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The Hidden Secret to Completing Your To-Do List

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I recently went on Amazon and spent more than two hours searching for the perfect birthday gift for myself. I knew the kind I wanted… just had to find one that suited me best. I was on the hunt for the perfect… journal. Yes, journal (though some may call it a “planner” or an “agenda”). So, I browsed, read reviews and zoomed in on sample pages. Every time I came across one I liked, I would scroll down to where similar products were listed… scanning the reviews and looking at samples of what interior pages looked like.

You may think to yourself, “What is the big deal about finding a journal?” My answer is simple: Finding the right one to put daily to-do lists in, among other things, can help keep you organized and focused — will not only help you become a better entrepreneur, but also fuel a better understanding of yourself as a person.

That said, you absolutely do not have to get hold of something fancy: a phone, sticky pads or even random sheets of paper will do. The point is to have a centralized place for daily tasks, so that you can analyze them to find a few hidden secrets.  

Your daily to-do list

I learned very early in life that I liked things a certain way, and also liked to be organized. I enjoy writing things down in list form, and enjoy even more being able to check things off that list. More recently I discovered that there was a lot to be learned by periodically reviewing what I put into them, including what is checked-off and what isn’t. Among other things, my lists show where I tend to focus energies and the types of tasks that give me the most anxiety, along with the ones that are taking more of my time and energy than they perhaps need to.

Related: Find a To-Do List Strategy That Works for You

Analysis process

• Gather lists from the past 30 days: You can review lists that encompass less time, of course, but I find a full month gives the best snapshot for analyzation. Take photos or screenshots to print out if that makes it easier to browse through them.

• Review: Get a general sense of the type of items included. Are they typically personal, work related or a combination of both? Do you have an item or task that comes up on a regular basis? Is this item a carryover from a previous day or a recurring one that has to be addressed on a regular basis?

The goal of this step is not to judge what’s on the list, but simply to note trends or themes.

• Analyze what’s completed: Now that you know what’s on your list, assess what is and isn’t checked off. For the items that are, would you classify them as personal or work related? Do these items require a little bit of time, or a lot? Lastly, are you mostly leaving items unchecked, or are you actually getting to them?

• Look for hidden secrets: By going through the above steps, you should have a good idea of what you’ve been placing among daily tasks, along with which ones are getting done and which are not. You should also have a sense of whether you are front-loading tasks to the beginning of the week, and if you spend too much time on things that can be delegated or outsourced to other people. Last, you might be able to determine what items give you anxiety, as well as those you tend to procrastinate on. (For example, if you have a large task that’s constantly getting moved to the next day, then the day after that, it’s a sign that you should try and break it down into smaller parts.)

Related: 5 Goal-Setting Journals to Take You From Intention to the Finish Line

Using list secrets to improve as an entrepreneur

• Make daily, weekly and monthly versions: Instead of including all your action items on a daily list, place those that don’t need to be immediately addressed on a weekly or monthly one that you review periodically.

• Identify with a special notation tasks requiring five minutes or less to complete: These might be very quick ones that can be accomplished between meetings, while you’re in line for food or even while commuting on the subway. So, go ahead and use this otherwise wasted time to check some “few-minute” items off.

• Delegate items: Reach out to team members for help on work-related tasks that do not required your personal involvement. One of the best lessons you can learn as an entrepreneur is that you cannot do everything, so don’t try. Outsourcing will help keep you focused and otherwise free up mental space.

• Break some large tasks into smaller steps: For example, if you must create a sizable PowerPoint presentation that’s due on Friday, start tackling it on Monday. On that first day choose perhaps the layout design, then on Tuesday outline what you think you want to cover and then keep going with each additional step through the week. Breaking things down into smaller chunks will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.

• Take some of the pressure off: Give yourself a little grace and don’t put unrealistic pressures on yourself to check off everything on a to-do list every day. Most if not all of us don’t have the time or energy to tackle everything, and that’s fine: the goal is to stay focused and organized and to embrace progress, not perfection!

Related: 9 Ways Entrepreneurs Organize and Manage Their Calendars Properly


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