Streamlining Your Dreaded “To-Do” List


Are you feeling overwhelmed with commitments, tasks and activities?  We are all trying to get more done with less. Less support, time and social interaction.  Pretty much everyone has some sort of “list” of projects, tasks, next actions and activities that must be done, right?

But, did you know that about half of the tasks on a “to-do list” never get done?!  That’s huge!

What about the things that never make it onto the list that you’re just carrying it around in your brain and relying on your memory hoping it gets done?  This is taking up valuable real estate in your head!

Is your day smooth sailing and you accomplish your list in completion each day… crossing off that last item and closing down for the day?  If so, stop reading and get back to work!

If you’re completely honest, though, it’s highly unlikely. There are two very good reasons for this:

  1. We can never plan for those interruptions! No matter how well we’ve planned, there will always be someone barging in, or an emergency to deal with.
  2. There are always the tasks that never even make it to the list – how do you fit those into your day?


Instead of forcing yourself to remember everything you must do, here is an idea to help you streamline your commitments into your day and help you feel more in control.

This first time around will take the most time but afterwards is simple to keep up on a regular basis.

Paperwork overwhelm


On a blank piece of paper – or the electronic scratch pad of choice – start writing down everything that comes to mind. It can be list form, random notations, or “bicycle spoke” style. Up to you.

Be sure to include everything you can think of that you have to do – even if it is already written down on a list or calendar elsewhere.

Set your timer for 5 full minutes – you should be stretching to think of things by the time it goes off – which is a good sign that you’ve unloaded as much as you can.

Here are a few prompts: pick up dry cleaning, call mom, get document notarized, write blog on virus prevention, write blog on preserving battery power, plan for budget meeting, pay credit card bill, vote, schedule haircut, add a post on your FB Business Page, Share it to your networking group page, share it to LinkedIn. Upload your blog on social media marketing.

Done yet? Keep going!

Busy Executives
Woman on Coaching Call

More prompts –Pick up steaks for dinner, get gas, make hotel reservations, fill out “stop mail” form at USPS, check your commission check against your statement, call Bob, update spreadsheet, create sales meeting agenda, finish presentation, check email again, watch funny cat videos, balance checkbook.

Now you have this GIANT master brain dump list of items, how do you feel?  Don’t look at the list yet! Just enjoy that feeling of freedom and available space in your brain!  Take a deep cleansing breath – and next…

Find a black sharpie/magic marker, 2 different colored pens, and a few colored highlighters – and let’s get to work:.


Review your list and pull out anything that has a date and time stamp – meetings, doctor/dentist appointments, recurring networking commitments, the random birthday party, classes at the gym (or on Zoom) – and enter them into your calendar now. *Cross them off your master Brain Dump list.

*Congratulate yourself if they were already on your calendar – you are already doing some things right!


Next, we categorize these items, which will pare down your tasks so you won’t feel quite so overwhelmed.

Take a look at your master brain dump list – and follow these steps called “The 4 Ds”:

  1. Dump It: My favorite – If you have anything that is on this list that is a self-imposed “to-do” that really doesn’t have to be done- cross it out. Is there anything that you feel like you “should” do (but don’t really want to?) – cross it off your list!  Use that bold black magic marker to just eliminate it! What about things that are “nice to haves” not “need to haves” –cross those items off your list too!  Any tasks that don’t have to be done, don’t have to be done!  IF you feel really guilty about dumping one, highlight it and revisit it later, or we’ll put it on a different list.  This brings us to the next “D:”
  1. Delegate it: So many people that I coach fight me hard on this one, believing they don’t have anyone they can delegate Newsflash! There is no rule saying you can only delegate down – you may delegate across the aisle as well as up the chain of command. Here is how to decide how your items could be delegated to someone else.
  2. Delegate to your boss – Yup! you heard right. Sometimes, in order for you to accomplish something, you need more information, and the possessor of this information is none other than…your boss.  Ask him or her to help you. Try this: “Boss, I’m sure you know exactly who has the information I need to do this task, would you mind reaching out to get the answer? I will do what I can while I wait for the answer. I appreciate it, thanks!”
  3. Delegate to kids – I absolutely love this one – not that I’m a proponent of child labor, but your kids are fully capable of helping around the house. They can pitch in and help – whether it’s doing age-appropriate chores, or licking envelopes for your next work project.  Rope them in and make it fun with music – or make a fun treat together when everything is done (Rice Krispy Treats…or No-Bake Peanut Butter Bars come to mind).  Let them know that if they are willing to help out, there will be more time to play later…or bake cookies!
  4. Delegate to colleagues – The absolute best way to access the expertise and experience of a colleague is by asking for a favor. People love to help others so when you position your request by asking for their help with something on which they are an expert, you are much more likely to get it!

