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The problem with to-do lists (and a happier alternative)

To-do lists are the go-to method of organisation. Write a to-do list so you know what you're doing. They're so popular that you often see advice around to-do lists such as write a to-do list for the day ahead, break down key tasks, prioritise 3 tasks for the day, etc.

Sadly though, no tip is enough to help me to tick off everything on my to-do lists on a daily basis.

The problem with to-do lists

Or should I say problems, as there's more than one.

They don't account for solopreneurship

As a solopreneur, you wear need to wear many hats to keep your business running - you're customer service, the marketing manager, the accountant. You're also the only person to deal with things as they crop up, often pulling you in several directions at once.

You may be very well-intentioned when you set your to-do list for the day but then you get an email that needs responding to, and then there's an issue with your website that needs fixing and then you realise that you need some training to tick something off your to-do list.

To-do lists don't account for the fact that you have to do more than what you simply want to do in a day.

To-do lists are never ending

It has taken me far too long to realise that my to-do lists will never really be completed. There is always more to do.

To-do lists are like laundry, or the dishes. Once you've done them, you feel a sense of relief and satisfaction but then before you know it, they're back again.

Don't account for mood or energy

Each day is different. I may be full of energy one day and fill my to-do list up with activities to do the next day and then when the next day comes I may be irritable or tired and definitely not up for the ideal to-do list I'd set myself.

I really enjoyed Struthless' video about creating 2 to-do lists, a bare minimum list and a great day list.

The guilt of non-completion

Do you often wrap up for the day and think "What on earth have I actually done today? Nothing on my to-do list has been done, I must be doing something wrong or maybe I'm just lazy?".

I have. Lots of times.

When I went full-time with my calligraphy business, the guilt crept in and only continued to grow. I now had all the time in the world, but I still often failed at ticking tasks off my to-do list.

The only way to get rid of the guilt was simply to become a better, more productive business owner, right? But even on productive days where I knew that I'd been busy, there were often items left unchecked on my to-do list so productivity wasn't the issue.

I started to feel stressed when looking at my to-do lists, to-do lists were a reminder that I wasn't doing enough and I know that I'm not alone in this feeling.

What is the alternative?

Did lists! These are my new favourite thing and they've made me feel happier about my journey as creative business owner. These were recommended to me by my friend Candace over at From Yours Truly Studio and have been a game changer for me!

What are did lists?

So you've heard of to-do lists, but have you ever heard of did lists?

A to-do list is a checklist of tasks that you would like to complete during the day, whereas a did list is a list of the tasks you've actually done throughout the day.

Benefits of did lists

When you start writing did lists, you become aware of how much you do in a day. You also start to recognise that there are activities that you complete frequently that you hadn't been aware of or taken consideration of, when planning your day.

For example, on an almost daily basis I found myself responding to questions in my Facebook groups as and when I received notifications on my phone.

There are a couple of benefits from acknowledging that you've been doing extra work you hadn't realised:

  1. Give yourself a pat on the back. You're not lazy or a rubbish business owner, you're a busy bee!

  2. You can recognise if you're being distracted by certain aspects of your business such as responding to comments. This means that you can factor this activity into your day but in a more organised way, cut this activity out or delegate it to a virtual assistant

It helps you to identify areas of procrastination or time sucks if you wish to review your workload and be more efficient. Maybe a refined process could give you some time back in your day?

They could also make you aware that you keep being drawn to a specific type of activity and maybe you should focus on that within your business instead - go with the flow rather than against it, you could say.

For me though, I don't tend to delve too much into the "how can this make me more productive?" aspect, I use them a celebration. I am doing my best. Did lists have been the validation I needed to recognise that.

They are also a lovely way to take a breath after a busy day and to take a moment of self-reflection.

So are these a replacement for to-do lists?

To-do lists still have a place, and both did lists and to-do lists can complement each other. The point of this post really is to highlight that we should acknowledge what we're actually accomplishing as small business owners. We juggle so much and shouldn't make ourselves feel guilty because we haven't ticked things off of our to-do lists.

To round this up

To-do lists can add guilt to our lives as small business owners. On the other side, did lists are brill. If you're a small business owner who has been feeling overwhelmed they could really make a difference for you and help you to acknowledge all of the tasks you're doing in your business.

Found this helpful? Check out my biz coaching programme. I also have a FREE GUIDE with top tips for creative business owners. Claim your guide by popping your name and email address below.

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