Why you need to learn how to Marie-Kondo your to-do list

by Heather Thatcher

This article takes 7 minutes to read

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So, tell me lovely, what does your to-do list look like?

Or do you have too many things going on that you’re a bit scared to write it all down because you have this fear that it will make you feel even more overwhelmed than you already are?

Streamlining your life is pillar two of the Building Resilience Framework, and in order to do this we have to learn how to triage our to-do list and see what we can do to set up a system or process that removes as many things from our to-do list as possible.

I’m going to share one method that I teach inside of the Survival Guide community that you can start putting into practice right now. And that means we’re taking a little mental trip to Japan.

Have you heard of Marie Kondo before?

She’s this charming Japanese woman that’s created a decluttering movement with her book and now with her Netflix series that’s all about “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”

Her organizational strategies are based on the theory of bringing similar things together in the same space and going through them one-by-one to decide what to keep (“brings joy”) versus what to let go of (“doesn’t bring joy”).

So for instance, you’d bring absolutely everything out of your closet and dresser so you could look at every article of clothing you own and go through each piece one-by-one to see what you need to keep, and what you can either donate or recycle (did you know clothing recycling was a thing?)

On her Netflix series, Marie Kondo goes into people’s houses where they are overwhelmed by all their “stuff.” Some of the people she works with could almost be classified as hoarders.

But here’s the thing. Having worked with hoarders myself in the mindset and empowerment space, it’s not always about sentimentality. 

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Often what it comes down to is procrastination in the form of self-preservation.

Initially it’s easier to avoid addressing the inner problem by collecting or choosing not to sort and purge the things in your house. But then, when things start to build up, it gets to the point where things are too abstract and overwhelming.

People may not even realize how much they have or don’t have, and instead of being individual things, it becomes this blended pile of things in your vision. Instead of being specific items, it just becomes a pile of clothing, or piles of books, or photographs, or memory items.

Our brain is efficient and wants to be able to understand things in as simple terms as possible. That’s why when someone is sharing a story with you but starts to ramble a bit you have to really focus to maintain your concentration. 

Our brains start naturally tuning things out.

When it comes to sorting the growing pile of “things” that are accumulating in these people’s homes, it becomes too much, too hard for the brain to figure out how this is all going to get done, and so we procrastinate.

These unhelpful thought patterns and habits, though, are what led to those growing piles of stuff.

And by choosing to face these and spend the time to organize them, we’re also signing up to look at those parts of ourselves that created this problem in the first place.

We can experience this same sense of dread when it comes to our to-do list and responsibilities. It can all seem too big and overwhelming and so we avoid writing it all down.

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Why we dread to face things like this head-on

Remember when we’re in default survival mode, our Inner Critic is in charge, they are using our current habits, thought patterns and behaviours as the rule-book for how to live our lives.

Right now our Inner Critic sees leaving things the way they are as “safer” than bringing that abstract responsibilities list into the concrete physical plane by writing them all down on a piece of paper.

Your Inner Critic may be saying things to you like “But what if we write it all down and realize we can’t handle it? What if it’s all too much?” and they push the panic button in your brain to start ramping up your stress response, leaving you feeling anxious, worried, your heart’s beating faster and you’re breathing faster.

Your Inner Critic will keep ramping up your stress response and say everything they can think of to make you stop.

You are not your Inner Critic, though, they are just a department manager and you are the CEO of your life. You are so much more than the rule-book your Inner Critic is choosing to follow.

Take a few deep breaths to turn off your stress switch and step into the CEO role of your life for just a few minutes to triage your to-do list because in the long run it will leave you feeling a lot better.

Every single person I have done this with either in person or in the Survival Guide membership has felt a HUGE sense of relief when they’re done because now they know what’s coming down the tube and they have a simple plan in place.

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How to apply the Marie-Kondo method to your to-do list

The first thing you need to do is write everything down. I’m a digital planner and digital journaling kind of person, but often this strategy works best when we actually use a pen and a piece of paper.

Write down EVERYTHING that’s on your mind, that you need to get done, and the general daily responsibilities that you have.

I know this may seem like it will be more overwhelming because you’re worried about how long this list will be when it’s all written out. Most people feel relieved when they see their list because it’s much smaller than they expected and already seems much more manageable.

But even if you do this and your list is very, very long, don’t worry. The next few steps are going to help.

Break up your list into three categories

After you have your whole list written out, break things down into these three categories: 

  1. Things I can create a system for
  2. Things I need to do in the next three days
  3. Things that can wait

Let’s break those down a bit more.

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Things I can create a system for

Systems and things we can do that will make our lives a heck of a lot easier. For example, I share a meal planning system in a workshop where you use your Google or iPhone Calender with repeating events to set up dinner categories so that you’ll have an ongoing meal plan that you’ll never have to think about again. You’ll be able to answer the question “what’s for dinner” by looking at your calendar that you set up once and never had to think about again.

Your phone is an amazing tool and the best free personal assistant you could ask for. (yes, I know your phone isn’t technically free – but I mean it’s just at no additional cost to you).

There are lots of great apps out there to help you streamline and simplify your life, but in order to know which ones work best for you, look at your to-do list and see what would fall into that first category. If you’re stuck, look at which things on your to-do list that you don’t enjoy and start there to see what you can do to make those aspects of your life a lot easier.

Things I need to do in the next three days

You are only one person and although you’d really like to get all those priority things done on your to-do list, you’re going to have to give yourself enough time to make those happen.

Give yourself at least three days to get those important tasks done, and then prioritize that list with the most important things first.

You can take it one step further and schedule time when you’re going to buckle down and make it happen. Scheduling time increases our chances of sticking to the plan by 65% and telling someone else about our plan increases our chances of sticking to the plan up to 95%. 

It works, my friend.

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Things that can wait

This is where the Marie-Kondo method really works it’s magic. 

When worries and responsibilities pop into our brain throughout the day, they seem soooooo important in the moment, but when we bring them all together and look at them in comparison to everything else they might not seem like such a big deal anymore.

Being able to see things as a big group makes all the difference in being able to identify what can wait. 

Having a clearly laid out plan is one of the easiest ways we can take control of our stress response and calm our Inner Critic. 

Does this sound like a technique you’re going to try? Can you think of someone else in your life that would also benefit from reading this?

If that’s the case, please consider sending them the link to this article and share this with those you care about. 

When we start creating changes like this it can be a lonely journey, but if you have friends and family there with you, you can problem solve and cheer each other on together!

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