Regaining Control of Your Todo List

Regaining Control of Your Todo List

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It doesn’t care if you are a Fortune 100 CEO, a solopreneur, or a business development director. It’s lying in wait, lurking, and it’s growing. You can’t run from this menace and there’s nowhere to hide from… your to-do list! 

I was working with a client recently and they shared that their to-do list was broken into eight sections and had 32 different and equally pressing items. My response to that was “that sounds exhausting”. Based on our conversation I could tell that it was exhausting him. Most of us have to-do lists but for too many of us, they are out of control and more a part of the problem than part of the solution. Let’s get that to-do list under control.

Keep one list

I was conducting a workshop for an organization and as I was taking questions from the audience someone shared that they had lists for their lists. That’s right their lists had gotten together and made little lists. Lists procreating made me just a bit nervous and I wasn’t alone. A nervous chuckle spread throughout the room. Keep one master list. And your job is to only put on this list those things that are truly important. Some people have lists for different things like home, work, honey-dos, etc. 


I was speaking for a different organization and executive shared that earlier in her career whenever her boss gave her an assignment she assumed it was urgent. This led to a lot of unnecessary stress. When she finally got up the nerve to talk to her boss about her workload, her boss made it very clear that everything wasn’t a top priority. If everything is a top priority, nothing is. You can’t make headway on your to-do list until you identify the things that need to get done first. Until then you have a logjam.

Ask for help

This is how you delegate without authority. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness you can tap into the strength of those around you. It doesn’t mean you can’t do your job, it means that currently you just have too much on your plate. Ask a coworker if they could help you out. Understand when you do this they may need a hand in the future so you should be ready to help them when the need arises.

Regaining Control of Your Todo List

Top three

After you have prioritized your list go back through it and identify the three things you want to accomplish today no matter what. This will help you to whittle your large list down to something less overwhelming.

Just (don’t) do it

Take a good look at your list and identify the items that have just been rolling, perhaps for months. If no one has asked about these tasks maybe they don’t need to be done. Free up some mental space and just cross them off your list. If someone asks about later put it back on the list.


When a supervisor or client wants to add something to your to-do list, negotiate. Don’t just nod your head and say yes. Ask when they need it. Ask where it falls on their priority list. Tell them when you can get it to them and ask if that timeframe works for them.

Regaining Control of Your Todo List

When dealing with your supervisor you need to ask one more question and phrase it like this: “I am currently working on project A, project B, and project C, what would you like me to stop doing so that I can do this? Or can this wait until I get some breathing room in X weeks?” It sounds crazy, I know, but it works. This question will enable you to understand where this falls in their priorities, save you from becoming overwhelmed, and keep you from saying yes when you should’ve said no.

What tricks do you use to get/keep your to-do list under control?  I am always looking for great ideas.

About the author 

Dr. David Arrington

David a husband, father and the principal of Arrington Coaching. He and his team work with leaders, teams, organizations, and entrepreneurs. He regularly speaks and writes on leadership development, team alignment, and peak performance.

  • This is – finally – some useful advice how to handle to do lists. Especially #4. Actually, I struggle a lot with crossing tasks from my list, but your article encourages me to do so. 🙂

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