my mind.  I would worry about them until I either got up and did them, or finally fell asleep to stressful dreams.  The lack of sleep and effort to remember everything I had to do interfered with my productivity during the day as well.

In the TED talk, as he went on to describe in more detail how to make an effective list, I had one of those sudden moments of clarity about something somewhat unrelated.  The things I tend to leave until the next day (and sometimes the next) are not tasks, but decisions I need to make.  These seem to be difficult to tackle, but there are ways to make them easier if we focus on them as an important activity.

Close the door.

You will be more efficient at this if you have some uninterrupted time.

Set aside time to decide. 

It’s OK to have a decision be a task.  Sometimes it just takes having the correct information in front of you.  Your calendar, or the phone number of the person you need to ask questions, for example.  Then consider the impact and importance of the decision.  If it is small, then just decide:  the consequences don’t make it worth significant time and worry.

Think for a few moments about the criteria you will use for your decision. 

Making choice of which Prince Charming to pursue?  What are your minimal qualifications? How do your glass Louboutins look with your new gel pedicure?  Or, are you planning an event and need to choose a venue?  How many fairy godmothers will you need to accommodate?  Do they have sufficient parking?  How much do you have budgeted?  At least you will have a list of questions to ask when you call the location.   Sometimes just clarifying the criteria will make the decision clear.

Talk about it.

It is easier to decide what to do when we have a sounding board because things are more clear if we have to put them into words to explain them to someone else.  You can try two of my favorites if you don’t have someone there to listen.  You can talk to yourself, or you can talk to your dog (not the mirror, and be careful of stepmothers).  Both of these are easier if you have the door closed.


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  1. I like this whole idea which is rather like batching your to-do list items. I’ve spent much too much time hemming and hawing over trivial things that could just be quickly remedied. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Me too! It’s amazing how things we aren’t even aware of can slow us down.

  2. This seems like such sound advice that I cannot think of anything to add, except: great post! I’ve thought about some of these ideas before and even practiced some of them, but it’s great to have them all listed and described in your post!

    • Thank you! It seems simple, but I don’t know how many times I have put something off because I needed to make a decision before I could take action. Maybe just identifying those items will make me more able to get to work.

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