If you caught my article on overcoming overwhelm you know how to determine your priorities.

You have done a brain dump and taken inventory.

You have put it all out there on paper and then determined what is essential.

You are now ready to “Marie Kondo” your mind and calendar like you would your possessions and your closets.

What do you want to do with all this stuff on your to-do-list?

Let us work together to break down the to-do list by putting each item into one of David Allen’s “4 D” buckets: Do, Defer, Delegate, or Delete. These are the four strategies in his book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.”

DO IT: Sounds like a Nike commercial! Did the item pass the litmus test and is a true priority? Is it what you want to spend your time on?  Yes, Marion, it is!

Next set of questions: Will it take two minutes? Is it at the top of the list? If yes, and you can do it now, do not procrastinate. Just do it! If it is a priority and it takes a little longer, then ask yourself when you plan to do it. 

DEFER IT: That last suggestion moves us into the second bucket. Deferring it can mean putting it on the calendar for the correct amount of time it takes. Maybe this is for three hours tomorrow or for a few hours over the next several days. The other alternative is to delay it until next season or next quarter. This is so you can do things that are higher on your list before you address this item.Be careful not to overschedule yourself. We often overestimate what we can accomplish in a period. By being realistic in the hours we block, we will fuel our confidence in our ability to get things done!

I use a tool called Powersheets developed by the Cultivate What Matters company. It guides me to set my monthly, weekly, and daily goals based on what I have determined are my priorities for the year. Each 90 days I get to reset my plans. This is nice because sometimes things change, unexpected items come up, and the order I want to do things needs to be adjusted.

Before we look at the last two categories, let us assess your comfort level after Doing and Deferring? What comes up for you? Perhaps it is the thought “I should do this.” This is what a good mom would do. This is what a good doctor would do. So how can I not do these things?  This is a thought distortion- a false belief, an automatic thought where our mind is trying to convince us of something that is not really true. We see these things as required or expected.

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Or alternatively we believe that if we do not do them then we will be missing out. There can also be fear of not living up to comparisons. Perhaps you are saying instead “I can’t do this!” This is a limiting belief that makes us feel stuck. As we start to move past the precontemplation stage to thinking about making a change and then actually doing something, this is another confidence booster. We can use a growth mindset to start to believe that we can do something different.

DELEGATE IT: It is time to say no to some of the things on your to-do-list. Here are three ways to do that:

  1. Just Say No. Let the leaders know that you have done your time on a certain committee or in a role. Pass along this opportunity/experience to the next person in a respectful way.
  2. Function to the Top of Your Ability. You are most likely doing things someone else on your team could appropriately do. It is time to transition the duties you have been doing to them.  Perhaps they can actually do it better than you! (Gasp heard in the background). This is a key step in working at the top of your ability so you can focus on what is most important for you!
  3. Pay Someone Else to Do It. Is this item on your list a chore that can be outsourced? Think of hiring someone to shop for you, clean for you, do yard work for you, etc. You are simply trading currency to get some of your time back and you are supporting someone else’s livelihood.

DELETE IT: This is the last of the 4 Ds to Get Things Done. These items no longer need to be on your list. To be honest, they may never have needed to be on your list, but they are there currently. These to-dos do not need to be done by your supporters.Remove them and do not put them back on your list. Maybe this item was something you tried out and just was not for you. Maybe it is something you now know is an energy zapper and want to eliminate.

I ask you: now that you have narrowed down your to-do-list, do you feel lighter? Do you feel a sense of relief?

When you do the work to decrease the piles on your plate, to banish that feeling of overwhelm, and to live your day by your priorities, then you see growth in your energy and your contentment.

Tune in for the next article in this series outlining how to protect the changes you have made to the to-do-list!

Marion Mull McCrary MD FACP is a practicing primary care general internist in North Carolina and a national board-certified health and wellness coach. She is also a Women in White Coats Writers Fellow and Podcast Co-Host. Her website is www.marion-wellness.com, and she can be followed on Instagram and Facebook at marionmccrarywellness and Twitter at marionmccrarymd.