How to stop to-do lists and post-it notes from ruining your business

To-do lists don’t work. You may think they do. But they don’t.

You may prefer to use post-it note reminders; cover your desk and screen with those pesky yellow tabs that always seem to fall off at precisely 74 minutes after you’ve stuck them. But these don’t work either.

There may be many ways that you are using to-do lists or post-it notes. Some people have one piece of paper that they start on a Monday and add to throughout the week. When you run out of space at the bottom, you write vertically down the side or add speech bubbles in any white space left. And then when you’ve run out space, you start to staple extra pages together that ends up as a tattered document that looks like a prop from a Pirates of the Caribbean film.

Others diligently start a new list each and every morning, transferring everything that hadn’t been crossed out from the day before, to a new piece of paper. There are often several items that have been transferred for weeks on end; you don’t remember when exactly those first appeared but they just keep being added to the fresh list, pretending they are just as important as all the other items on the list.

And then there are the online to-do listers. Wow … never has there been so much pleasure in having limitless space to categorise, colourise and prettify your to-do list. And don’t worry if any tasks go from green to amber to urgent red … there’s always the snooze button to click to send it down a few priorities.

No matter what kind of to-do lister you are, there’s every chance that you also spend a lot of your time blaming the fact that you have no time to get things done. You sniff out productivity tips and spend money on planners and goal setting diaries but at the end of every week, you still scratch your head and wonder where the past 5 days have gone.

Why is it that you feel stuck in the busy-ness of emails, client prep work, meetings, attending events, grocery shopping, getting the car serviced and walking the dog?

And that you never really find the time to do the stuff that is going to grow your business?

If you recognise yourself in any of these to-do listers, you are not alone. Whether your list making is an addiction, where you find yourself writing things down only so you can cross them off (come on … we’ve all done that, haven’t we?), or it’s simply the only way you know how to remember the things that need doing … you need to stop.

To-do lists are fine for those 3 or 4 admin things that have got to be done before 11 am but as a way of helping you be productive and get the projects done that are going to move your business forward, then they’ll ruin you.

Here’s why:

1. No dates – without a date for something to be done by, it has a habit of never being done. You will pick the things on the list that feel easier and leave the stuff that feels harder for another day. So without any done-by dates, your to-do list tasks are filtered by emotions rather than a sense of discipline or urgency.

2. No order of priority – I know you may kid yourself that your tasks are categorised but creating headings and subheadings is usually done because of procrastination and avoidance rather than any resemblance to a plan. Pretty pens and colour highlighters are signs that you may just don’t want to do (or know how to) what’s on your list.

2. Wrong stuff – the only time I believe a to-do list is to be used is for your daily tasks and admin stuff. The one piece of paper that you have on your desk that keeps you on track for that invoice you need to send or thank you note to a client. Most to-do lists have stuff like “Do Website” or “Sort out social media content plan”. These are NOT to-do list tasks … these are projects and need to be treated as such.

Without dates and prioritisation and focusing on the wrong stuff, you will find it incredibly difficult to grow and build your business. So if to-do lists and post-it notes don’t work, what’s the answer?

As boring and dull as it sounds it is good old-fashioned planning.

Now I get that most entrepreneurs and creatives hate planning. Your brains are often not naturally wired to put things into logical order or be able to timeline a project. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start exercising your planning muscles, because if you truly desire growth in your business and you want to get out of the rut of your business trundle, then start exercising you must.

A good plan simply means two things:

1. Start with the end in mind – decide on a date with said project (such as the new website or develop a new programme) needs to be completed by and from this you work backwards. This is I know hard because, in theory, there is no “need to” about it. You can quite happily trundle along for months and even years without your website finished or new programme sorted. This is why it’s critical that you, as the CEO of your business, makes a decision on a specific date.

And not a “by end of April” kind of date … I mean which day and date, and perhaps even time.

2. Milestones – Once you’ve fixed your date for whatever project you want to be completed, there will usually be 2 or 3 milestones along the way. With your website project, it could be along the lines of copy & site architecture created and the first draft. For your new programme plan and smaller projects, it could be mapping out the content and being clear on what you’re offering, then opening up invite list and having content ready for new clients. Don’t over complicate this process but you simply can’t avoid finding the space and the time to do this. It will only be hard because you’re in the to-do list mindset and you’re thinking in vertical lists. Exercise and stretch out your planning muscle and you’ll get better at thinking at horizontal timelines.

Every time one of my GID School students or Momentum members feels overwhelmed or frustrated by the lack of time they feel they have, taking the time out to plan out their business growth projects, put dates in their diaries and create a timeline of tasks, the sigh of relief is huge.

The weight of busy-ness is lifted off their shoulders and they actually realise how much time they do have to spare, compared to the frenetic chaos of running their businesses from to-do lists and post-it notes.

It’s why I run quarterly 90 Day Planning Mornings for my clients, to help give them not only the process and structure but also space and time to get it done.

If you would like to know about the topic of planning and get a practical lesson on how to turn your business vision into do-able and highly achievable 90 Day Plans, then check out my next Playing Your Bigger Game event happening on the 24th November. It’s one of the topics that I am focusing on during the day.

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