What to do when you’re overwhelmed by your to do list

Mar 13, 2018 | Organisation and Productivity

As a small business owner, you wear many hats. Your to do list is probably as long as your arm, both arms, perhaps a leg too… I know mine is!

It’s difficult to know where to start when you have so much to do. The reality is that you probably don’t HAVE TO do as much as you think you do.

The people who juggle a full time job or being a full time parent with a part time business and still have great success, know what is important and they just do those important tasks. They don’t waste the little time they have.

That’s the sort of mindset we all need to have. After all, who wants to spend 24/7 stuck at their desk, even if it is your own business?!

Brain dump

So the first step to take when you’re overwhelmed with your to do list is to write EVERYTHING down. Get it all out of your head and on to paper. Then take a deeper look and figure out what you actually NEED TO do.

I’ve written about this before when I wrote about the Eisenhower Matrix. This is a great technique to use to determine what is important and what can be let go.

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important” – Dwight Eisenhower

There are four categories:

  1. Urgent AND important – it has a specific deadline and is important to your business.
  2. Not urgent but important – its important for your business goals but there’s not a deadline.
  3. Urgent but not important – it has a specific deadline but isn’t important to your business goals.
  4. Not urgent and not important – it doesn’t really affect your business goals at all.

For each task, ask yourself “Is this important?” and then “Is this urgent?” and assign it a category. This could be in the form of a box, a number, a colour code…whatever works for you, but make it clear what rating that task has.

Do the tasks in the order of the categories above and consider delegating tasks in category 3 and removing any tasks in category 4.

Read more about the Eisenhower Matrix here. 

Future to do’s

If letting go of a task or idea from your to do list kind of freaks you out a little (it freaks me out a little! I’m worried it’ll just go back to clog up my brain instead!) then write it in a ‘future plans/ideas’ list. You’ll still have a record of it but it won’t be on your main to do list.

Colour code

Even when you have narrowed down your to do list to ‘must-do’ tasks, you may still feel overwhelmed by the amount on there.

I find that using colour to help me sort my list down even more helps me to focus. I go through my list with a highlighter and highlight the important ones in bright orange, tasks that can wait a little longer in purple, tasks that aren’t really that important but I just want to do in green and any home-related tasks as blue.

Use any colours or labels you want. The idea is you work on those tasks by colour, starting with the colour you’ve deemed most important. In my case, I’d work on the bright orange tasks first. When they’re done, I cross them off with a big grey pen to dull the colour and then work on the next bright orange task, then the purple, then the green and blue.

1, 2, 3, done

I’ve read before that your to do list for each day should just include 3 main things. I don’t know about you but I get a lot more than three things done each day, but what I’m taking from this is that if you get nothing else done, just do those three things. So if you do more, great!

Number your three most important tasks on your to do list and do them in that order.

Get help

If you’re really overwhelmed and a lot of the tasks you need to do someone else could easily do, hire help. You don’t have to give someone a full time job, you can work with them for a few hours each month or even just as and when.

Find something that works for you

I change the way I write my to do lists all the time because I enjoy switching it up a bit to keep myself productive. At the moment, my favourite way of writing my to do list is on a big whiteboard next to my desk and then I rub out the tasks as I go. I try to aim to have a blank white whiteboard at the end of the day and it’s the best feeling!

Plan the week, not just the day

I find that planning all of the tasks you want to get done for the week is a great method to keep you from getting overwhelmed. Rather than writing tons of tasks for your Monday to do list, write an ultimate week to do list and then go through and assign a day to each of them.

When I first started doing this, I found that I scheduled most of my tasks for Monday and Tuesday and realised that I could be much more productive, realistic and not be disappointed in myself if I actually spread the tasks throughout the week and take on less each day.

You can take this further and plan your month’s tasks too.

A great planner that I use for this is Nadia Finer’s Pure Profit Planner which is available to buy here.


A key thing to take away from all of this is ‘productive, not busy’. To be successful you need to be doing the right tasks, and you won’t always like all of them. Don’t just do the fun, easy tasks that aren’t getting you anywhere. You’ll be keeping busy but not making progress.

I’d love to know if any of these points help you or if you have anything that helps you manage your to do list and keep productive. Comment below or message me at info@amberphillipsdesign.co.uk. I’d love to hear from you!

AmberHi, I’m Amber! I am a website designer specialising in creating beautiful and results-focused websites using WordPress. I live and breathe business and creativity and can’t wait to share some of that with you. Read more here

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