6 ways to turn your “to do” list into an action plan

My “to do” list is 5 pages long! No wonder I can get so overwhelmed.

Now some of it is just stuff that is wondering around my head that I think I gotta do.

And some of it is stuff that if I ignore will eventually go away – no harm done (do I really need to post a new picture on my profile page??)

But much of it I really truly do need to do.

So what is the best way to separate the truly essential from the merely loud? And how is it possible to stop feeling guilty for not getting everything done?

Here are 6 easy ways to help get all that jumble in your head and turn it into a practical action plan.

#1 Write everything you need to do in one place. Sometimes I have bits of notes, both on paper and digital, of all the things that pop in my head for me to get done. You know what I am talking about – back of the envelope, sticky notes, reminders on my computer.

But many fragmented lists just lead to false impressions. On the one hand is seems as if there are only a few things to do because each list has only a few things on it – micro-lists I call them. On the other hand, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with the dread of having so much to do without having a realistic assessment of what those things are.

So once a week I gather up all of those bits of notes and reminders and write everything on a single piece of paper (or 5 as it turned out this week.)

#2 Separate the list into categories by type of task such as: email, errands, phone calls, forms, writing, multi-step projects. Another way to organize the list is by due date.

#3 (my favorite) Cross off the list stuff that does not matter!!! Get rid of useless things on the list and give yourself permission to let it go.

One way to stop feeling guilty about everything that does not get done is to give yourself a boost to remind yourself how awesome you are and how much work you do already.

Add to the list what you have already done and put a check next to it for completion. It is a small but psychologically important exercise to visually see “Wow, I have gotten a lot done this week already!”

#4 Assign time allotments next to each item and put it in your schedule – when you get it done check it off. What does not get done each day can be eliminated permanently or moved over to another day.

One of the benefits of this step is to see how long things really take – not how long you think it should take. This allows you to step back, take a breather, and cut yourself some slack when you feel like you have too much to do.

#5 Star the essential really important ones and do those FIRST. Let the fun stuff take place later in the day or after lunch when there is a lag.

#6 See what can be done by other people and delegate where ever possible.

Hope this helps!  Got any other ideas of how you get stuff done? I would love to hear about it!!



  1. Write to do list in one place
  2. Categorize by task or due date
  3. Cross stuff off
  4. Schedule
  5. Prioritize – important and hard work gets done first!
  6. Delegate

2 Replies to “6 ways to turn your “to do” list into an action plan”

  1. Great tips. “Eat That Frog” by Brian Tracy recommends similar. One I like is grading all my tasks from A (must get done), B (should get done), C (no big deal), to D (delegate). I added F (fun) to the mix so that checking NFL scores is counted as a task, but I have to get an A done first.

  2. Thanks Dan – I like the idea of putting fun on the list – like checking the NFL scores – although that one is not actually on my list 🙂

    I also have the “Eat That Frog” book and it reminds me of the bookmark I saw a good 25 years ago “Eat a bullfrog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen for the rest of the day!”

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