How to Structure Your To-Do List for Less Overwhelm

By March 3, 2021 Uncategorized

To-do lists can be a great tool for keeping you on task but they can also easily rule your life. As a business owner it is important to stay focused but also remain agile. Fixating too much on reaching the end of your to-do list or taking things off your plate can result in a lack of creativity, and burn out. So this blog post is not so much about time management as it is about having the right mindset and allowing everything that follows to fall into place.

Pareto Principle
“The Pareto principle states that for many outcomes roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes (the “vital few”).”

Shifting that definition a bit, think about it as it relates to your business and your to-do list. If 20 percent of the tasks you have are related to your business’s purpose and are unique to your business then how would your business be impacted if that 20 percent received 80 percent of your focus? When structuring your to-do you must ensure that you are thinking about where you want to spend your energy. Ask yourself, Is my to-do list composed of tasks that are true to my purpose or am I getting hung up on things that don’t further my vision?

Now that your mindset is shifted to focus on your purpose let’s go through some practical tips related to your to-do list.

Be Adaptable
The first is to accept that it is OKAY to have more on your to-do list than you can get done in a day. As a business owner, things come up. When you are writing your to-do list you might think that you can definitely get the items on your list accomplished but then you are hit with something unexpected. This throws your entire day and plan into a tailspin. At this point there are a few choices about how you can react to this situation.

You can…
1. stay bent on getting your to-do list done by working well over a healthy amount of hours in one day.
2. not finish your to-do list and feel shame and dread as you realize you have failed to accomplish your daily tasks.
3. exercise grace and pivot to determine the best way to accomplish your goal(s) the next day or opportunity you have.

We are advocates of the third option. Being agile and able to shift represents strength not weakness. In fact, the ability to adapt is beneficial and necessary in all areas of business so what better way to practice that crucial skill than daily through your to-do list.

Shoot for the Moon
Continuing with that same theme once you are prepared to give yourself grace regarding what you are able to accomplish then we believe you should put MORE on your to-do list than you think is possible to accomplish. Why would you do that you may ask? Simple, it is as the saying by Les Brown goes, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” There are times as business owners and humans that we downplay our abilities to avoid failure and cushion ourselves from disappointment. In this particular example the disappointment that comes with not finishing the tasks we had hoped to finish. But with the dexterity and understanding we discussed previously, we don’t have to deal with disappointment–so let’s push ourselves a little! A lot can happen as a result of a little ambition. Be bold when making your to-do list! You might find that with laser focus you can achieve well above what you thought possible within the span of a day. And if you don’t? Then you likely still accomplished more than what you would have if you sold yourself short.

Eliminate Tasks
Next, take a look at your to-do list. Are there things on your list that you really DON’T need to be doing? Does the task need to be delegated? Is it necessary at this time? Take time to think about each item critically and remove tasks that are unnecessary. Once those tasks have been removed fill those spaces with things that are important to furthering your purpose. Again think of the Pareto Principle when filling those holes.

Task Grouping
The final practical tip to managing your to-do list is task grouping. Visualize your time as a pizza not yet sliced and each task you have is a slice through the pizza. The more slices you have the more stretched you are. But if you group similar tasks together and work them sequentially it can help your efficiency. There is a certain rhythm and mindset associated with different types of tasks so when you group your tasks you are taking steps to preserve your momentum. It can be jarring to completely change gears so if you are able, instead move from one similar task to another.

We understand that It is tempting to think that there are not enough hours in the day. However, this can be debilitating. If we think we can’t accomplish everything we need to then we end up accomplishing less or worse nothing. However, if you change your perspective from “there is no way I can accomplish everything,” to “what can I accomplish,” then you will find that the need to control every minute of your day will begin to melt away. It is better to make some progress than be paralyzed by our to-do list. Ultimately, the goal is to think differently about our to-do list. Work differently with which tasks we prioritize and where we put our energy. And live differently by being adaptable and fluid. We live in a culture that is obsessed with filling every moment of every day but when our heads are down all the time we miss connection which is such an important part of life.

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