Taming Your To-Do List

Owning a small business is big work. The to-do list extends far beyond the obvious tasks involving taking care of your human and canine clients. First of all, there’s all the admin work that comes along for that ride. Then there’s marketing to get those clients in the first place. And what about all the great ideas you have about new services or ways to adjust and improve those you already offer? As a dog business owner you know the list of things to do is never-ending.

Problem is, the list may be bottomless but time is finite. In our THRIVE! group coaching program we have a saying (a mantra, really): You cannot do ALL THE THINGS. It’s just not possible to pursue every idea and manage every task—especially not if you aim to enjoy any semblance of work/life balance.

But if you can’t do all the things, how do you decide which things to do? These are the four rules we teach for taming a beastly to-do list:

To-Do List Tamer #1: Focus On Your Goals
The most common mistake when tackling an overgrown to-do list is to jump on the easy stuff first. While it may feel good to get a few quicker things crossed off, this approach usually means the most important items get left undone.

Organize your to-dos by prioritizing the high-level work that pushes you and your business forward. Focus on the tasks most directly related to your goals. Want to grow your dog training or walking client base? Prioritize your marketing work. Looking to improve your training case outcomes? Prioritize your client support project ideas—creating a training video library or adding Zoom office hours to your training packages, for example.

And if you’re not sure what your goals are, that’s priority number one!

To-Do List Tamer #2: Put Your Energy Where Your Passion Lies
You’ll have more energy if you focus on the things that matter most to you, and on the tasks you most enjoy. That’s probably not keeping up on your bookkeeping or cleaning your facility floor or scheduling clients.

For many dog pros this strategy is about putting energy where you can do the most good. This may mean finally prioritizing that educational blog post you’ve been writing in your head for months, or starting that puppy socialization service, or deliberately carving out the time to add a mental stimulation element to your dog walking service.

What’s on your “someday when I get time” passion list? Get it done by declaring every day “someday.”

To-Do List Tamer #3: Don’t Do Things You Don’t Have To Do
While you’re focusing on your passion and goal work, the bookkeeping and floor cleaning still needs to get done, and clients must be scheduled. It’s just that you don’t necessarily have to be the one to take care of it all. Successful business owners in any industry cheat time by delegating.

If you really want to get control over your to-do list and make more time for yourself, take this double pledge right now:

  1. I will stop doing things other people could do for me so that I can focus on the things only I can do.
  2. I will stop doing things I’m not good at so that I can use my time where I can do the most good.

You may think you aren’t yet in a position to hire help. The reality is that hiring help is how you get in that position. You can start small, but you need to start.

To-Do List Tamer #4: Say No More Often Than You Say Yes
Warren Buffet puts it this way: “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” If you’re going to reach your goals, make the biggest possible impact on the lives of dogs and their people, and do so while enjoying your own work/life balance, it’s imperative that you say no more often than you say yes.

It all comes back to your goals and protecting your steady work toward them by fighting off distractions. Saying no is really an act of saying yes—yes to what matters most.

It’s a frustrating reality, but also an inescapable one. Running a small business involves a truly endless series of tasks and obligations, along with a constant stream of “squirrels” waiting to pull you away from what matters most.

Sustainable success—reaching your goals while enjoying both the ride and the results—requires careful, deliberate prioritization of tasks and your time. Following these four to-do list prioritization rules will help transform your to-do list from beastly to well-behaved.


Want help enjoying a successful dog training business and focusing on the things that matter most to you? Get on the THRIVE! waitlist to be the first to know next time we open to new members.