When I first launched my coaching business, I started each day by making a to-do list that no human could have completed. It was an ambitious list filled with detailed breakdowns for big projects, notes about my many ideas and daily to-dos both large and small.
It was also the source of a lot of stress.
At the start of each day, I faced my to-do list with a feeling of utter overwhelm as I tried to figure out where to start; at the end of each day, I felt like a failure when I saw how many items I hadn't crossed off. No matter what I did, I just couldn't make a dent in that list.
But I kept making my massive to-do lists because I thought that's what productive people did. I thought I had to do all the things and have a huge list if I wanted to make my business work.
Sometimes though, you have to do things the wrong way to figure out a better alternative. That was certainly the case with my to-do lists. Because after I'd repeated this pattern for many months, I realized that the list of tasks that was supposed to keep me focused during my workday was actually preventing me from being productive.
That's when I decided I had to figure out a way to simplify my to-do list so I could use it as a tool to get stuff done. So I learned how to break my list down using what I call the three Ps (Prioritize, Pass Off and Pause) – and now I want to share my system so you can simplify your to-do list too.
I'll explain the steps here but know you can also get them (and a helpful to-do list template) in my free guide, Three Steps to Simplify Your To-Do List. CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD YOURS NOW (no opt-in required).
Now back to your list. First, you're going to do a brain dump where you write down everything you think you need to do in your business right now. Get it down on one paper so it's not scattered in a bunch of different places or living in your head.
Next, you're going to break your list down into the following categories:
Things to Prioritize
Look at your list with fresh eyes and ask yourself, which items are the most important to tackle right now? These might be tasks that are tied to upcoming deadlines or ones that you know will make a big impact in your business. If you're being really honest with yourself and selective, you'll find that there are only 2 or 3 tasks that you need to prioritize at any given time. Place these items at the top of your to-do list and commit to focusing on them for the day or the week.
Things to Pass Off
Here's the dirty little secret about your to-do list: even though it's your list, you do not need to be responsible for everything on it. In fact, if you really want to run a sustainable, profitable business, you need to learn to delegate tasks to people who can do them more effectively or efficiently than you can. So go ahead and comb through your list for tasks you could pass off to someone on your team, to an assistant, a contractor or even an online tool (like a scheduler). Circle the tasks you'd like to delegate and then write down the name of the person (or tool) you will pass them off to next to each item. It's time to get them off your plate.
Things to Pause
One of the reasons our to-do lists feel so unwieldy is because we put everything on them – including tasks we don't really need to worry about yet. So now that you've figured out which tasks to prioritize and which ones you'll pass off, you need to look at what's left and ask yourself if those tasks really need your attention right now. (Spoiler alert: the answer is almost always no.) That means you're going to give yourself permission to pause your work on those remaining items and pick them up at another time. Sometimes you'll pause for a week or two and sometimes pausing will help you realize that you didn't really need to do those tasks at all.
Try this system out the next time you're staring down a mile-long to-do list and are feeling overwhelmed. It will help you shorten your list, lessen your stress and be more productive by giving you a place to focus.
And again, if you want more support setting this system up, I encourage you to download my guide Three Steps to Simplify Your To-Do List because I share more details – and a simple to-do list template you can use again and again – inside it.
P.S. Don't forget to snag my guide and free to-do list template so you can start using my system to simplify your to-do list and make the most of this useful productivity tool in your business today.
To help you get started, I also made you a little video that walks you through the guide and shares solutions for places you might get stuck.