Do you live by your to-do list? If you’re the forgetful sort, or just love being organised when it comes to your daily duties, to-do lists are brilliant tools.

But what if yours has grown out of all proportion? Firstly, let’s cover the elephant in the room, because it isn’t always that obvious when your to-do list is reaching maximum capacity.

Thankfully, there are some telltale signs:

  • every morning or evening, you continually adjust the ‘due’ dates of items that have been on your to-do list for ages;
  • you keep having to let people down ‘gently’;
  • people keep chasing you for progress on specific projects;
  • you feel like you’re constantly working and rarely get time to rest;
  • you keep making silly, basic errors; and
  • you’re having to turn down work you really should be taking on.

If any of the above symptoms feel familiar, your to-do list is bigger than it should be, and in this blog, we’re going to consider ten decisions you’ll probably have to make to get it back under control. Warning: none of these will be easy.

1. Throw certain items away

Take a look at your to-do list and ask yourself a question.

How many of the items on there are genuine actions?

By ‘action’, we mean something that you actively have to do in order to see a specific result. An example might be ‘write intro paragraph for board meeting report’. A non-action is something that is more of an idea or wish as opposed to a hard-and-fast requirement. An example of a non-action might be ‘consider introducing bi-monthly marketing meeting’.

Get ruthless with your to-do list and don’t be afraid to throw away the stuff that can’t be acted upon.

2. Put off the ‘creative endeavours’

Sure, you’ve wanted to try out video production for ages; you’re 50% convinced it’ll even turn into a marketing method for your business at some stage. However, that item on your to-do list marked ‘invest time in learning video production’ will probably never happen, or if it does, something else far more important will have to make way.

Creative endeavours are important, but they shouldn’t be on your to-do list. If they’re that important to you, you’ll make time for them elsewhere and without putting yourself behind on ‘real’ work.

3. Refine the tasks you’re able to undertake

This one is tough.

An honest review of your to-do list should unearth the tasks which you’re unable to undertake. And you shouldn’t feel bad about it or worthless. At one point or another, most of us add things to our to-do lists which are either beyond our remit or level of expertise.

This is a classic human trait, but one that can get us into all sorts of bother. It takes a strong, honest will to identify the tasks which are beyond us, but when they’re found and given to someone else, that to-do list should be in far better shape.

4. Delegate

One of the toughest things to do if you like being in control of your to-do list is to give certain tasks to other people. However, if you fail to delegate smartly, you’ll try and do far too much yourself.

Bring other people into the fold and let go of the stuff which you really don’t need to be doing yourself. You haven’t failed if you give a job to someone else – you’ve simply opened up an invaluable space in time to invest in tasks where your time will be more effectively spent.

5. Confirm where your real skills lie

A bit like tip 3, this one requires an honest, open mindset.

When you add things to your to-do list, they should be tasks which you know you can undertake, but to do that, you need to confirm where your true skills lie. Your to-do list should be geared entirely towards your core competencies, so sit down and write a list of the things at which you excel. Keep that list handy and by your side (either mentally or physically) whenever you need to add a new task.

6. Measure task effectiveness against project success

Some tasks, although relatable to a project goal, will actually offer little value.

Unfortunately, tasks of this nature are often significant in number and consequently clog up to-do lists. Take a look at the tasks you’ve set yourself. Try and identify those that you know in your heart-of-hearts will have little to no measurable impact on the success of the project.

notepad-to-do-list

Remove them.

7. Remove stuff that is no longer relevant

If you’ve continually been adjusting the ‘due’ dates of to-do list items, there’s a strong chance you’ve got several on there that are simply no longer relevant. If something has been sat on the list for six months, the reason for it’s initial entry has almost certainly disappeared.

Before you delete anything, make sure you won’t be letting anyone down – although, to be honest, the fact that no one has bothered you about such tasks thus far probably confirms the need to throw them in the direction of the trash.

8. Be honest about how long big jobs will take

As humans, we’re brilliant at over- or underestimating how long it’ll take to do something. Unfortunately, that means to-do lists are usually full of inaccuracies.

Whenever you schedule an action, take time to consider how long it’ll take. There’s no point in scheduling something for completion next Friday if you know it’s going to take three weeks. If you do, you’ll only move that due date yet again come next Friday!

Always be honest with yourself and the people for whom you’re completing jobs about how long each one will take – even if the answer isn’t quite what you (or they) would want.

9. Assess your toolkit

If jobs are taking too long to complete and your to-do list just doesn’t seem to be shrinking, the problem might lie with your toolkit.

For example, if you’re a digital animator and each finished project takes hours to compile and produce for your clients, your to-do list will take a significant hit, because you’ll be spending far too long on each job.

In this example, it might be the computer on which you create your designs that needs to be replaced. Similarly, if you’re a business consultant who struggles to get tasks done on the road, your mobile internet connectivity might need to be reviewed.

Invariably, this task will end up with you spending more money on new kit or considerable time looking for free tools that’ll help you complete tasks quicker, but if it has a sizeable, positive impact on your to-do list, it’s absolutely worth doing.

10. Act on a trusted second opinion

Sometimes, a second pair of eyes is the best tonic, and if your to-do list never seems to reduce in size, it might be worth asking someone to take a look at it for you.

Ask them to look at the stuff you’ve promised you’ll do and to consider the points above. If you’re close enough to them and trust their opinion, their honest (although often hard to take) feedback will help you make some very important decisions about your list of tasks.

Final thought

You should be the ruler of your to-do list – not the other way around. Use our tips above to ensure it never gets the better of you.