How to control a massive to-do list
Do you struggle with an overwhelming to-do list most days? Sarah Cordiner shares her tips on how to tame it.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like I have 10,000 balls up in the air, whilst conducting an orchestra of wasps in the middle of a hurricane.
We all let our to-do lists get the better of us from time to time. In this article I am going to share with you some strategies that I have used to get my to-do list under control, remove the overwhelm, and systemise my tasks to prevent future chaos from the same tasks currently clogging it up.
No dollar, no list
When I have a massive list of stuff that needs doing, I personally prioritise my tasks like this:
- Will it IMMEDIATELY make me money if I do this now? If the answer is yes, I do that FIRST
- Will this get a client contract or job (that is ALREADY paying me) finished? If the answer is yes, I do that second.
- Will it make me money in the short term if I do this now? If the answer is yes, I do that next.
- Will it make me money in the long term future (not instantly). If the answer is yes, I leave it for later.
- Will this make me money at all? If the answer is no, delete it completely.
What is your time worth?
Before we can start deciding what to remove from our list, we need to get an idea of how much time we are wasting in the form of money.
Write down what your hourly rate is (or would be) if you charge out yourself to clients.
Audit your time
For The next two weeks, write down absolutely EVERYTHING that you do through the day by 15 minute intervals. For example:
- 7am-7:15am: Scrolled Facebook
- 7:15am-7:30am: Replied to emails
This will start to give you a really good idea about how your are spending your time and will be very enlightening for you. Please do this – it will amaze you when you see it in black and white and make the next steps in this article much clearer for you.
Pick ONE thing
Many of us get scared about picking one goal, as we think we will sacrifice other opportunities if we narrow our focus to one thing. But trying to catch two rabbits often results in us catching none.
Pick ONE major goal for the year – one thing, that should you achieve it, will knock down every other dream or goal that you have in some way.
Make sure that every single activity you have written on your to-do list directly aligns to achieving that particular goal. If it doesn’t, delete it.
Sarah’s hierarchy of filtering your tasks
Now that you have your tasks lists, let’s see what we can take off of our burden, lighten the load and have you only focus on the high-value tasks.
Time to audit everything, measure it next to our ‘hourly rate’ to see if each task is worth our personal time doing, or if it is in fact more profitable to hire someone else to do it.
For instance, if you have decided that you want your annual turnover to be $500,000 a year, then you need to be earning $240 an hour.
So why would you spend 8 hours mucking around with trying to make some posters for your event (wasting $1,920 of your time), that would have cost you only $20 for a freelancer to do for you?
You can’t (and shouldn’t) do everything
This next stage is about getting realistic with what you are putting your time into and how you are managing your tasks.
For every single task in your list, you are now going to ask yourself the following questions in this order:
- Can you ELIMINATE it? If yes, then delete it. If not, move to the next stage.
- Can you AUTOMATE it? If yes, set up the automation. If not, move to the next stage.
- Can you OUTSOURCE it? If yes, find your contractors. If not, then move to the next stage.
- Can you DELEGATE it? If yes, delegate it. If not, then move to the next stage.
- Are you SURE that you are the ONLY person that can do this? Are you absolutely POSITIVE that there is no other way of doing this? If yes, then add it to your personal list. If there is another way of doing it, do it the other way!
I will further extrapolate on each of these hierarchical stages now.
The next stage of systemising your business model is to then look at everything you do to sell, produce and deliver your product or service and then decide what can be eliminated. sometimes we have steps we do not need, or options we give our customers that just cause confusion, or resources that are not required – even tasks we do ourselves that are not really required.
Delete everything and anything that is not absolutely critical to the process.
Just get rid of it.
Automation has been huge in my ability to take on more customers, create more consistent customer experiences and ultimately scale my business.
By using automation tools such as online order forms, online quote request forms, online payment forms, a customer record management system, automated email sequences and a combination of online apps, I have been able to replace people – including myself – in many parts of my business in a way that has significantly improved my customer experience.
By using technology instead of people, you can remove inconsistent operations, ensure that business is being taken care of 24/7, never have to worry about holidays, weekends, sick days, bad moods, pay rises or international time zones – not to mention, massively reduce your overheads.
You may have identified parts of your business that require human input, skill and talent.
But before defaulting to ‘if I want it done properly, then I should do it myself’; or ‘Oh no, now I have to train people in something I’m not amazing at myself’, first consider outsourcing.
There are freelancers, contractors, small businesses and companies who specialise in every type of skill you could imagine.
People who have dedicated their entire lives, education, professions and business resources to that thing you need done and if you look around hard enough you will find people willing to work on an ‘as needs basis’, meaning that you get professional work done without the stress or the overheads.
Outsourcing means sending it to somebody else to do.
There are lots of ways to outsource.
The cheapest ways are to find freelancers on sites such as Upwork.com, where people from every industry you could imagine, with every skill you could wish for, are there to offer you their services as required.
You post your ‘job’ with a full description and a budget, and freelancers will bid against one another to get your post.
You can also outsource to other businesses who may specialise their entire suite of services around that one thing that you need.
Outsourcing can be hard to find the right people and takes a little getting used to. Like any form of ‘employment’, outsourcing requires you to know precisely what you want first, and then to implement a process of selection, onboarding and offboarding.
If you’re thinking ‘but i can’t afford it!;, remember how much you cost per hour. I bet the money you are losing by doing it yourself is far more expensive than it would cost to get a contractor to do it, whilst you focus on income-generating and client-facing work.
Start small and slow
Get freelancers to first do a trial job for you and get more than one to do the trial – pay them for the trial. Base their skills on what they show you that they can do, not on what they say that they can do.
Secondly, when it comes to finding ‘experts’, make sure you check out a few things before you get fooled by any false claims.
- Experts have at least 5 years demonstrable experience in their area of expertise and can back that up with historical evidence, customer testimonials, a portfolio of work, published work.
- They have qualifications and formal training in their area of expertise.
- These days it’s also worth looking for a website and social media presence – if they can’t afford it or can’t be bothered with it, it tells me a lot about how seriously they take their business – and their customers’ business.
What not to outsource
Outsourcing has certainly changed my business, but make sure you do it in the right places with the right people.
Things I do NOT outsource are my social media (excluding advertising), or content creating such as blogs, books and courses – courses because that is my own area of expertise, but the others because these are your ‘voice’.
The way you speak, write and communicate say everything about who you are and can only be uniquely you.
Nobody else can capture your essence other than you.
So my personal advice is that if you don’t like writing, don’t outsource it, instead learn how to get comfortable on camera and do videos that you can later get transcribed and edited by an outsourcer; or do audio recordings or use the
If you’d like to get your own business and tasks under control, swipe over 70 of Sarahs’ daily business task instructions and her whole Trello Board here.