Does this sound familiar? You had a big online sale this past weekend and have a whack of orders to fulfill. But you’re also itching to get into the studio and try out that brilliant new product idea you came up with. And then there’s that wholesale partner you need to get back to. And the backlog of bookkeeping that’s weighing on you. And all those social media posts you have to churn out. And, and, and….

As a small-business owner, everything that has to get done to keep your business running falls on your shoulders — and that often means actually doing everything yourself. (Though, have you thought about hiring a virtual assistant to help out?) The never-ending to-do list just keeps growing, like a multi-headed Hydra monster that grows two new heads every time you cut one off .

That’s why we brought in business strategist Kim Cota of Beautiful Thinkers to talk to Workshop members about how to defeat that overwhelm. During the September 20th virtual event, Cota — who specializes in helping creative entrepreneurs — shared her strategy on how to make sure you’re doing the right things at the right time to make the most progress and achieve your goals.

This wasn’t a session about what task management system to use, how to batch-work or why you should utilize time-blocking. Cota talked about big-picture strategizing and how to actually think about your to-do list. Her values-based approach to tasks, projects and priorities will help you gain clarity on what really matters to your business and set aside the shoulds and the wants so you can focus on what’s going to propel your business forward towards success, whatever that may look like for you.

Paid members: don’t forget you can watch the whole video recap; scroll down to find it at the bottom of this page.

How to prioritize: 3 questions to ask yourself

Cota kicked off the session by putting this question to attendees: “How do you know how to spend your time?” When you’re facing down a mile-long laundry list of to-dos, when you’re overwhelmed by the 50 million ideas floating around in your head, when you’ve simply got too many projects on the go — where do you start?

Whatever task-management tool you use — Asana, Notion, pen-and-paper or something else entirely — Cota suggested using a three-question decision-making matrix to sort through your projects and help you focus on what matters most.

1. Values: “Does it align with my values?”

For every project, for every task, Cota wants you to ask yourself whether it’s truly important to you, or if it’s just something you think you should be doing.

For example, take Cota’s approach to social media: While there’s plenty of advice about how much you “should” be posting, one of Cota’s business values is to challenge the status quo, and she questions whether sticking to standard advice is how she wants to connect with people. “I don't need to do it the way that people say that I should do it.”

Keeping your values front and centre will allow you to weed out unnecessary work. “These values can help you drive how you make decisions,” said Cota. “If you are bringing them to the forefront of your business, they can be really powerful as a decision-making tool.”

2. Priorities: “Does it help or hinder my priorities?”

There’s only so much time in the day, and there’s never enough time to do All The Things — at least not right away, all at the same time. Cota says it’s important to limit your priorities so you know where to focus your energy. “In every 90-day period, I only set one to three priorities. More than that is too much to actually accomplish in that timeframe.”

As you set your priorities, consider if each one is something you want to do, or if it’s something you think you should do. For example, are you considering adding chat support to your online store just because everyone else is? Or do you truly believe it will improve your customer service? And if it will, is customer service a priority for you right now?

“Getting specific on how different priorities will impact your business can help you figure out whether to take something off the priority list,” Cota says. (Or just set it aside for now.) That chat support — if you don’t have the capacity to implement it, will it make your current customer service suffer?

3. Feelings: “How do you feel about it?”

Unlike a lot of the productivity gurus out there, Cota believes that creative entrepreneurs need to centre their feelings in their decision-making processes. “There’s this narrative in the business world [that we should] keep feelings out of business, keep them separate. But that’s not really how we work,” says Cota. “You are your most important business asset, and our gut is a super powerful tool that we sometimes overlook. Our feelings about the things that we’re working on should be taken into consideration.”

When Cota gives strategic advice to her clients, she always asks them, “How does that feel?” Does the thought of doing something give you anxiety? Are you excited about it? Does it scare you? Are you ambivalent about it?

“Those feelings are a good signal,” says Cota. “It’s an opportunity to take a look at what they are pointing to. Do you have too much on your plate? Is it something that you really don’t want to do? Or is it that there’s something you want to do, but you’re resisting for different reasons?”

Filter your projects and tasks through these three lenses and you’re likely to find yourself feeling more empowered to tackle your to-do list.

Small Business Owners: Here’s How to Manage Your To-Do List
You want to get more done in less time, right? Join the club. Here, Kim Cota of Beautiful Thinkers shares some of the steps she takes with clients to tackle their to-do lists and create small-business processes that work.

Watch the video replay

Cota’s guidelines prompted a lot of discussion on priorities, and left participants feeling empowered to tackle their to-do lists with a clearer head. They also shared their own tips and tricks for getting the right things done, which you can see in the video replay below.

What do you think about this three-step approach? Do you have a smart way to attack to-do lists that could be helpful to other members? Let us know in the comments!