Don’t Finish Your To Do List And Skip That Email

Many struggle with that little voice that tells you if you don’t finish your to do list, something really bad is going to happen. That’s because this wrong-thinking message got programmed into us in our early school days. You know the message. “You aren’t going to succeed if you don’t get it all done.”

Whether you’re still building your company, or you’ve got years of experience running your own business, you may be succumbing to that voice.


Here’s the dirty little secret you need to embrace: once you become an entrepreneur, you’re never going to finish your list. The idea of that may drive you nuts, but to be productive and make your business a success, you have to be ok with that.

Why? Because when you’re building a company, there will always, always be more to add to your list.

Sure, I still sit down on Sunday night or Monday morning and engage in The List. But now I know the better way to write it, to increase my productivity. I’m spending my time reprioritizing my list with key tasks I need to add.

Young woman portrait with to do listYou’ve got to get used to this – it’s always going to be a rotating list. And what it must rotate around are your goals. I set specific long-term goals and then write out little tactical goals, like get this lease signed, meet with that banker, etc. These are the highest priority things I need to be doing right now to move my boat forward.

Here’s the other productivity tactic you’re going to want to get comfortable with. Don’t bother much with email.

When you’re an entrepreneur you need to be outward bound. What I mean by that is don’t spend a lot of time responding to things, like email. Think about how much time you actually spend responding to emails from other people who want something from you.

I know for entrepreneurs there isn’t an “average workweek” but, in general, according to a report from the McKinsey Global Institute, people spend about 28% of their workweek on email, whether it’s reading, deleting, sorting or responding to them. That’s staggering. Again, if it’s not moving your boat forward, it’s a waste of your time.

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Don’t get trapped in that 28%.

Instead, use your time to drive forward what’s key. And if you need reminding what is key to your forward motion, you only have to consult The List. So, make your next phone call about getting the first thing on your list done. Next, write whatever is needed to cross off item two. Then reach out to someone who controls property you want to be a part of, and check off item three.

Obviously I’m not advocating being entirely unresponsive. In your life there is some combination of social and/or community responsibility that you need to take care of. You can’t be completely insensitive; you do have to soften that.

But, as an entrepreneur, you do need to be a little callous. A lot of people want to talk to you, to take some of your time, to get your advice. Decide selectively who to respond to. Based on what? The List.  Remember, what it takes to move your business forward is your sheer effort. Make sure every stroke you take is moving the important things down the river.

I won’t kid you though. It is a constant juggling act. I’m from a big family and I want to make sure they know I care about them. There are times I feel bad because I do miss the occasional family get together. I’m always trying to rebalance spending enough time. So the way I write my goals is I include family goals. For instance, I take each one of my kids on a business trip every year. They grew up doing that and it’s time we all look forward to. You can also find ways to include your family in your business. A few of my oldest kids have worked in all my restaurants, since they graduated from college. Look for opportunities to mix things together.handsome young man standing and juggling with red balls

Here’s the thing that can help with this. As an entrepreneur, you don’t necessarily draw a hard line between business and down time. It’s not “I’m at work now. Now I’m at leisure.” If you’re fortunate you’ve picked a business that’s your passion, so it’s possible to blend it all together.

I’ve been an entrepreneur for my entire career and this balance I’m advocating is still a work in progress for me. But I work at it because it’s one of the goals that will help get me where I need to be.

When I was younger, I found time management tools, like Covey and his quadrants, helpful. Now of course “there’s an app for that.” Check out 30/30 and My Minutes for task management – both are free.

Whatever tools you favor, the key is the same: focus on what really matters.