Ah, the revered to-do list… You’ve probably got a love-hate relationship with it.

I know I do.

Even though I recommend that all my clients use to-do lists, I’m also aware of the potential pitfalls of using them.

One of those pitfalls is that your list keeps growing bigger and you’re not checking off enough items.

Your typical day might look like this: Add 10 to-do’s, complete 5 of them.

It’s frustrating to see the list get larger each week and each month. Too many things to do, not enough time (or sometimes not enough energy or motivation).

You feel busy every day but you feel like you’re just not getting enough done.

What is the solution to this ever-growing monster called the to-do list?

3 Ways to Tame Your To-Do List

Here are a few ways that I use personally and that I recommend to my clients to get a gnarly to-do list under control.

1. Get Real

You’ve got to be real with yourself and schedule tasks that you can realistically do, given your time and typical responsibilities.

It’s not helpful to keep adding 30 hours worth of tasks when you only really have 15 hours in your week to do those tasks.

This is a case of wanting to get a lot done but you simply don’t have enough time in your week (assuming that you’re using your time efficiently).

Every Sunday evening when you do a quick planning session for the upcoming week, add enough tasks that you push you a bit but not too much.

When we add too many tasks to our to-do lists, get behind on a few of them and this becomes the trend each day, there is the tendency to take even less action because we know we’re already behind on the list. If we have a lot of overdue items, our task list falls apart.

Schedule a realistic amount of to-do’s each day. It’s not a big deal if you don’t get everything done but if you’re not getting 90% of those items done or higher on a daily basis, then you need to do one (or both) of these items:

a) Schedule fewer items. There’s no sense in chronically scheduling more tasks than you have time for. That’s not real productivity, that’s just wishful thinking.

b) Get more efficient with your time. Do a “time-audit” of your days and be aware of where you might be inefficient with your time. What activities can you minimize or avoid? How can you do certain processes faster? Can you put time limits on certain activities (like meetings, business social media or content creation)?

By adding the right amount of tasks each week, you’ll be able to stay on top of your to-do list and reduce that anxiety and overwhelm that comes from looking at a long list of tasks that you’ve been meaning to do for several months.

2. Identify the 20% of Your Actions That Generate 80% of the Results

Some (or many) of the tasks you might be scheduling can probably be abandoned permanently or at least they can be worked on less often.

Why? Because some of those well-intentioned tasks aren’t going to make a real difference in your business. It’s much better to focus mostly on your high-impact tasks.

What do you really need to get done in order to make a big impact on your revenue goals and business?

If you only had time to do five tasks this week, what would those tasks be?

Those are your high-impact tasks.

It’s very tempting to spend time on “low-hanging fruit” type of tasks. Those tasks feel like work and you feel productive but they won’t really move you forward that much.

We sometimes avoid high-impact tasks because they scare the shit out of us. If you feel a bit of fear (or a lot!) at working on certain larger tasks, then that’s a probably a good indication that that particular task is high-impact.

Break your high-impact task down into the first, most easiest component. Make it impossible for you not to take that first step.

3. Move Important but Non-Urgent Overdue Tasks to a Separate List

You’ve probably got some tasks that you’ve been wanting to do for several weeks or months but you never get around to taking action on them. They’re just stuck there, in limbo, perhaps in a red color, marked “overdue”.

These are taking up your mental bandwidth every time you see that lingering task on your list. Plus, they make you feel unproductive and like you’re not successful.

Move the tasks from your main to-do list and put those important, non-urgent tasks on a separate list which you can title something like, “Bonus Tasks” or “Important Non-Urgent Tasks”.

Every Sunday, when you plan out your week or every evening, when you plan out the following day, you can look at your “Bonus Tasks” list and schedule one or two of them into your week or day.

Or if you have moments where you’re caught up on your planned tasks, look at your “Bonus Tasks” list and choose one of the tasks at the top of the list (because you’ve prioritized it, right?).

It just feels better when you’re on top of your planning and execution like this. Try these ideas out…They’re not the only methods but they are a few of the key strategies.

Until next time!


Nigel Cook
Accountability Coach
Holding Your Feet to the Fire

PS: Want to reach your goals faster? Check out one of the online accountability coaching programs and book a free Coaching Call.