Why Your To-Do List is Dragging You Down

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Why your to-do list is dragging you downI love to-do lists. I have a list for everything and anything. Honestly. You might be like this, too. Grocery lists, back-to-school shopping lists, fall/winter/spring/summer clothes lists, decluttering lists, gift lists and day-to-day business task lists. You name it; I have a list for it lying around somewhere.

Many of us rely on to-do lists to know what we’re accomplishing throughout the day. But, what if your to-do list is doing more harm than good? This post focuses on the business to-do list and why, even though you’re feeling organized, you can’t seem to move forward! 

Every night, before I go to bed, I write down what I need to get done the next day. Before implementing a system, I would jot down whatever came to my mind. Replying to an email I couldn’t get to might have come first. Scheduling in client social media posts might have come second. Making a phone call might come next. And so on, and so on. My lists had no strategy. They were merely created so I didn’t forget. Sometimes my lists were very long, sometimes very short. While I was feeling organized at the end of the day, I wasn’t necessarily carving out my time effectively. My goal is to grow my business. But I was feeling like I was in a never-ending spin cycle of daily tasks rather than goal-achieving activities.

Rethink the to-do list.

Rather than think of all of the things you have to get done the next day as bullet-pointed tasks, think of them as routes to an end goal. And then prioritize them according to that goal. Returning that call to your dentist can wait until the end of the day, for example. You only have so much time in the day, be strategic about where you’re spending yours.

Here are some tips to help you create a to-do list that will help you achieve your goals:

Do a brain dump – We all have a lot on the go and a lot on our mind. Regain your focus by writing down everything that comes to mind. Do this the night before so you sleep more soundly. Once you’ve done your “brain dump” take a look at your list and pick out the tasks that will help you grow your business. Calling back your friend or running an errand can wait. Make two lists if you have to.

Keep it simple – Psychologist Barry Schwartz believes that having too many choices can be paralyzing. The results of his study, The Tyranny of Choice, indicate that too much choice can lead to unhappiness. I believe it. I have had days when I’ve abandoned my list altogether to go take a walk or go shopping. The list was so long it was overwhelming and I needed a break after looking at it. Pare your list down to three need-to-do items per day and you’ll find you’ll cross things off with more ease.

Eat the frog first – Have you ever heard of this quote by Mark Twain? “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” It means to do the most difficult task first. Get it over with and you’ll feel less stress the rest of the day. So if cold calling a prospect is on your list of things to do don’t wait until the afternoon to do it. Put that goal-getting item on your list first!

Tackle the tasks that are in line with your goals first – For business owners, it’s the tasks that help us make money. Answering inquiries, working on client projects, creating proposals, etc. should all be at the top of your list.

Let’s have some fun and draft up a pretend to-do list. Let’s say you have to take part in an online webinar (that you’re not hosting), answer an inquiry, make changes to your website, create a proposal, and work on a client project that isn’t due for another week. Here’s how I would organize this day:

  1. Answer the inquiry – I would answer the inquiry first because the person who reached out to you is reaching out to your competitors. How you respond is the first impression you make. If you make potential clients a priority they’ll make you a priority when they make a decision.
  2. Work on a client project – There’s nothing worse than feeling last-minute stress. If you’re a service-based business like me, it’s important to provide stellar results. Yes, that project is due in a week and yes you do have time to produce but that doesn’t mean you work on it in a week. Your clients are paying you. They hired you, and you want them to hire you again. You also want them to refer you to their friends. Client work is always a top priority. The best thing that can happen is you finish earlier than expected.
  3. Create a proposal – This depends on when you agreed to provide the proposal. If you promised next day, be sure to provide next day. If you said by next week, you might be able to move this priority down a notch but, as I mentioned above, this may be your only opportunity to make a good first impression. Great customer service goes a long way.
  4. Attend a webinar – Unless I’m hosting or am a guest, I don’t make my attendance at webinars a priority. Many webinars are recorded so if I signed up I would receive a recording. If no one is relying on me to be somewhere, I make it a low priority. My business operations and clients (potential and current) always come first.
  5. Make changes to my website – If I need to make changes to my website I will have my web designer make them for me or I’ll make time in the evening. Delegate wherever you can so you can free up more time to focus on your business operations.

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