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2 Ways to Dramatically Shorten Your To-Do List

2 Ways to Dramatically Shorten Your To-Do List

The benefits of to-do lists are many. They keep you on track when working toward your goals, you get a sense of accomplishment when you are able to cross items off them, and you don’t have to try to remember what it is you wanted to do because it is written down before you. But what happens when your to-do list gets too long? How do you make it more manageable so that you aren’t tempted to just crumple it up and toss it, giving up on everything you want to get done?

Feeling overwhelmed by the list of tasks you want to complete isn’t going to do anything for you other than give you ulcers, chest pains, and a deep-seated desire to run away and hide. So, before we work on shortening your list, you might want to take a few minutes and just breathe.

In the spirit and inspiration section of his online blog, Dr. Weil provides a simple exercise called the “4-7-8” that is designed to relax you, putting you in a better state of mind to tackle your list once and for all. To do it, just sit up straight, place the tip of your tongue so it touches right behind your front teeth, inhale gently through your nose for a count of four, hold for seven, and exhale hard enough to make noise through your mouth (still keeping your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind your teeth) while counting to eight. Dr. Weil recommends that you do this four times in a row.

Feel better? Good. Then let’s go over the two surefire ways to get a much shorter to-do list.

Option #1: Categorize Your List Items

One thing you can do to make your to-do list shorter and more manageable is to categorize your list items. The primary goal of this is to help you identify what things may go together, potentially saving you a lot of time by handling like tasks at the same time and, essentially, you will instantly shorten your list by clumping similar actions. Plus, if your to-do list is super long, you may even realize that you’ve put some things on it twice!

To categorize effectively, go through your current list and look for any items that are related to each other. Some examples may include designing your website and creating content for it, or ordering supplies and doing inventory. To make this process even easier, you may want to use highlighters to color-code them. Then come up with a category title that accurately reflects the items in it. For instance, using the examples just stated, some good category titles are “Website” and “Inventory.”

Your goal is to come up with just a handful of categories because, according to, the shorter the list, the better if you want to achieve small business success. In fact, if you can refine it to just 5 or 6 items or less, that would be ideal. This helps you feel less overwhelmed and more able to tackle them because you will have fewer categories, thus shortening your list even if you can’t remove anything from it.

Option #2: Delegate What You Can

If the first option didn’t shorten your to-do list enough, this one certainly should. By delegating the tasks that you either don’t like to do or can’t do efficiently, you could save yourself a lot of time and aggravation. Not to mention, you will also get through your list quicker when there is more than just you working on it.

To take full advantage of delegation, look at your most important category and ask yourself whether there are any tasks that can be transferred to someone else. Additionally, if there are, do you have someone in-house that can take care of them or would you need to hire or contract with someone to get them done?

If you typically like to handle everything yourself, this may be a difficult option for you. This is especially true if you have some of the common reasons small business owners choose to not delegate, which one piece of research has found to include “too much up front work, prior bad experience, guilt of increasing subordinates workload, and too much monitoring required.” However, by handing off some of the items, any of the items, you’ll be better able to focus on the things that you do best when it comes to operating your small company.

Although each option will likely shorten your to-do list dramatically, do them both and you could be left with just a couple of tasks, making you feel better almost instantly.

If you have an overly long to-do list, what have you done to handle it more effectively? Feel free to share your ideas below to help other small business owners shorten their lists too!

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by Christina DeBusk // Freelance writer, author, and small business consultant committed to helping entrepreneurs achieve higher levels of success.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.