Welcome to the Machete Sorting Technique!
In this mini-course, you’ll learn to navigate through the jungle of your task list in three simple steps:
- writing down all the tasks currently on your plate
- sorting your tasks with simple categorisation
- applying the three power questions to cut down on your tasks for good
In the next 15 minutes, you’ll be able to replace that swirling cloud of loose thoughts in your head (“oh, I need to do this, and that, and that”) with a streamlined list of actionable tasks.
Ready? Let’s get to it!
Step 1. Braindump!
Get a pen and a piece of paper, or open a new document on your computer.
For the next 5 minutes, I’d like you to write down any task that comes to mind.
Your goal is to end up with an unordered, unsorted master list of tasks. It should only contain these three types of things:
- Everything you should do
- Everything you want to do
- Everything someone has asked you to do
Include every specific task that you have on your plate right now, like:
- “Follow up with the email from Kate in Accounting”
- “Wash the dishes”
- “Compare pet insurance options”
- “Finish writing article/essay/blog post”
- “Book restaurant for anniversary”
Do NOT include general anxieties outside of your scope – things that you don’t have any power over. Are you in a situation to sort out international relations, or solve climate change once and for all? If yes – great, put it on the list, and also, good luck. :) If not, it does not go on this list.
Aside from this, there’s no limit to the number of items on your list. You really should put everything down that you can think of right now. All the stuff that’s swirling in your head, screaming “Me too! You have to do me too!”
Don’t worry about the size of your list — we’ll cut it down in a minute. For now, though, it is important to gain clarity about the true extent of your tasks.
Note the time or set the timer on your phone for 5 minutes, and dump away!
Extra tips if you’re stuck on this step:
- You don’t have to organise anything. Write freely as tasks come to your head. Organising comes later. Your current aim is to just get it out there.
- You don’t have to use pretty handwriting — this is not for a calligraphy challenge. Scribble all you want — as long as you can read it, it’s fine. Nobody but you will see this and I won’t ask you to hand it in either.
- Your tasks don’t have to be well-formulated. If you look at your ceiling and know something has to be done with it soon, you don’t have to write “I need to get a recommendation for a painter who can do the ceiling”. “Ceiling needs fixing” or “ceiling is ugly” is perfectly fine. :)
- The list doesn’t have to be perfect or comprehensive. Don’t get hung up on including absolutely everything. This shouldn’t take longer than 5 minutes. The scope of this exercise isn’t your entire life from here on forever, so don’t spend ages on it.
- If you already have a to-do list because you have the habit of writing things down, or you have multiple to-do lists, don’t skip this step. Take a piece of paper and do this braindump instead. The point of this exercise is to write down the stuff that’s on your mind right now, regardless of what you already have written down.
- The bottom line is this: Don’t overthink it! Perfect is the enemy of done, and we’re not after perfect.