When we have a lot to do it can feel very overwhelming. Being overwhelmed can make us procrastinate completing our important work and stop our small business growth plans. Understanding the small business strategies that will help us to get started, and the steps that follow, are not always clear. Sometimes when we don’t know the tasks, we miss deadlines, deliver incomplete work, or get the work wrong. It does not help our credibility and does not help us successfully complete our own projects. I am a very linear thinker but I know without some special tricks, simply having a list is not enough for me to get all the tasks complete, right, and on time.
Create The Steps
Before you can use any tricks to help you complete your “To Do” list it is important to know what the tasks are that need to be completed. When I start a new project I spend time discovering what needs to get done. Knowing the “big picture” result does not give you the small steps to get to the finish. This is one of the key reasons we can picture our bigger, more successful business, but we cannot figure out what we need to do next to get there.
1. Develop the Idea
Before you start writing out the steps, fully develop the idea of what the competed project looks like. Know what you want to have at the end of the work. Then work backwards. For example: If you want to create a newsletter, you will start with the results.
RESULTS – I will have a newsletter that delivers an article I write, information about my upcoming events, a section that highlights other events or people in our industry and a link to my free gift. I will send out this newsletter once a month using a software program that can maintain a database of people that sign up for my newsletter.
OK so now you know the result, next work backwards in bullet points.
- software with database
- research which one I want to use
- design the newsletter for the software
- find someone that is an expert at the software
- hire this person to create the template and set up the opt-in
- decide if I am going to look after the software going forward or have this person maintain it for me.
- Have a location where my articles are available online
- Create a blog
- Create a free gift
- put the gift online and create a signup page (or other sales process to capture contacts)
- Create a list of people or industry specific groups of interest to my readers
- Create my marketing calendar for upcoming events
I simply started at the end of the RESULTS paragraph and read it backwards to create the list above.
2. Get Feedback
Take your idea and your list to someone that you trust and that has the ability to understand your goals. Ask them to help you evaluate the idea and the list. I have found that after I get input from others, there is always something I did not see, or could not see, because I am so close to the idea. Ideas, like children, are all beautiful in the eyes of their parents. Beauty is not enough to be successful so get someone to help you discover the challenges in your idea and add their tasks to your list.
Make it Visual
I’m going to date myself here, but do remember the K-Mart Flashing Blue Light Special? I was only a kid, but I remember when they would announce the special over the speakers and we’d hunt the store for the blue flashing light. Not everyone is a visual learner, but, unless you are visually impaired, you will respond to visual input as a way to direct your focus. It can be a bad thing when it is your email popping into your inbox every 30 seconds, or a good thing when you can easily see what has to happen next in a process that leads to the completion of your goals.
Here are my favourite ways to visually capture my “To Do” list.
- Simply create a list. Usually I start by writing it out (see “Develop the Idea” above), but I know I will not check the hand-written paper so I like to put the list into my Outlook calendar. I can electronically cross tasks off as I complete them.
- Put the individual tasks into the calendar. If there are hundreds this may be too arduous but if you have 5-10 tasks, you could easily add a task or appointment into your calendar with deadline reminders.
- Create Mind-mapping strategies to represent the project. For the creative mind, it is more helpful to have something less analytical and linear. I had a client use an info-graphic instead of a proposal and it was brilliant. It worked for her style of thinking. Be creative don’t just do what other do, including me.
- For marketing I have a year-long calendar that is on the wall above my computer. I can look up at any time and see when and what I have something booked. For my “To Do” list I decided to try something different. The image you see above is an Excel calendar. I used a template and created a 12 month document where I could put the steps directly into the dates. It will not remind me automatically, but I printed out a couple of months and use it to sketch additional tasks and new changes. It is very tactical.
NOTE – If you want the Excel calendar template please let me know and I will email it to you. (email@example.com)
- For my day-to-day “To Do” lists I use a large sticky notepad. I can get 30 tasks on the sheet. I put the tasks down in order as I get them, then put a star beside something that has to be completed today. It sits on my desk, directly in between me and my computer.
- Put the list on an sticky note app on your phone. This way you are never without your “To Do” list. If you bump into someone that may have some insight into your challenges, you can easily pull it out to discuss your process.
You don’t have to use technology, you simply have to have the steps somewhere that you will see it and be reminded and refocused on your goals.
P.S. Obviously having an auditory reminder will add to your success, so go ahead and add a reminder that will not only visually come up on your desktop or cell, but will also make a sound. The more ways you can keep your tasks in front of you, the easier it will be to complete them.
NOTE – Creating your lists should not take longer than actually doing the tasks. The bigger the project the more time I put into my “To Do” list for the tasks in the project, but I don’t spend hours on it. Your visual lists should help you stay on track, not add additional work you will procrastinate doing. Find the type of support system that works best for you and use it.
Your virtual accountability is your calendar notifications. You can snooze the task, but if you do not complete the task it will continue to pop up on your screen. This is helpful. If you really want to pump-up your success rate, get someone else to hold you accountable. Arrange to have someone connect with you weekly and ask you about your progress. I guarantee you will be much more likely to show up for those calls with good news rather than excuses, especially if the person is someone you look up to and respect for their accomplishments.
If you want to ensure you get your work done, and your projects are completed on time, you have to know when you are doing the work, and what the tasks are that need to be completed. Hoping to reach a goal because you can see the result may be possible for a one-person business with no aspirations for significant business growth, but it will destroy a growing business.
If you have an opinion or want to share your best tips for managing a “To Do” list, please put it in the comments below. Also, If you want the template for the Excel calendar I used above, let me know and I will email it to you.
Jackie Ramler says
Excellent Article Barb! Very well laid out and exactly what I needed most today. Would l love the templates to boost my productivity. Thanks!