How to get things done (when you can’t do everything)

Get things doneIf you’ve ever looked at your TO DO list and almost freaked out from the sheer weight of it, you may also know what it’s like to have that anxious paralysis accompany it. It’s that fizzy feeling of pressure growing in your stomach and/or head that makes your shoulders droop. That hideous moment you realise you sincerely do not have enough hours in the day to make a decent dent on the work you are tasked with.

Well, if you’ve ever felt that way, you are not alone. And there are a few things you can do about it.

Here’s your guide to getting things done when you simply can’t do everything

MoSCoW your way to priority tasks

No, I’m not referring to the beautiful Russian city; I am talking about the MoSCoW that tames TO DO lists and projects alike. Software engineers and product managers have one of the niftiest little acronyms on the planet when it comes to getting things done and it stands for:

Must- do this for things to succeed

Should- do this to strengthen the success chances

Could- do this if I had time

Would- do this, but probably won’t

Boiling away the nice-to-haves and the time pressure, MoSCoW gives you the ability to identify the key points required to get to the basics of a working project or TO DO list.

It also gives you the opportunity to park additional levels of a project in the Could and Would sections so that good ideas are not entirely lost. That way, they may be revisited at a later date, such as when more budget or time is found.

The quick MoSCoW hack is:

  • Break your TO DO list into small points (or actionable items)
  • Begin each point with an action word (e.g. Activate, Write, Create etc)
  • Once you have written the list of what you need to do, add a MoSCoW priority to it
  • Tackle them in order of the acronym

The beauty of MoSCoW is you can use it on a small level (your morning’s work) or for a project that takes months in the making. In its usual form, MoSCoW helps product and web developers plan features and goals for massive projects. And it can work for you, too.

Streamline your focus with time blocking

It’s extremely common for freelancers and small business operators to wear a lot of hats. We’re often a lot of things to many people- customer service, service provider, help desk, sales person, accounts payable- you name it, and we do it. This means we’re not always playing to our strengths. Or that our time is being used wisely.

Delegation is one way to deal with this scenario. It’s the standard answer. But to some of us, it may not be the affordable option quite yet. That’s where time blocking comes in.

Time blocking is the practice of slotting tasks for efficiency while ensuring there is no spillage into time lost.

This is the super duper simple way to time block:

  • Take your diary and cut 50% of your meetings out right now. Channel your inner Dexter and cut them out or cut them in half. You don’t need them.
  • Cap all your meetings. Don’t allow extra time for conversation and use Skype instead of attending them in person (yes, be that brutal!).
  • Set yourself work periods. Give yourself 45 minute sprints of uninterrupted work to get tasks you don’t like or that require deep thinking done quickly. Set the clock on work where you commonly find starting one task leads to hours lost to break the cycle.
  • Have a “yuck day” allocation. This is the day reserved for invoicing, proposal creation, your Skype meetings and any other bit of fiddly work that interrupts big blocks of critical thinking time.
  • Stop answering every email or call. Let your inbox and the answering machine earn their keep and respond to miscellaneous communications in batches instead.

Build a fence around your work time and make it efficient. Box your time so that you not only use it better, you feel better about it, too.

If all else fails, push back

Part of being a successful business is selecting those moments where opportunity is maximised. If you find yourself caught up in too much work continuously, you may need to teach yourself to push back.

Trying to cram too much into every day increases your margin for error while stealing the joy you could otherwise gain from doing your work. Too much of working in those conditions increases our stress levels, and can lead to serious mental health and physical health problems if left unchecked.

Here are a few polite ways to push back your business workload to gain some breathing room:

  • Introduce a visible booking calendar. That way, clients and colleagues can physically see the time you do (and don’t) have available to assist them.
  • Turn the fact you’re fully booked into a marketing campaign. Not only does that help you schedule work, it also lets customers know you’re in demand. Scarcity seriously turns customers on!
  • If you are in business for yourself, review your conversion rates from enquiry to sale. Revisit your marketing and positioning to narrow the focus of your business to remove tyre kickers, or time wasting enquiries.
  • Stop saying yes and practise the art of saying no.
  • Let your customers know you are running behind and reschedule them. You might get the occasional customer who gets cranky but the majority will be content to stay informed of delays and receive a high quality product as opposed to the alternative of missed deadlines or lower quality output.

The bottom line on getting things done

How you choose to prioritise and organise in your working life has a direct effect on your ability to perform as well as your stress levels. Aiming to be efficient while cutting yourself some slack in the process is a fairly big ask, but it is one that pays off if you master it.

Want to know more about how you can maximise your business potential through looking after your time (and yourself) better? Let’s banish that feeling of being overwhelmed and paralysed so you can enjoy your work days again.

Join us for ‘Self-Care for the Self Employed’ on April 22 from 6pm-9pm at Pozible HQ, Collingwood. It’s packed with productivity and stress reduction tips for the solopreneur. Register by 31 March 2015 and to receive the early-bird rate.

This is a guest post by the fabulously talented Rebekah Lambert. I’m looking forward to attending the event mentioned above and hope you can join us if you’re in Melbourne.

About Melinda
Melinda aka Mel is a Premier Google Partner, AdWords & Analytics Consultant, Speaker and Trainer and co-owner of Click-Winning Content. Mel provides results-driven services to Australian businesses and is committed to never using an acronym without explaining it first. She also likes grand slam tennis, cracked pepper and Melbourne sunsets. Please connect at the links below.


  1. says

    I always feel like I am being pulled in a million directions, probably because I am. I enjoyed your article and I hope to put some of these points to good use. Bravo and thank you.

    • Melinda says

      Thanks Lacey, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I found Rebekah’s tips really helpful too.