You’re no stranger to the overwhelm associated with an ever-increasing to-do list; no entrepreneur is.

But there’s a simple reframe we can apply to move from overwhelm to ‘over and done.’

Take a look at your to-do list, and instead of viewing it as an exasperating army of tasks clamoring for your attention, look at it as a group of friends requesting your attention.

Some friends will need more attention than others. Some conversations are deeper, there will be more stuff to sort out, and they’ll require more of your time. Some are just a quick hello, check-in type of friend.

The key to mastering your to-do list is knowing how to structure the time with your friends. So often we start with the easy fluffy ones that don’t require much of our energy and have little impact on our business goals.

Your to-do list tasks (or newly found friends) could probably be categorized something like this:

  • Requires a whole day
  • Finish in about an hour
  • 5 minutes, maybe ten, at most
  • Not important, but easy to knock off
  • Fire! Deadline looming (or past)
  • Been staring at me for a month or more; can’t get it off my mind, but can’t seem to start it either

I’d say that’s a pretty comprehensive way to look at a to-do list that covers just about everyone in the room, wouldn’t you?

Now instead of resenting them, take a look and view each of those items as a friend.

Requires a whole day? You’re going on an adventure with that friend. This is going to be dedicated time and energy, so nothing else will intrude.

Finish in about an hour? What about considering this one as lunch with a pal.

Fire and a deadline looming? This friend is in peril, you’d better pay attention to them if you want them to be around for the future. You wouldn’t ignore them in a dire situation, now would you?

Been staring at me for a month? Probably a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while so you have no idea how long the conversation will require or how deep it will go, and therefore you continue to put off the call or the coffee date.

The point of this?

If you really want to move your to-dos from overwhelming to off your plate, you’ve got to examine their importance, and refuse to get sucked into doing busywork just because it’s easy.

You can shoot off 10 quick, meaningless texts but still feel overwhelmed because you know that one important conversation needs attention.

So how do we prioritize this?

First, look for fires. If any of your friends are hanging off a cliff by their pinky, you should attend to them first. But you’ll be surprised how few of your to-dos fall into this category.

Then, move on to the beefiest conversations – the ones you know are going to take a bit of time – and just dig into them. The relief you’ll feel from taking this approach will trump all your 5 minute phone calls and half a dozen ‘hello’ texts.

In between beefy conversations, shoot off a text or two to a friend who’s waiting for a quick response (these are those easy tasks that don’t take much time). Squeeze them in; don’t make them the main event of the day.

If you’re putting off that friend who’s been asking you to get together for quite some time, because you don’t know how long that’ll take, plan for a chunk of time, maybe 2-4 hours, and get together. It might take more time, you might need to schedule a follow up session, but either way that friend won’t be looming over your head for weeks on end, weighing you down. And won’t that feel good? Oh, and it’ll be great for your business energy, too!

If it’s an all day adventure you’re going on, enjoy it! Don’t even expect to do anything other than that on the day you choose. This will give you the freedom to really explore and get it done well. Set the stage to make it a great day and give that to yourself and your business success.

Your to-dos are your friends. They help you to build the business you dream of creating. They’re your companions on the path to success. So make sure you’re giving your attention to the ones that make the biggest impact in your business and your life, not those you give a passing wave to every now and again.