How I Learned How to Simplify My To-Do List - by Ashley Gartland for MotherHustle
“Here’s the dirty little secret about your to-do list: even though it’s your list, you do not need to be responsible for everything on it.”

When I first started my coaching business, I would wake up and make a to-do list that no human could have completed – especially not a mama who was trying to grow her business and raise her family too.

My to-do list had become my dumping ground for everything from daily tasks to big projects. It was the catchall for my many ideas, whether they were urgent or not, and it was detailed to a fault.

It was also the source of a lot of stress.

At the start of the day, I faced my to-do list with a feeling of dread as I tried to figure out how I could make a real dent in it; at the end of each day, I felt like a failure when I saw how many items I didn’t cross off.

But I kept making massive to-do lists and struggling with feelings of shame and overwhelm because I thought I had to do. I thought I needed to do all the things and wear all the hats day in and day out if I wanted my business to work.

Sometimes though, in business and also life, you have to do things the wrong way to figure out a better alternative.

That was certainly the case with me and my to-do lists. Because after I’d repeated this pattern for many months, I realized that the list of tasks that was supposed to keep me focused during my workday was actually complicating it.

That’s when I decided I had to simplify my to-do list so I could use it as a tool to get stuff done.

So I learned how to break my list down using what I call the three Ps (Prioritize, Pass Off and Pause) – and now I want to share my system with you so you can simplify your to-do list too.

Here’s what you need to do first: write down your to-do list so it’s all on one paper, not scattered in a bunch of different places or living in your head. I like to do a week at a time but you can also use this strategy for your daily to-do list too.

Next, you’re going to break your list down into the following categories:

Things to Prioritize

Look at your list with fresh eyes and ask yourself, which items are the most important to tackle right now? These might be tasks that are tied to upcoming deadlines or ones that you know will make a big impact in your business.

If you’re being really honest with yourself and selective, you’ll find that there are only 2 or 3 tasks that you need to prioritize at any given time. Place these items at the top of your to-do list and commit to focusing on them for the day or the week.

Things to Pass Off

Here’s the dirty little secret about your to-do list: even though it’s your list, you do not need to be responsible for everything on it. In fact, if you really want to run a sustainable, profitable business, you need to learn to delegate tasks to people who can do them more effectively or efficiently than you can.

So go ahead and comb through your list for tasks you could pass off to someone on your team, to an assistant, a contractor or even an online tool (like a scheduler). Circle the tasks you’d like to delegate and then write down the name of the person (or tool) you will pass them off to next to each item. It’s time to get them off your plate.

Things to Pause

One of the reasons our to-do lists feel so unwieldy is because we put everything on them – including tasks we don’t really need to worry about yet. So now that you’ve figured out which tasks to prioritize and which ones you’ll pass off, you need to look at what’s left and ask yourself if those tasks really need your attention right now.

(Spoiler alert: the answer is almost always no.)

That means you’re going to give yourself permission to pause your work on those remaining items and pick it up at another time. Sometimes you’ll pause for a week or two, and sometimes pausing will help you realize that you didn’t really need to do those tasks at all.

Now that I’ve learned to use the three Ps to simplify my weekly to-do list, I find that I can actually utilize my list to get stuff done – and that I avoid the shame, stress and overwhelm I felt when I was facing a massive to-do list each day.

I know it can do the same for you if you give this process a try.


A lifelong creative entrepreneur, Ashley Gartland is a business coach who helps creatives and entrepreneurs stop over-complicating things and learn to simplify their business so they can grow sustainably and enjoy the perks of being their own boss. She lives in Portland, Oregon, where she fits in pretty well with her love for rainy days and kombucha. To learn more about implementing this system and get her free guide Three Steps to Simplify Your To-Do List, CLICK HERE.

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