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Tackling your “to do” list, and outsmarting procrastination!

One of the best things about being an entrepreneur is being able to work on things on my schedule. I’m so much more productive when I can work on the things that I’m feeling really motivated to at the time. As a business owner, there’s also an awfully big list of things to do that, let’s face it, you never feel like doing. Often they’re important things. Things with time limits that you put off as long as possible, until you finally suck it up and do it, but only because you ran out of time. All that procrastinating can be quite stressful. It’s a huge weight to carry around so many tasks in your head. I always feel better when it’s all written down because I don’t have to keep worrying about what to do first, or if I’m going to forget something – it’s all written down in front of me.

I’ve learned a few tricks to help tackle my to do list over time:
(disclaimer: these work well for me, but you may want to figure out a system that works best for you)

1. Organize your to do lists into categories, and prioritize them with items that are time sensitive or most important at the top. I often use sticky notes cut into strips or small pieces of paper and magnets stuck to the fridge so that I can rearrange the priorities if necessary. (I also colour-code them… but I recognize that I might be a bit crazy about organizing lists.)
a) Spring Cleaning To Do List
b) Business Admin To Do List
c) Business Client To Do List
e) Shopping To Do List
e) Hobbies/Fun To Do List (can’t forget fun stuff!)

If we look at the Spring Cleaning List for example, I like to break down the list into individual items. Realistically, I’m not going to be able to do it all in one go, so having smaller chunks helps to show you the progress of what’s left, and decide what to do based on that.

Spring Cleaning To Do List:
Living Room:
– dust
– vacuum
– tidy clutter
– windex mirror
– clean shower
– clean sink
– clean toilet
– wash floor

By writing out all the items to be done in each room, I can see that the Living Room probably won’t take up as much time as the Bathroom, so if I’m feeling less motivated, I’ll tackle a section that has less items or, pick and choose which items to do individually.

2. Once the lists are organized, take a look at what needs to be done in order of priority and decide what you feel like doing. If you try to force yourself to do something and you’re just not motivated, you won’t do it, or you’ll do a half-rate job at it. Look at your priority item #1. Feel like doing that? No? Ok – let’s move onto item #2. Go through until you find something you wouldn’t mind doing. Sometimes tackling something can make you more motivated to tackle one of the more important items.

3. Recognize that the items that you’re putting off the most are the ones that will take away the most stress and weight off your shoulders. Usually there are only one or two items that really weigh on me on the list. They’re the ones that I put off the longest and dread the most. HOWEVER – I’m only putting off feeling better about it by not doing it. It’s a lesson I know from experience, but it still doesn’t stop me from procrastinating. I even start to try to get stern with myself through Google Calendar reminders.


Have I called Bell? Nope. I know what’s coming. I’m going to sit on hold for 20-30 minutes, and I really don’t feel like it, but I need to do it. I’ll do an update of when I actually call Bell – maybe I’ll have had an epiphany about procrastinating after doing it?… ok probably not, but you get my drift. I’ll feel better once it’s done, and that will eventually motivate me into doing it.

4. Part of putting things off is assuming that things are going to take so. much. longer. than they actually will (except that call to Bell). Try adding a time estimate to each item. How long will it take to windex the mirror in the bathroom? Probably less than five minutes. Items can seem more arduous than they really are, so by putting a time estimate on it you can psych yourself up by saying “Ok. It’s going to take me 30 minutes to call Bell, but then it will be done and I’ll feel so much better that the task is done.” or “it will take me 5 minutes to clean that – I can clean for 5 minutes.”

5. Some people give themselves a reward for doing a task. I tried that once with candy. I ate the candy while promising myself I’d do the task. I did not. Doesn’t work for me, but it may work for you. To me it makes it feel as though the task is more negative than it really is by having the reward at the end and makes me want to do it even less. (The reason I included it in the list is because this does work for a lot of people)

6. Be realistic. This is all about prioritizing. What are you really going to accomplish in a day? a week? two weeks? I have a list called “Eventually”. Some of these items have been on the list for two to three years. Clearly, they’re not important or vital, but things I need to do eventually. These are guilt free items. If you’re realistic about what you can actually accomplish, you’re less likely to feel guilty if you don’t manage to complete the tasks when you’ve scheduled them.

7. Scheduling using Google Calendar or a similar calendar system can be helpful if you’re in front of your computer as much as I am. I try to schedule tasks for a time when I’m most likely to actually do it (for example after I’m done work for the day, but not so late in the day that I’m too tired and put it off). Having the reminders show up in my inbox helps to keep the important things fresh in my mind and adds some pressure to get it done.

As I said at the beginning, this type of thing won’t work for everyone, but organizing it in a way that helps you get it out of your head and in a realistic schedule for getting things done can make you feel a lot better. Find out what works for you and start tackling those items! Good luck!