I’m sure you’re getting the idea now. Delegation is a must.

  • Defer it: Anything on your list that does not have to be done immediately should be scheduled (deferred) to your calendar. Block out time on your calendar to do certain activities, especially if they repeat –approving time cards, submitting expenses, balancing the checkbook, etc.  Creating a routine around these thankless tasks creates habit and puts you on autopilot – you just “do it” without agonizing over getting it done, and soon it becomes second nature and you won’t even need it on your calendar. Conversely if it’s really something you detest – but is part of your job, try “re-framing” it – put a positive spin on it. There is a silver lining for almost any task – find it and use it.  Example: what is the positive spin on submitting your mileage? Duh! You get a check!
  1. Do it: While this one seems easy, it’s not always that straightforward.  The rule goes like this: If it can be done in 2 minutes or less, do it now; if it takes 2 steps or less, do it now; if it is quick and easy, do it now.  If doing it “now” really isn’t an option – just do something that will remind you to do it later –

What you’re left with after this exercise will become a “Project” or your real “To-Do list”. 

Projects should be tracked in a separate area and include multiple steps, multiple people, an extended timeframe, benchmarks, deadlines etc.  There is project management software and apps, find what works best for you.  Ask around…or perhaps your company already has it and can add an extra user. It doesn’t hurt to ask!

To-Dos are the un-dated tasks that roll over day to day until they are done, but by now should be a much, much shorter list! For this reason, some people re-name their To-Dos “next steps” or “next actions”. Transfer them to paper or your electronic notepad and keep it visible. If you have delegated something and are “waiting for” it, add it to this list as well so it doesn’t slip through the cracks. If you wish, write the waiting for items in different colored ink. As you complete tasks, instead of crossing them out, highlight them.  Your eye will eventually be trained to overlook the highlighted items and only focus on unfinished next actions.

Ongoing advice:  When you have something new to add to your responsibility, add it to the right place…if it’s quick, do it, if it’s not, put it on the next actions list, add projects to the Defer list until you can pull together and actually plan it (set an appointment?) Delegate and dump daily – even hourly as needed. 

IN SUMMARY, what you should end up with is: time-based (appointments) on your calendar. Routine tasks as block reminders on your calendar (short-term), a list of Projects and a list of Next Actions (to-do). We can’t all be productivity and organizational experts, but I know there is at least one tip or trick here that you can try to help lighten your load.  

If you try one and it works, I’d love to hear about it! If you have an idea of your own, and you don’t mind sharing, please let me know!


When you enjoy what you’re doing, it gives you energy. It’s uplifting and positive! When you don’t enjoy it, your energy is sapped.  Since we all have actions we must do that are energy-sapping, try the “Energy Sandwich”:

Whenever you have to do one of those mundane activities, start with something you love to do, then do the less-fun item – and follow it with something else you love. You’re keeping your energy, optimism and outlook positive and steady…which alleviates tension.

I am a Certified Health Coach (CHC) – and this article appears to have nothing to do with health, however, stress is the leading cause of inflammation. Inflammation leads to free radical damage and oxidative stress…which leads to degenerative diseases.  Helping keep you on an even keel at work and at home lessens your stress.  I especially love the “Dump It” option – it gives us permission to let some things go. When you let something go – you relax – and you become open to more enjoyable possibilities! When you put on your own oxygen mask before helping others, you will be successful!.

To schedule a complimentary one-hour Breakthrough Coaching Session, click the button below. We will discuss your goals, uncover what’s really keeping you stuck, and you’ll walk away with at least one solid tip – whether or not you decide to hire me as your coach!


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