Freelancer Quick Fix: Death to the to-do list

Freelancer Quick Fix: Death to the to-do list

This article was written by the wonderful Web Fixer Upper (consultant, designer, developer) Tiffany Breyne. Her blog over at Tiffdotcom helps small business owners grow.

A to-do list is helpful for busy minds, but only if you’re working on the tasks that will actually help you accomplish your goals. Let’s talk about the process of focusing on the things that will really propel your business. Let’s talk about killing the to-do list.


I used to be great at prioritizing my daily and weekly to-do list. Recently, though, I realized that my to-do list had become more an art of filling my day with small tasks that were easy to do, but didn’t really have an impact on my business. And the goals I have for my business weren’t being reached because of it.

In theory, a to-do list is great because it reminds us of what we need to do, and gives us satisfaction when we cross things off the list. But really, it acts as a list of distractions from focusing on what needs to be done. So now I take a different approach, and it’s working.

I killed my to-do list.

How can you do the same thing? Take a look at your current to-do list, and ask yourself this question: what one item will take my business a step further? If you have to choose between scheduling social media posts, cleaning your inbox, or setting up a sales page for your new product, you need to cross off the social media and inbox and focus on that sales page.

Sure, it may take more brain power and more time, but it will have a much more direct effect on your business goals than having zero unread emails.

Will a clean inbox get you a new client? No.

Will a handy new sales page get you a new client? Yes.

But I get it – you still need to do that social media scheduling, and check your email. So instead of putting that on the to-do list, let’s take another approach…

How to kill your to-do list:

Remove regular tasks from the list, and schedule them in your calendar. This includes items such as writing social media posts, checking/responding to emails, reading a book, etc. Set up an appointment in your calendar for 11 am everyday to check and respond to emails for 1 hour.

Do the same thing for social media. These things are important for building your brand and keeping up client relations, but they’re not the main thing that will grow your business. They’re cluttering up your to-do list.

Reconsider items like reading the blog posts you bookmarked last week. Do you need to read them? Will it help your business in a direct way, or will you take the time to read the blog posts, and then completely forget about them the next day?

Star one item that will help your business, and do that thing today. Just that one thing.
Tomorrow, do one thing. And so on, and so on.

We shouldn’t start every day trying to tackle a list of things. We’ll never be able to tackle it all, because as freelancers, our work is never done. We should instead start each day with a mindset of completing one task that will get us closer to reaching our goals.

Kill your to-do list, grow your business.

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Founder of Coffee Shop Freelancers. Completely and utterly obsessed with everything web. Has nightmares about Tron becoming reality.

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  • Brighton West

    But I love my to-do list! I think the key is keeping it prioritized with things that matter – and I like your point about moving recurring items to your calendar.

    • Christophe Gonzalez

      I actually had the same feeling while reading. I was frowning more and more as a to-do list seems to be the only thing keeping me functional.

      But then when I got to the point of starring certain items it did make sense. You don’t want to collect a bunch of busywork, you want to prioritize nothing but the most important items that will actually make you money.

      Of course you have to check your email, write blog posts, reply on social media.

      But you can might as well move all of that stuff over to the end of the day when you’ve expended your creative energy on the most important items. At least, that’s my interpretation, it may be a bit utopic 🙂

    • Tiff

      Brighton – I love to-do lists too. But I’ve found that scheduling things and having one big “I MUST DO THIS TODAY” task has totally helped me focus! And putting things in my calendar instead of on a list has helped automate my work so that I use less brain power to focus. 😉

  • Janet Hoover

    Ooo guilty! This is a great post – I needed the reminder!

  • I also needed this reminder! It’s so easy to got lost under the ideas of inbox zero and all the social media things, but you really need to take a step back sometimes and figure out what actually has the most impact.

  • Brilliant. I just picked up a Daily Action Planner from Savor Shop (not an affiliate, just a peruser of to-do list options) and I like that she forces you to write down the 3 big important things that you don’t want to do but that will move your business forward most that day. THEN focus on the little things.

    It’s like that parable of putting rocks into a jar: if you put all the small pebbles in first, you can’t fit in all the big pebbles, but if you start with the big pebbles, the little ones will fill the spaces in between.

    • Christophe Gonzalez

      Mallie, I don’t know your years but you’re wise beyond them 🙂

  • Great post! I really need to take action on this and kill my to do list. I keep chipping away at tiny things, and never getting around to the stuff that actually makes a difference!

  • Ani

    I’m terrible at to-do lists. They always die on their own. Ugh. So thanks for this perfect advice.

  • I’m totally guilty! It’s so easy to just check the simple and quick things off your list and not get to the bigger stuff that will grow your business. This is such a great idea, and I think the part about setting the hour limit is key, otherwise you could easily have small tasks keep growning and growing and time suck your whole day. I’m going to try this out!

    • Christophe Gonzalez

      I’m terrible myself at starting tasks that I’ve never done before, I’ll always go for the easy stuff first. One thing that has helped me along the way is doing the harder stuff first thing in the morning, while I’m not fully aware yet I’m doing something unpleasant.

  • I absolutely agree with these points! Having a key “goal question” to ask myself is what I’ve found to be super helpful. I try to determine my main over-arching business goal for the week or month, and then as I plan out my days with action steps, I continue to ask myself if each action is DIRECTLY moving me forward towards my goal. If it’s not, then it’s probably going to get put on the back burner.

    • Christophe Gonzalez

      Great mindset Summer, completely agree!

  • Kathryn

    Love this post! I am a list maker by nature — keeping too much in my head stifles my creativity and makes me a bit cranky 🙂 If a to do list is full of busy work and not income-producing actions, it’s definitely missing the mark! You’ve got some great reminders in here — even for the list-lovers! Thanks for sharing it with us!