Photo by Sia Nemirovsky

What a great brunch buffet and an entrepreneur To-Do list have in common? I know what you think- perhaps nothing! As an entrepreneur myself I can tell you that I find more in common than you would expect.

I had just returned from a much- needed vacation last week, where I got inspiration for this article.

While at my vacation, most of the mornings I would go to the gym and head straight for brunch at the resort’s restaurant, right after. They had an option to choose between a menu a la carte and a full buffet. What did you think was my choice 3 out of 6 times? Yes, you guessed it- the buffet option. There were so many amazingly delicious items that I was dying to try them all. From the healthy chia puddings to the fluffy omelets and the gluten-free banana pancakes, they were all equally desirable.

On the third day, I started noticing something interesting. I was always leaving food behind because I wasn’t able to finish all the things I had on my plate. Since I hate to waste food, I thought to myself- this option doesn’t make sense to me, and I should pick one dish to focus on.

Now if you’re an entrepreneur, think about your to-do list. If you’re constantly piling up tasks and activities on your plate, you’re probably struggling to complete everything. I know, I know, all the things are equally important, until you learn to effectively prioritize and focus on only one at a time. Think of how much time gets wasted when you’re working on a few projects simultaneously. Splitting your attention between different tasks, instead of committing a 100% of it to the one activity at hand, is causing you to lose brain power by having to constantly switch contexts.

Research by The American Psychological Association shows that “doing more than one task at a time, especially more than one complex task, takes a toll on productivity. Thus, multitasking may seem efficient on the surface but may take more time in the end and involve more error. The experts have said that even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time.”

Not only having too much on your list is negatively affecting your brain, but also has negative effects on your mood and performance. It causes you to become anxious, overwhelmed and feel bad about yourself for not being able to finish everything at once. As if the pressure of running a business (which success depends solely on you) isn’t quite enough.

Here is my 5- step process that has worked for me and many of my clients. Keep in mind that every person and their challenges are different, so what has worked for some, may not work for all. With that said, most entrepreneurs often share the common struggle being overwhelmed and needing a system to utilize so that they gain back control of what’s on their plate.

01 | Lay It All Out
Clear your mind, declutter and create space. Do that on your own or have a coach or a mentor help you in 20-30 min. They’ll ask you the right questions and assist you gain clarity of which tasks are high value and urgent and what could be delegated or even removed. Start a list of all of the uncompleted things, no matter how unimportant they might seem, just so you take them out of your head to a piece of paper. What things are you currently tolerating? Is it perhaps a difficult conversation you need to have, or a repair you wanted to schedule? All the little errands, tasks, everything going on in your mind and takes up mental space.

02 | Prioritize It- Know What To Focus On And When
 Should you be working on this at all and is now the right time? Create a 4 square table to help you prioritize. What I usually have my clients do is very simple, but very effective. You need a big piece of paper and post-it notes. Below is what the table looks like.

After you complete step 1, write down all the tasks and projects on your post-it notes. Categorize each one and stick them in the section of the table you determine they belong.

03 | Schedule Everything
 Block times in your calendar for the work to take place and limit distractions at that time. Enforce your boundaries and learn to say “no”. In order to let your brain focus and enter the state of flow, it’s essential to be present with the activity at hand. Another good tip about scheduling is tied to your peak energy state. Do you know what time of the day you do your best work? Put the most important tasks in your high energy times and the rest schedule around these times. For example if you feel a bit more relaxed after lunch, schedule the activities that need less performance, like following up on emails, checking up LinkedIn etc.

04 | Enforce Accountability
Simply, find a way to make sure that you’ll do what you say you will do. You can set an accountability structure with your coach, mentor or a member of your accelerator or mastermind. This part is particularly important if you’re looking to achieve your goals and meet a deadline. My advice is to plan your goals in chunks of 90 days. A 3- month stretch leads to moving faster, anticipate results and blocks with more clarity and be more realistic about how to execute. Today’s business landscape changes so rapidly that planning in 90- day stretches will allow you to be more agile and able to adjust your goals accordingly at the end of every quarter. Then you have to make sure you stay on track by anticipating roadblocks and firing up performance.

05 | Do The Work
This is (not surprisingly) the most important step. Even the best of the strategies won’t work unless you put in the work. Day in and day out. As Ray Dalio says in his new book “Principles”- “Regardless of how good your plan is, the inability to implement it will take you nowhere. Self- discipline and effective work habits are what will drive your ultimate success.

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