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Cutthroat to-do lists

cutthroat to-doGuest post by licensed Right-Brain Business Plan® Facilitator Laura Burns

“I’m so busy! My to-do list never ends!”

I say stuff like this all time, and I’m betting you do as well. Sometimes my days feel crazy busy and my to-do list gets so full that I start a second, less urgent, to-do list. My calendar fills up and soon my work day feels like rush hour as I try to tackle everything at full speed.

Are you nodding your head at this description? Is this hitting a little too-close to home?

If so, you may have too much on your plate. I’ve recently found that it’s high time for me to step back, take a few minutes, and pare down my to-do list to just the bare essentials.

Before you protest, humor me for a moment. I want you to imagine that you only have a few things on your list for today. Envision the peace that comes from that simple little fact. Think about how it would feel to give yourself space, emotionally and physically, to create a day full of simplicity, focus, and productivity. Instead of completing 10 small tasks that don’t matter much, you could accomplish a few things that will actually really impact your business.

Of course the difficult part is actually implementing this relaxed philosophy! It’s absolutely totally possible, this workday of peace, but it takes focus, energy, and a healthy dose of stubbornness. I know, because I’ve been steadily working on changing my work-style.

Here’s what I’ve been doing. I encourage you to try this for a while – it’s reduced my stress quite a bit!

Clarify your goals. In order to know is important enough to make your pared down list, you have to know what you’re trying to achieve. If you’re not clear on your goals, you won’t have a way to know if a task is essential. Take some time to review your vision for your work and any goals you’ve set recently. What’s your big project right now? Where are you trying to take your business this year? Next year? What do you need to do in next few months to make those things happen? And what can you do this week? By clarifying your goals you are providing yourself with a roadmap. Focus on just one goal at a time for now, until that is achieved, and then focus on the next.

Value yourself. If you don’t know your value, you won’t value your time. If you don’t value your time, you’ll say yes to everything and your to-do list will look super crazy all the time. Clear a block of time to take a personal inventory, and assess your skills and talents. What are you worth? I’m betting you’re undervaluing how much your time is worth. Think about it, and get clear about how much you want your time to be worth. Then, and this is a bigger, don’t accept any work that’s not worth your time.

Bang for your buck. Look at your to-do list: which tasks on there really, really matter? Which ones will provide the most satisfaction, get you closer to your goals, and pay off for you the most in the long run? Put a star next to those tasks. If you don’t have any of those tasks on your list, consider coming up with a few. These are what you should focus on.

Three things. If your to-list still has a bunch of things on it, take time each morning to choose three to focus on for the day. “But I want to do five or seven!” NO. Be cutthroat. Prioritize, and only choose three. Write those three on a separate piece of paper, and that’s your to-do list for today. I make a new post-it note every day with my three things on it.

Random folder. Here’s my favorite solution to the small task distraction problem that tends to muck up my work day and keep me from focusing on my three things. Every day, as those small tasks crop up I write them on scraps of paper or post-its and put them in a separate folder – I call it my Random Folder. The best part is that after you add your small task to the folder, you put the folder away! Don’t leave it next to your computer. Don’t add it to your stack on ongoing work. File it in a drawer, stick it in a rack on the wall, whatever you need to do to keep it out of your line of sight. Create a recurring pop-up reminder in your schedule for an hour or so late in the day or on specific days to batch process those small tasks. Phone calls, quick memos, paperwork, whatever – it’s amazing how quickly you can get through all those small tasks when you focus on them at one time. This one work-style change has dramatically improved my focus and productivity. I’m no longer stopping to complete a small task and then getting distracted by something else that only leads me off in a new direction.

There’s no magic wand here, folks. I know this will sound awful to some people, and I was skeptical at first. I’ve traditionally been a multi-tasker to the extreme, but it no longer serves me to work that way. I’m glad I’ve found this new way of structuring my work day, and I hope you try some of these ideas. I really think they can help people looking for ways to improve their work life.

I help heart-forward businesses create thoughtfully crafted plans for growth and sustainability. I love to inspire people to think critically, dream big, and clear out the cobwebs to let in the light and the joy! Wanna leave your soul-crushing job to start your own business? Check out my new book, Work Life Revolution! Laura Burns is one of our licensed Right-Brain Business Plan® Facilitators.

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