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Stop Wasting Time: How to Prioritize Your To-Do List

Stop Wasting Time: How to Prioritize Your To-Do List
Prioritizing means working more strategically. / Credit: To do list image via Shutterstock

As business owners know, there is never a shortage of work that needs to be done. As the tasks continue to pile up, it can be challenging to prioritize and check all the tasks off your list.

"Prioritizing is working a bit more strategically, and that takes precious time and thought that we brainwash ourselves into thinking we don't have," Dana Brownlee, founder of the professional development training and management consulting firm Professionalism Matters, told BusinessNewsDaily. "It's much easier to just work on tasks using FIFO (first in, first out) or running from crisis to crisis, as opposed to consistently taking the time to plan our work/day."

To get through those to-do lists, Brownlee said small business owners should work on making some changes to their daily routine. She offers a list of changes small business owners can make to determine how their time should be spent in order to achieve the goals that matter the most:

  • Shorten the to-do list: Restrict the daily "things to do list" to no more than five items.
  • Pick three things to stop doing: Everyone has recurring activities that don't really add much value, but they do them either out of habit, guilt or pure insanity. Instead of continuing to methodically plod through each task or activity, business owners should ask themselves, "What could I stop doing tomorrow or this week with minimal impact on my life?"  
  • Institute strict smartphone restrictions: Start with "MAD" — meetings, eating and driving restrictions. When business owners are only partially attentive, they not only lose productivity (and possibly risk safety), but they send a signal to the people they are with that they're not important enough to require their full attention.  
  • Check email only three times per day: Unless they're in a profession that absolutely won't allow the restriction, business owners should decide that they'll only check and respond to emails three times per day. Don't fall into the trap of automatically reading and responding to emails; this can often consume much more time than is truly warranted. When business owners check their email at designated times, they will notice that they accumulated several emails and can run through them much more quickly and truly focus on those that require attention.
  • Schedule daily "meetings" with yourself: Most business owners don't schedule time for their most critical activities, like thinking, analyzing, planning, re-evaluating or — for non-urgent and personal projects, like tax-document prep — playing with their kids and completing minor home-improvement projects.
  • Get help on the home front: Sometimes, business owners become so used to doing everything on their own that they forget they can get help for most tasks. Consider hiring someone to come in for a few hours in the evening to help with domestic activities like cooking, cleaning, running errands, helping with kids, etc.  

By making these changes, Brownlee believes business owners will have more sanity, less stress and a greater sense of fulfillment.

"It's getting a bigger bang for your minute, hour or day," she said, and business owners will also feel an increased sense of satisfaction when they put their head on the pillow each night.

Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.