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There will always be more work to do than time to do it. The goal is to make sure you are doing the most important tasks, so you can leave every day with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Most workers are confident that when push comes to shove, they know what’s truly critical.  But letting go of the excess is a struggle.  Why? We are overly optimistic. We have a hard time saying no. Yet, the burden of a too long to do list is depleting, and makes it hard to turn work off at night.

Just as summer is a great time to declutter your space, it’s also a wonderful moment to clear your to-do list.

When your to-do list runneth over, take out the 4 D’s to lighten your load:

Delete:   Some items on our lists that, upon reflection, are simply not worth the time invested. Ask yourself,  Are there other tasks on my list that accomplish the same goal in a more effective way?  What’s the worst thing that would happen if this to-do weren’t done?  You may even find an entire category of tasks to eliminate because they are no longer relevant to your life or your job.

Delay:  Note: delay does not mean procrastinate. Procrastination is about indefinite postponement; delaying is about consciously rescheduling something for a time when you can get it done more efficiently. For each item on your list, ask “Is this the best time to do this?” There are some tasks on your list that are better saved for a time when you can really do it justice –because you have the right resources, team, information and focus to get the job done right.

Delegate:  The real purpose of delegation is to free you to focus your time on your highest value tasks. Therefore, identify tasks that have made it onto your list that are not the best use of your time. Are there tasks on your to-do list that really belong on someone else’s job description?  Are there items you are doing this out of habit, or comfort—but not a good use of your time?  What tasks aren’t you good at? Ask yourself: Is there someone else can do this better, faster or good enough”?.

Diminish:  Diminishing your workload is not about doing a hack job or cheating – it’s about working smarter. Ask yourself,  Is this the most efficient way to get this done?  E.g. a quick call may be a more efficient way to coordinate a meeting than 6 emails back and forth.  Creating a few bulleted talking points for a meeting rather than a 20 page powerpoint  maybe all that’s truly needed.  N ever spend any more time on a task than is necessary to achieve the goal.

Letting go of the excess takes practice, and you may find some D’s harder than others.  But once you get the swing of it—you will experience the liberating feeling of a working smart, not hard.

Julie Morgenstern

For over 25 years, New York Times bestselling author and organizational consultant Julie Morgenstern has transformed the way individuals and companies function around the globe, including American Express, Microsoft, FedEx, and the NYC Mayor’s Office.

Her cutting edge advice has been featured on programs from The Oprah Winfrey Show to Good Morning America and NPR, and she is regularly featured in a variety of print magazines and publications, including Forbes, Harvard Business review, and The Wall Street Journal.

In today’s fast-paced culture, professional success often seems synonymous with long days, never-ending to-do lists, and sleepless nights. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

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