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To-Do Lists, Do They Really Work?

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Just like any business owner I struggle with time management. I seem to always have a list of things to do that never seems to get shorter, and I never have enough time to do them. From talking to customers, working on a blog post, overseeing projects at ezClocker, learning a new system/skill to my own personal tasks like going over my finances or picking up groceries, it never ends. It seems like when one item is done three new items popup. What makes it worse is that you feel you are in control of your schedule and not in control all at the same time. Sound familiar?

I was at a conference once attending a fireside chat with Soldedad O-Brien, who is a broadcast journalist, and she was telling the audience how she had a hectic schedule when she worked at CNN. Waking up at 4 a.m. to be at the studio before 6 a.m. and wouldn’t be home until 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. Then after spending time with her family and doing chores, she wouldn’t get to bed until 11 p.m. or midnight to prepare to do it all over again the next day. Although that schedule was crazy, she said it was still a schedule which she followed and didn’t have to create or think about. Now that she works on her own media production company she can set her own rules, but she also has the responsibility to set her own priorities for the day and schedule. Which it turns out, this is sometimes harder and quite overwhelming.

What O-Brien said hit home for me. When I used to work at corporate my schedule for most of the time was set. There were team meetings already scheduled, we had projects that had due dates, we knew when busy season was going to come, and how long it would last. So when I transitioned from employee to entrepreneur, I didn’t realize this concept of controlling your own schedule was going to be so hard.

To help me get organized I use to-do lists, one for the week and one for the day. I also have one list for business and one for personal items. Having these lists in place does help me remember things, and it gives me a sense of accomplishment when I check things off. However, when your list is a mile long, by the end of the day you say to yourself, “I did a lot of stuff today, but did I move the needle for my business?” and “oh I still didn’t get to task A, B, and C. I guess I’ll work on them tomorrow”.

[How To Stop Feeling Overwhelmed By Your Business]

To help me be more productive I picked up a book called “15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management” by Kevin Kruse. A couple of great points he brings up:

  • One of the problems of a to-do list is it doesn’t distinguish between items that take only a few minutes and items that require hours of time. So when you look at that list to pick from you most likely will pick the easiest and fastest tasks (or in my case what I’m in the mood to do) rather than what is most important. Yep! I’m so guilty of that.
  • To-do lists create an unnecessary stress because every time you look at it you have so much to do and deal with. Kruse says according to research 41% of to-do list items are never completed.

So how do you deal with this? Your list of items still need to be done (or we think they need to be done). Kruse says highly successful people don’t have a to-do list, but they use their calendar instead to schedule the most important tasks that will have the biggest impact on their business. This will allow them to free up their mind and help with stress because now they have a plan to address their tasks.

Also, as a best practice Kruse suggests to schedule your most important items as early in the day as possible. Why? As more time passes during the day unexpected things will happen that may interfere with you achieving these tasks. Treat these time blocks as appointments. When I hear friends say they don’t have time to exercise I say, but if one of your kids has an important doctor appoint you wouldn’t miss it right? They say, of course not! So in other words you exercising is not high on your priority list. Your calendar should reflect your high priorities for the week or month by creating time blocks. These can be allocated to calling customers, meetings, family time, or thirty minutes of relaxing.

We are all given 24-hours a day, yet some people can produce or take advantage of it more than others. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to try my best to use every minute that I can.


Author: Raya Khashab

Raya is the CEO and co-founder of ezClocker. She is passionate about customers and building products that change the way people run their business. She is also a big supporter of the startup community and helping people achieve their dreams.