Are you someone who loves making lists? I'll admit: I am, and love the act of planning for my day or week.
As reliant as I am upon my digital to-do list (shout-out to Basecamp!), I also find that the act of physically writing down what I have to do the next day helps me remember what I need to do and I feel accomplished once it's crossed off as completed. In addition, studies show that simply planning to finish certain tasks can free us from the anxiety of not having done them yet.
But if you're someone whose to-do list seems endless, you may find that you never checking all of your tasks--and you're ultimately wasting time. Some signs your list is too long include: it's more than one page; looking at it makes you feel stressed; it includes small tasks only listed so you can cross something off; or, you find yourself tackling the easiest assignments first.
Your to-do list should be a tool that works for you and your small business, not a piece of paper or digital checklist that makes you feel overwhelmed.
Here's how you can cut your to-do list in half so you can accomplish more of the goal-oriented tasks that best serve your business.
Set your priorities for the day
At 5pm every day, I jot down the must-do activities I have to get done for the next day. That way, when I'm sitting at my desk at the content company I co-founded, I'm reminded of the highest priority items that need to be completed, whether that's a proposal that's due for a client, a contract the needs review, following up on a client's email, or posting an article like this one.
If you're struggling to prioritize, consider this 1-3-5 rule I found on The Muse. Identify the one big thing you want to accomplish, then the three medium things, followed by five smaller tasks. It'll force to you to streamline your priorities.
Estimate how long each will take
Now that you've identified your most important tasks, set a time frame that you think you can accomplish it in. Jordan Baker, founder of the Focuster app, suggests in this Medium post that shorter action items are better when creating a to-do list and you should try to keep them to an hour or less. If something is going to take you more than 2 hours, break the to-do up into smaller, more manageable goals.
Assign a time for certain activities
You've certainly heard the old productivity adage to "Eat the Frog" first thing in the morning, meaning you should complete your toughest or most dreaded task early so you'll feel accomplished and get more done the rest of the day.
While it's important to block out time in your calendar to complete that business task that needs 100 percent of uninterrupted focus, I don't believe that morning is when everyone should try to complete that activity. Some of us may be more creative in the morning and would do better writing an article or coming up with new business ideas before lunch.
Others find themselves hitting their stride in the late afternoon and should make sure that's the time when they are doing their creative work. Think about "your golden hours" and plan your important to-do items around that time of the day when you'll be more likely to do a better job.
Look for items you can delete
I challenge you to scrutinize your to-do list and see if there are tasks you can delegate to another colleague, a freelancer, third-party company or virtual assistant.
As the co-founder of Masthead Media, there are certain tasks that only I can do, and there are other tasks or opportunities that would be better delegated to a colleague. Examine all of the meetings on your calendar and decide if some could be canceled in lieu of a brief phone call or Slack chat.
Are the networking events you're attending paying off? If not, remove them from your calendar until you determine a better strategy. Look for opportunities where you could hire someone to help out with administrative tasks, researching potential clients or managing your books.
Your to-do list should include those tasks that only you can do and be in line with the company's goals and values.
Now, take another look at today's to-do list and rewrite it so it's working harder for you.