As a consultant, you are the boss of your time. To keep control of time, we often use a To-Do List. However, if you’re not careful, your To-Do list can become your worst enemy, cluttering your schedule and your mind. In that state, you can’t deliver the asset your clients paid for: your clear-headed thought process.
Major problems with a To-Do list include overlong, piecemeal lists that mix personal and business matters and aren’t prioritized for importance. These lists grow ever longer because you just keep adding to them.
You’ll be resistant to changing your list, and we’ll cover the reasons why you’re protective of a list that’s only wasting your time. Then we’ll declutter your To-Do list, prioritizing what’s best for your business by deciding which tasks attract clients, serve clients, and keep clients coming back to you.
Time Management Discipline: It's You vs You
What's the major challenge when you are a consultant trying to manage your time effectively? The big issue is that it is you-versus-you. Back when you had a job, somebody told you what to do. They told you what they expected. You navigated your day around their expectations.
Now, you're the boss. You must separate what you think is personally important and what is important for the business. So this you-versus-you thing is the invisible but crucial conflict. You must win, and winning means that your business gets better in a repetitive, systematic way.
The most important detail in this conversation is that your mind is your greatest asset. Not only is your thought process valuable internally inside your business, your thought process is also what you make available to your clients. Your thought process is essentially what they purchase. So you need this asset to be sharp, clear and as dynamic as possible.
You can't be an amazing consultant if your thoughts are cluttered. One major culprit in cluttering the mind is the dreaded To-Do list.
Why The To-Do List is Your Worst Enemy
When you’re busy, one of the most obvious things “to-do” is to make a “To-Do list.” We all do it, and we end up with an amazing list of things that threatens and punishes us every day. Let's make sure we understand why.
- Your To-Do list is driven by your email. Every day, you log in and you have more emails, and the next day you have even more emails. They just add things that go on this list.
- Your To-Do list mixes both personal and business things. So you've got to pick up the kids, follow up with your clients, go to the grocery store, develop a better process, sign up for Netflix, call back that great lead. Those things are all mixed in together.
- You only remove things that you've finished. It is easy to add things! Someone mentions a good idea. You read a smart article, watch a cool video. “Oh, we should do that!” More emails come in. And you add more things to this list. It can take days, or even weeks or months, to finish something and take it off the list. But you can add things in a matter of seconds. The To-Do list gets longer, and longer…
- Your To-Do list is poorly sorted. Are these things sorted by importance, by priority? No. Usually it’s sorted by urgency. Whatever yells the loudest jumps to the top. But that doesn't mean that it's the most strategic choice.
- Your To-Do list puts too many thoughts in your head. The longer the list, the more things you keep sitting in your head. "Can't forget about this. Have to recall that. Got to get back to this." You keep these things in your head, and remember, your brain, your thinking, is your greatest asset. If it's cluttered, if it's clogged, then you can't use it to maximum effectiveness.
We're going to get this list under control.
Solving the To-Do List Crisis
This is a simple framework that fits on one sheet of paper, that will help you greatly increase your productivity.
- You need to create ONE list. If your To-Do list right now is in more than one place, you’ve got to get it together. You need all of those different lists combined into one.
- Prioritize that list according to business development tasks.
- Which are the tasks on your list that help you attract a new client? You must look at all the things you currently do and measure them against this criteria. Which things help you attract more clients? Maybe it's a matter of content creation, of following up with a certain person or people, or an advertising campaign that needs your attention.
- Which activities on that list help you serve existing clients? This is a matter of fulfillment. What do you need to do to deliver value to the clients you already have on board? Is there a call you should make? Is there a document you should deliver? Is there a conversation you need to have? What do you need to do right now to serve your current clients better?
- Which activities on this list help you retain clients for the long term? Is there a new proposal you should send, a new followup document to create? What needs to be done in your world right now, from your current list, that would help you keep clients for the long-term?
- You're not adding new things to your list. You’re not doing some research to see what could go in these categories, or considering things that might be useful someday. You’re looking at the list you already have, and assessing it according to these criteria. We're talking about things that are immediately useful to attracting clients, serving clients, and retaining clients.
- Take at least five things off your list. When you've done this sorting, there will be some things that have fallen to the bottom of the list. My challenge to you is to take five things off. There's a reason why things at the bottom of your list are at the bottom of your list. So let's just go ahead and remove them. Let's free our minds of the obligation of “planning” to do something we're probably never going to get around to doing. Take the bottom five things off your list right now!
The Freedom of a Decluttered To-Do List
And now, you've got to breathe! I just attacked your To-Do list. I realize there are things on that list that were important to you, some of those things that you knew or felt you'd get to at some point, and I'm not saying those things were wrong or had no sense of priority. But we're all guilty of maintaining a To-Do list that's not in our favor. It's too long, it's too dense, and it just threatens us every day.
Furthermore, it's really important for your mental space to be clear, so that you can provide the best value to your clients and to yourself, Every now and again, you've got to stop and deliberately cull and refine your To-Do list. In that process:
- The most important things need to find their way to the top so you can double down on their efforts.
- The least important things should find their way to the bottom - and probably be removed!
Your business and your clients need your best thinking. Decluttering your To-Do List will clear your mind, and let you give it to them.