How to Get Your Gazillion To-Do's into 7 Simple Buckets

If you're like most entrepreneurs, you share with me an Impossible Dream: that you’ll someday finally get “caught up.”

Even if you did – somehow, magically – get through your Monster To-Do List for your business (Hah!), would you on that same day be caught up with the laundry? And email? And your exercise plan? I think not.

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What if you could improve your productivity, just by organizing your tasks into "buckets"? Click through to find out how...

 

Why is it so hard? Well, the answer is simple.

There are WAY more things on your many lists than you have time or energy for.

Obvious. But true.

Do you agree?

If X is the number of tasks we can get done in a month, the number of items on our To-Do list that we "hope" to complete is often 3X or 5X or even 10X.

No normal human being is ever, ever, ever going to get it ALL done. So, with that realization in mind, you have a couple of next steps.

But first, an analogy: I’m sure you’ve heard of the 12-step programs for alcohol and other addictions. I sometimes think our insistence on adding way too many tasks to our “must-do” list is a 21st century addiction.

Let’s riff on the guiding principles of those 12-step addiction programs for a moment.

  • I admit that I cannot ever complete everything on my To-Do lists
  • I recognize that a better system of capturing and prioritizing all those tasks and projects would give me better control, and more peace of mind
  • I commit to taking the time to discover or invent a system that works for me

Amen, sister!

So here’s the Big Picture of how you'll create a productivity system that works for you. You will:

  1. Capture everything that’s buzzing around in your head and making you crazy. (More on that, below.)
  2. Drastically reduce the number of items on your list. If you can’t bear to delete them from your list completely, hide them from yourself in a list or file you call “Back Burner” or “Not Now” or “When I Have More Time.” 
  3. Discover or invent a better way to prioritize what’s left on your list.
  4. Commit to reviewing your new productivity system at least every week, and ideally every day.

One: Get Everything Out of Your Head

What You’ll Need:

  • A timer
  • A lot of sticky notes 

 

I love these Super-Sticky full-adhesive ones from Post-It's Rio de Janeiro collection. (A girl's gotta have color in her productivity systems!)

You could certainly use pen and paper, instead, or a spreadsheet on your computer. If you do, make two columns. You'll use the second column to make note of the bucket for that task.

I like sticky notes because they make the next step more fun. (Or is it only productivity nerds who find this whole process fun?)

We’ll use a timer, to make a game out of this task, and give it some urgency.

Set your timer for longer than you think you’ll need. That way, you'll likely uncover a lot more of the To-Do's that are currently racketing around in your head.

Now capture all the big and little To-Do’s and projects and appointments you can think of, both the immediate ones and those far into the future. For your business, job, personal life, social calendar, relationships.

I like to include Decisions in my capture process. (Unmade decisions make a lot of noise in your brain.)

Put each idea on a separate sticky note or line.

Some of them will be 2-minute tasks (like “Book the sitter for Fri nite”). Others will be huge projects (like “Renovate the kitchen”). Don’t try break down the biggies right now. You just want to get everything out of your brain and onto stickies (or paper, or pixels, as the case may be).

Some Ideas to Get You Started:

  • Find photographer for new head shot
  • Plan 3 months’ worth of blog posts
  • Create image for Instagram post
  • Investigate scheduling for Pinterest and IG
  • Book the kids’ dental appointments 
  • Call Mom about Dad’s birthday
  • Decide: WordPress or SquareSpace
  • Draft the video script
  • Get to Amy’s soccer game
  • Find a new dog groomer
  • Decide: Start a podcast?
  • Finish the new client proposal
  • Create a bank of social media images
  • Check Google Analytics for last month
  • Draft this week's blog post

Whew! I’m tired already. You too?

Two: Define the Broad Categories (aka Buckets) that Make Sense to You

Your goal here is to sort this mess of items into a small number of major buckets of similar activities.

I like to keep my buckets to no more than seven. If you create too many categories, you’ll waste a lot of energy trying to figure out where to store (or retrieve) a particular task or project.

One way to categorize is to start with the role or “hat” you’re wearing when you do them.

Think about a big corporation, which separates their employees into departments, like Manufacturing, Finance, Sales & Marketing, Operations, and HR.

And, hey! You're a creative! So have some fun with naming them.

Instead of “Finance”, you might call that category “Money, Honey!”

Because learning is important to me, I used to have a category called “Professional Development.” That sounded kinda corporate. Now I call it “University.”

Some Examples of Buckets a.k.a. Areas of Focus

A coach might have categories like this:

  • Attraction Marketing
  • Blog
  • Clients
  • Goals & Results
  • Personal
  • Professional Development
  • Workflow Templates & Tech

A maker who sells on Etsy might have:

  • Accounting
  • Design & Production
  • Etsy
  • Family & Personal
  • Social Media
  • Shows
  • Systems
  • Wholesale

A full-time, professional blogger might include buckets for:

  • Blog Content Creation
  • Blog Monetization

An eCommerce business owner might create buckets for:

  • Facebook Ads
  • Shopify and Ecommerce

A mom of six kids might have a Parenting bucket as well as her Personal one.

Of course, you can tweak these buckets and their names over time, but do take a few moments now to give this broad categorization some thought. Your choices here are the foundation of your new (or updated) productivity system.

Three: Move Every Sticky into the Right Bucket

When I first did this, I used a big sheet of newsprint on the dining room table, wrote my bucket names across the top, and moved the various stickies into their columns.

Here’s a simple example:

How to organize your task list | productivity

Now, take another look and notice which of your stickies are small, actionable tasks and which are actually projects (with multiple tasks).

We’ll come back to this fine-tuning later. But for now, just be aware that some of your To-Do's might actually be projects,  and that you'll have to break them down into do-able tasks and subtasks.

For example: Get new head shot is not just a single task. It's a project, which might be made up of half a dozen tasks, done at different times:

  • Get recommendations on portrait photographer
  • Decide how many shots I want and in what settings
  • Book the photographer
  • Decide what to wear (multiple outfits?
  • Get makeup tips from Sandi
  • and more...

Okay, great work!

Action Time

  1. Get everything out of your head and onto paper, or stickies, or into a spreadsheet.

  2. For extra points, dive into the bottomless pit that is your email Inbox. I'm sure there are lots of actionable items lurking there. Add them all to your growing Monster List.
  3. Decide on your major buckets (a.k.a. areas of focus, or responsibilities)
  4. Assign each task, project, decision, or idea to one of the buckets.
  5. Celebrate! 

So what will you use to create your mega-list? Pen and paper? Spreadsheet? Stickies? 

Take the time to do this work. Whatever you decide, do it. Soon. Your Future Self will thank you!

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