March 5, 2020

How to Cut Your To-Do List by 50%

to-do listHere’s the deal: there’s a gazillion ‘productivity experts’ out there, touting the importance of a to-do list.

A to-do list is the key to being organised, getting things done, focusing on the right priorities, reducing stress, achieving your goals, and yada yada yada.

Nothing new there – we all know that.

Problem is … What do you do when your to-do list is sooo long that it’s just impossible to ever get to the end of it?  When it’s sooo long that merely thinking about it makes you reach for the box of chocolates? (Or the bottle, as the case may be.)

That’s what it used to be like for me, not too long ago.

Here’s what went on:  about a year ago I decided that I needed to up my productivity game if I was going to make this ‘mom – wife – business owner’ thing work.  So I followed the standard advice given by many ‘productivity gurus’, and got myself a productivity tool. (I picked Toodledo, but there are many other similar tools to choose from.)

I dutifully entered every single task in this tool, and meticulously assigned a priority and a due date to each and every one of them.  I was determined to become a productivity-master and kick some real ass in the ‘getting-things-done’ department.

(Moment of silence.)

Well, that didn’t work.  (Big anticlimax)

Despite my efforts, it only took about a month for my to-do list to become so unwieldy that there was no way in hell I’d ever get to the end of it.

No matter how hard I worked, at the end of each day I’d barely made a dent in my to-do list.  Even worse, at the end of each day my to-do list was longer than it had been that very same morning!  (Aaaaargh!)

Needless to say, I felt overwhelmed, stressed out and demotivated.  Something had to change.

Here’s the thing: as moms, we’re constantly balancing a ton of priorities.  We’re constantly giving the best of ourselves to everything and everyone around us.  The last thing we need is to feel like a failure at the end of each day, simply because we didn’t complete the tasks on some arbitrary to-do list that was unrealistic to start with.

We deserve better than that, wouldn’t you agree?

So here’s what I did:  I ditched the overcomplicated ‘expert’ advice that required a fancy productivity tool, and replaced it with a simple, pragmatic and common sense approach for managing my to-do list.

And I’ve never looked back.  I’m now in control of my to-do list and I have a sense of achievement at the end of each day.  (Total bliss.)

Wanna have the same results?  Wanna keep things simple, stay on top of your to-do list, and have a sense of accomplishment at the end of each day?

Here’s my step-by-step approach for cutting your to-do list by 50%, and staying on top of it:

1. Classify the Tasks on Your To-Do List

The first thing you need to do is classify the tasks on your to-do list in 4 ‘buckets’, according to their importance and their urgency.

  • Bucket 1 – urgent and important.  These are tasks that are important, and have an imminent deadline.  (Such as writing a blog post that is due that week.)
  • Bucket 2 – important but non-urgent.  These are tasks that are important, but don’t have an imminent deadline.  (Such as date night with your hubby, or taking your kids to the dentist for their annual check-up.)
  • Bucket 3 – urgent and non-important.  These are tasks that have an imminent deadline, but that don’t really move the needle for you.  They’re often tasks that ended up on our to-do list because you agreed to help someone else out.  (Like helping a friend with their project, or running an errand for your mother-in-law.)  These tasks are urgent (for the other person), but aren’t important (for you).
  • Bucket 4 – non-urgent and non-important.  These are tasks that don’t have a deadline, and that don’t really move the needle.   They’re often tasks that fall in the ‘ought to do some day’ category.  (Such as cleaning out your wardrobe, or learning a new language.)

 2. Cut Your To-Do List in Half

Once you’ve classified the tasks on your to-do list into those 4 buckets, you’re in a position to cut your to-do list by 50%.  Here’s how you do that:

  • Get rid of the tasks in Bucket 4 by moving them into a separate ‘back burner projects’ list.  Here’s the thing: these tasks tend to clutter up your to-do lists, but the reality is that you won’t have the time to complete them anytime soon.  So rather than allow them to clutter up your to-do list (and make you feel overwhelmed, inadequate and stressed out), move them out of sight.  When the day comes that you do have some time to complete them, they’ll still be there.  But in the mean time, there’s no need for you to constantly be reminded of them.
  • Get rid of the tasks in Bucket 3 by learning to say ’no’.  Hand these tasks back to their original owner.  It will initially feel uncomfortable to say ‘no’ (after all, we love to help out), but you’ll get better at it with practice.  Truth is, you don’t have the time to help out – you’ve got too much on your plate already, and you can barely keep yourself from drowning as it is.  And guess what?  More often than not, the other party is very understanding when you say ‘no’ with class.  (One of my favorite ways to say ‘no’ is “I’d love to help you.  I really would.  But unfortunately I have many other commitments, so I can’t.  I’m really sorry.  Maybe you could consider XYZ”  – and xyz is a suggestion of another place where they could find help, such as a VA)

3. Stay On Top of Your To-Do List With the Post-It Note Method

Now that you’ve slashed your to-do list in half and reduced it to a manageable level, it’s time to use a fail-proof method for getting things done and getting a sense of achievement, every single day.

The trick here is to be realistic when you set your goals for the day, and to avoid over-committing yourself.  (Which, as moms, we unfortunately do way too often.)

Related Blog Post - Tutorial Tuesday ~ How to Create S.M.A.R.T. Goals + September FREEBIE

The best way to do this is to use the ‘Post-It note method’.  Here’s how it works:

  • At the end of each day, grab a post it note.
  • Write the top tasks you want to achieve the next day on your post-it note, in order of priority.  Pick a maximum of 2 major tasks (such as working on your next promotional campaign, or creating a video).  Add a maximum of 5 ‘lower-level’ tasks (such as spending 20 mins on social media to engage with your customers, or paying some bills.)  This is where the use of post-it notes comes into play: because they’re limited in size, you can only write a limited number of tasks on them.  This forces you to think about the importance and urgency of each task, so you only write down the tasks you need to work on next.
  • The next day, work through the tasks on your post-it note.

Thats’ it.

Like I said – a simple, pragmatic and common sense approach for staying on top of your to-do list.  (No fancy tools required.)

I started using this simple method about 9 months ago, and the results speak for themselves: I’m on top of my to-do list, and I have a sense of accomplishment at the end of each and every day.

You might also find the following article interesting: Time Management: 3 Tips That Work For Me

If your to-do list is out of control, and you feel overwhelmed and stressed just thinking about it, then give this simple method a go.  I bet it’ll do wonders for you too.

Over to you.

 Are you on top of your to-do list?  What’s your approach for managing your to-do list? 

Share in the comments.  Be as detailed as you can – I love learning how other mompreneurs manage to stay on top of their to-do list.  And your approach may be perfect for another mom in our community, and help her tame her unwieldy to-do list.

Related Article: Unleash the Power of Progress: Create A Done List