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Reader Question: Managing Large To-Do Lists

A list member wrote to me with a question: "Sometimes with my business I see the list of “to dos” and it can seem overwhelming (especially when you’re an entrepreneur and you’re wearing many hats).

Instead of looking at that list and saying “tomorrow I will get to it,” can you give tips on how you break your multi-faceted/layered lists down?"

Well, unfortunately I’m not very qualified to answer this question because I also struggle with managing my to-do lists.

To-do lists are a huge part of my professional and personal life. They help me keep track of everything that needs to get done and stay on schedule.

But as helpful as they are, some days I’ll look at my task list and become overwhelmed – struggling to keep my head above water.

I’ve read books, scoured the Internet for articles and have been doing some self-experimentation - some things work for me while others don’t

Below are a few things that are currently helping me manage my list:

Plan my day the night before - Each night I will create a to-do list for the following day. That’s right, managing my to-do list with another to-do list, I’m a masochist. Making a smaller list helps me focus and not get too overwhelmed during the day.

Separate big tasks from small tasks - I like to schedule small things for the first half of my day and a large task for the second half of the day. This allows me to make sure I’m checking off all of the small things on my list while still taking care of my larger projects.

Prioritize tasks - I have four different to-do lists. An “urgent-business” list, a “not urgent-business” list, an “urgent-personal” list and a “not-urgent personal” list. Each Friday I’ll go through and reorganize what’s urgent and then each night I’ll make my daily list from my two urgent lists.

Do small tasks as they come in - If a task comes in that will take me 15 minutes or less I’ll make sure to get it done that day. It’s much quicker and manageable than adding a quick task to my to-do list.

Find some software to help you manage your list - There are tons of software and apps that help with managing to-do lists. I use 2Do for Mac, but any one will do. Play around with a few and see what works for you.

Go easy on yourself - Once everything is done on my daily list, I stop working and I allow myself to relax. I schedule my day with enough tasks so that once everything is checked off I can feel accomplished and take some personal time. Fixating on my to-do list all day leads me to burn out. I spend a ton of time working on and trying to efficiently manage my to do lists and it all can still seem overwhelming some days.

Maybe try one or two of the tips above to see if they help you – and keep in mind that this is a case of “the blind leading the blind” – I'm have not perfected the Art of To-do lists.

I have a feeling that this is a common problem for all busy people. I hope that helps a little.

How about you? Do you have any tips for managing your to-do list?

The Takeaway: To-do list management can be an overwhelming but necessary part of being a business owner. It helps to continuously modify your process – whether something helps reduce your stress or not you’ll still need to keep experimenting to find what works best for you.

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