Nuke your lists
Declaring productivity bankruptcy
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been lulled by the languid rhythm of summer we currently find ourselves in, free from the usual hustle of school commitments and kids activities. This more tranquil state (coupled with the suffocating heat we are currently experiencing in the southeastern United States), has left me in a state of lethargy bordering on hypnosis.
Perhaps that is why it was a bit of a shock this past weekend to realize we are halfway through yet another calendar year.
That’s right, we currently sit at a point roughly equidistant from the goals and resolutions of last January and those we will inevitably come up with later this year. As I review my own lists of goals, tasks, emails, and projects at this midyear point, it's painfully clear they’ve grown bigger, not smaller.
That doesn’t feel so great!
I much prefer the feeling of progress that comes from a shrinking list, but it seems the rest of the world isn’t waiting for my summer lethargy to lift, so more stuff keeps showing up on my plate.
These drastic times call for drastic measures:
I have declared productivity bankruptcy.
I started with Todoist, my to-do app of choice.
There were 47 tasks in my Someday/Maybe list. An acolyte of David Allen’s GTD method, I review this list once a month as he prescribes, but had not checked anything off in ages. Before I fully knew what was happening I found myself clicking “select all”, before deleting the entire thing.
I immediately panicked and considered undoing it, but I stayed the course.
I deleted every other incomplete task in Todoist except reminders for things like birthdays and quarterly tax payments. I keep a pretty clean inbox, but I archived every email—sorry to anyone waiting on a reply! Project lists, goals, reading, and watch lists were all deleted. I dragged everything on my computer desktop to the trash and emptied it.
Once finished I just sat staring at an impossibly clean screen.
It felt amazing.
Mostly. In addition to feeling (physically and mentally) lighter, I’ve also felt a lingering fear that I deleted something important or something I really wanted to do. But I keep coming back to the idea that anything truly worth doing I’ll simply remember and add it back to the list.
Just as a financial bankruptcy gives you the chance to clear debts and start anew, a productivity bankruptcy offers a fresh start. It allows you to clear your mental clutter, reassess priorities, and refocus on what truly matters.
But there's a catch.
When you wipe the slate clean, it's not a free pass to fall into laziness or neglect what truly matters to you. It's an opportunity to reconsider the tasks you’ve been treating as urgent or important, and really assess their value in your life. It’s not about throwing everything away, but rather, shedding the excess and retaining what is truly essential.
It’s only been a few days, but I’ve been much more judicious when adding things back to my lists. Turns out it’s a lot easier to keep things off a clean, sparse list than an already overflowing one. Of course I know this discipline will wane and that eventually I’ll find myself with too many nonessential things on my plate again, but that’s okay. I can always reset.
This summer, give yourself permission to stop and reflect on the tasks that have been overwhelming you. Consider their true worth. How much of your “busyness” is actual productivity, and how much is mere motion? Is it bringing you closer to your goals, or driving you further away from peace?
Depending on your answers, it might be time to nuke your lists.