My husband calls me Queen of the List.
I have lists for everything. Things to do today, this week, or someday. I have lists for my personal life and my business. I have a bucket list. I even make a list of meals I plan to prepare for dinner each week. I do that so I can plan around my family’s schedule and so I can make a grocery list, which I wouldn’t even think of going to the store without.
Some people might think I’m very organized. And I am. Some people might think I have an obsessive compulsive disorder. Maybe a little.
But the real question is, “Do lists help us or hurt us?”
I think it’s a little of both.
As a small business owner you need to manage your time and your tasks, and lists can help you do that.
Some of my lists do help me stay productive and on-track.
For example, I don’t waste any time in the grocery store. I am quick and efficient as long as I have my list. And an added bonus, it helps me stay on a budget.
7 Ways Lists Can Boost Your Productivity
- For work, make your to-do list at the end of your day for the next day or first thing to start your day. This gives your day structure and helps you begin your day quickly and efficiently. You can dive in because you know exactly what things you plan or need to get done that day.
- Use lists to chunk your day. Chunking your day means doing like tasks together for a period of time. For example, if I have a blog post, a client newsletter or website content to write I will group those tasks together and block out time for writing. Phone calls to prospective clients would be another “chunk”. Chunking and not switching between tasks makes you more productive. Our brains can’t effectively switch between tasks. It takes an average of 25 minutes to return to an original task after an interruption. So we lose time and we make more mistakes when we go back and forth between different types of activities. Using a list to chunk your day increases your productivity by decreasing multi-tasking.
- Lists get things out of your head so you can focus and concentrate. This is particularly helpful to me if I’m writing and something I need to get done pops in my head. I jot it down and get back to writing.
- Lists can help you prioritize what’s important, what’s urgent and what can wait.
- Lists can help you layout a big task. You can use your list to break down the task into smaller, more manageable jobs. You can also add timeframes for getting each smaller item done to ensure you hit your deadline for the larger project. When I was creating my website I used lists to breakdown each task so it wouldn’t seem so daunting. The technical stuff such as hosting, choosing a theme and installing WordPress was one list. My site navigation and ideas for content I wanted to include was another list. Working off of those lists kept me on track and kept me working in chunks. Mapping out a plan using a list gives you direction, helps clarify your ideas and makes the task less overwhelming.
- Lists can keep you organized and help you manage your time. For example, I often make a list of errands I need to run. When my list gets to a point that some of those errands are becoming more important to get done, I block out a time to run them in a circuitous order to get them done quickly and efficiently. Now I’ve used my list to go out once instead of an errand here, an errand there, which would have taken me more time and been less productive.
- Crossing off an item from your list is very gratifying. It gives you a sense of accomplishment. I am a pen and paper list maker. I find it much more gratifying to cross something off a handwritten list than keeping one electronically and simply hitting delete. But that’s a personal preference.
But as much as I love a good list, they can be unproductive as well.
Lists Become a Problem When…
- You get too attached to your list. You become inflexible. Your list doesn’t leave room for spontaneity, creativity, or for dealing with emergencies and unplanned things that will come up.
- You put too many things on your list. You keep adding stuff and you never get done. That leads to feelings of frustration, inadequacy, or failure. You never finish so you feel no sense of accomplishment. You just keep rolling stuff over so the list goes on and on and on.
- Your list keeps you busy, but are you being productive? Our culture values busyness. You hear people talk about how busy they are all the time. Keep in mind 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. This is known as the Pareto principle. Make sure you are focused on the 20% that yields results and are not getting distracted by the other “stuff” that is on your list that you think you should be doing.
- You feel overwhelmed by your list. It causes you stress because all you can see is that there is too much to do and not enough time to get it all done.
- Your lists create clutter. Lists often clear the “clutter” in your mind, but too many lists on your desk creates physical clutter. If I have too many lists or scraps of paper with tasks or ideas jotted down I find the physical clutter of paper everywhere distracting. That makes it more difficult to focus on the task at hand.
- You spend too much time creating and managing lists instead of actually getting things done. If making lists and jotting every little thing down so you won’t forget is a time consuming chore, you may want to cut back.
- Your list is a crutch. You can’t function without it. Lists should be a guide not the end all be all. You need room for creativity, new ideas and problem solving.
So how can we manage our lists so they are productive and not draining?
- Create a master list at the beginning of the week of things you want or need to get done. Choose 3-5 items, put them on a new list at your desk but then put the master list out of site. Once the 3-5 tasks on your list are complete, pick another 3-5 things from your master list.
- Keep separate to-do lists for work related items and personal items. This keeps you from shifting back and forth, which requires more time and energy for your brain to make the switch.
- Only use a list if you are getting a benefit from it. Keeping a list of your business expenses each month will be helpful when you do your taxes, saving you time and frustration. But maybe a daily to-do list or grocery list doesn’t help you at all.
- Only add something to your list if it is necessary or you really want to do it.
- Your daily to-do list should only have 3-5 things on it that you want or need to accomplish that day. It shouldn’t be a laundry list or dumping ground. If you need a mind dump to clear your head, make that another list but when you have a few minutes make sure what’s on that list is necessary.
- For any daily item that keeps getting pushed to the next day, at the end of the week if it hasn’t gotten done ask yourself if it’s really important. It’s probably not; otherwise you would have done it already. Take it off of your list.
So that’s it, my thoughts on lists and how to effectively use them.
Phew, I can cross writing this article off my list!
Do you use lists? And if so, are they effective for you? Let us know.
Whether you use to-do lists or not, as a small business owner there is one list you MUST have…an email list.
Without an email list you are missing a huge opportunity to gain customers and clients and stay in touch with them. For more information on how to build a profitable email list, download my free report.