Declutter Your Overwhelming To-Do List With ABCDE
May 22, 2019
Are you like me? Do you have 1,001 things to do—and 1,001 to-do lists to help capture and make sense of all the chaos?
And yet, somehow, despite all these lists and things—you end up finishing the day with a funny little feeling?
Didn't get to that again… Maybe tomorrow… What's one more day?
I'm more and more convinced that the basic to-do list doesn't work.
Priorities can get muddled, and our brains inherently want to grab on and hold tight to the easiest tasks. (Dip into my inbox? Run to the grocery store? All to ignore that big deadline hanging in my face? Sure why not!)
We are chasing checks off the list, without analyzing exactly what we're checking off, and if they have any effect on our long-term future or goals.
But there's another way to manage it all, and it's as simple as reciting the alphabet: The ABCDE Method.
With ABCDE, you'll break down your tasks from the most important to the least (and figure out what you can get rid of altogether).
Here's how to dive in:
Look at you current list—and label everything.
The point of the ABCDE Method is to break down everything into categories:
A = Your most important tasks that have the most meaning for your life and career. Doing these should be your priority for that day. (So they're probably also a little bit harder, and the ones you're more likely to ignore.)
B = Tasks that come with minor consequences if you don't do them. Tracy writes that answering email usually falls into the B category. (Because truly, what's the VERY WORST thing that could happen if you let your inbox go untouched for 24 hours?)
C = Yay, no consequences! C tasks are neither urgent nor particularly important. Maybe you want to check in on a friend, or buy a new pair of jeans. Fun things to do, but nothing's going to fall apart if you don't do these things.
D = Tasks you could—and should—delegate. Think about everything on your list and be truthful. What can you give to someone else? Are you still doing tasks that are technically part of someone else's job? Can you turn a 50-minute task into a 15-minute one by simply explaining it to someone else?
E = Buh bye! This is an exciting moment. Anything you label E should immediately be eliminated, and you never have to think about it again. These might be those to-dos that you've pushed off for weeks. Ask yourself: Do you actually need to do it? If it's not important, has no consequences, and can't be delegated—can you get rid of it altogether?
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Now think about how time-sensitive they are.
What happens if you have a bunch of different priorities and they're all competing?
If you have multiple "As" try to be honest with yourself—they can't all hold EXACTLY the same priority. One might have a closer deadline, or someone might be waiting on your response. Break down the As (and Bs and Cs) by number, too: A1, A2, A3 in the order of importance.
A1 isn't just a delicious condiment—it's also the single most important thing you have to do today.
Work on each one until you're finished.
We live in a distracted world. Sometimes I can't even finish reading a text message before I'm seduced by something else—another text, an Instagram comment, a flashing memory to Google something that's not urgent at all.
But that's where the ABCDE Method can keep you organized. Work on each A task until they're completely finished before moving on to the next. If you don't end the day completing every task, you won't feel guilty, because you still did the most important thing that day.
You get to ride the momentum of finishing tasks that have consequences, ones that are bigger than running errands or responding to that 8-person text chain, fun as that might be.
All the smaller tasks will still be there later, and you can attack them later, too, knowing you did the hardest stuff first.
But when the inevitable happens…
Let's get real. Things can shift from hour to hour. You can have everything totally planned out, only to be sidelined by an unexpected meeting or emergency.
In these moments, instead of throwing away your list and grabbing whatever comes next, take a few minutes to adjust. Are these truly "A" tasks? If they are, add them to your list and tweak everything else accordingly.
The point is to feel more in control of what you're doing, and when. It's as easy as, well, you know…A-B-C.