Don’t run to the garden centre yet. This machete takes the form of 3 questions that cut equally hard.
Your task now is to apply each of the questions below to your list items, one by one, and cross out each and every task that fails the test.
Question #1: Am I the only one who can solve this?
This first crucial question determines whether you can delegate the task.
If you’re not the only one who can do a given task, think about who is better suited to doing that task you could give it to.
Do you always end up with other people’s tasks on your plate? Do you find you are too quick to say yes to “Hey, could you do this thing real quick? Thanks, you’re a doll!” sort of requests? This is going to help you identify tasks that you can offload onto people better suited to that task, or give them back to whoever you got them from.
This question also helps identify tasks that you’ve taken on voluntarily because you believe they have to be done perfectly and to ensure they are done perfectly it has to be done by you.
Sure, if it’s your own priority work project or your thesis, for example, you can’t delegate. But for tasks that you can re-evaluate and find that they do not really require your 100% effort, but instead 60% or even 40% effort is enough, you can hand it over to someone else.
And if you find that you’re doing all the housework, it’s time to reevaluate the role that others who live under your roof play in keeping your home clean and tidy.
Question #2: Is it important?
If a task passed Question #1 and you really are the only person who can do it, the next question is: does it really need to be done?
Prioritising comes into play here. If you have a work project, an essay, or a deadline that’s high priority, that’s important. If you’re launching a business and need to find an accountant or decide on a name for your website, that’s high priority.
On the other hand, making sure every child at the party gets their own napkin with their favourite superhero on it is low priority. Ironing all the creases out of every pillow case in the house is probably something nobody cares about as much as you do – and if you don’t, either, then you can just stop doing that.
At this stage, you can cross out every task which makes you say “well, it would be nice if this was done but I’m not sure it’s even necessary”. Cross out every minor task that is not that important – and you’ll find that all the small, insignificant things will stop bogging you down and you can focus on what is actually important.
Question #3: Is it important now?
Almost done! The last question is whether the task needs doing now, or can you postpone it for later? This question helps you prioritise your to-dos by determining whether each task is urgent or not.
For example, if you’re organising an event that takes place next weekend, important tasks associated with that event you will have to do because you have a clear deadline.
But if that event is in three months or six months from now and there’s no immediate deadline for a task associated with it (like booking an event space 90 days in advance), then you probably don’t need to worry about those yet. You’re not delaying them indefinitely, you’re simply put them aside to make space for things that are more urgent.
Sure, you might be more happy to work on the things that are due far off in the future instead of the ones that have a deadline coming up, especially as there’s less pressure attached. But then the question becomes: what’s the price of missing out on the deadline?
And even then, you can decide “you know what, if the deadline for something is in 3 days, and I need 5 days of work to make it, that thing is just not going to happen”. In which case you can change your plans accordingly.
Finally, there’s the case of things that don’t have a deadline but are important and you still have them set out as a goal – like going to the gym twice a week. For goals like this, you might have to unpick them a little: have you set that goal to measure up to someone else’s expectations, or is there a health risk if you skimp on it?
What all this comes down to is that when your plate is absolutely full, you have to make some hard decisions. Don’t forget, though, that what you’re doing now does not set things in stone. If you cross a task off your list now doesn’t mean you’re chucking it in the bin. The decisions you make now can be temporary or lasting – at the end of the day, you’re in control.