How to Take Charge of Your Out-of-Control Small Business To-Do List

Small Business To Do List

If you’re a very small business or solopreneur, especially if you’re either A., just starting out, or B. struggling in your business, it can be challenging to know what to focus on first.

There are a million things you could be doing, but what is the #1 thing you should be doing — right now, today, to move your business forward and keep the lights on?

I know the struggle well, because as a solopreneur with an outsized to-do list, I often ask myself that very question, as in, “what’s the best thing I can do today to move my business forward?”

Despite using that question on a regular basis to refocus my energy, I still don’t have the problem completely licked. But I’m getting there.

What is the problem, exactly?

There are so many things to do in a small business, especially if you’re on your own, and the list of things you want to get done is really, and I mean really, long, and you’re not sure where to start or what to do next.

Sure, all the advice out there tells you to prioritize, but prioritizing seems impossible when everything feels like a high priority.

Just for fun, I’ll give you the short list of what I have on my “Priority Action Items” list right now:

Write next newsletter, write next blog post, put social media buttons on blog (at long last), update Twitter bio, update LinkedIn profile, client work for client A, client work for client B, do research and surveys for MVP (Minimum Viable Product), research for more guest blogging opportunities and contact blog owners, follow up with business owners/potential clients met at last networking event, create custom home page for blog, create Content 101 page, finish revising all newsletters with updated copy and new social media links, start drafting next offer, write mini-proposal for referred client lead, attend networking event on Wednesday, send writing samples to potential web copy client. . . and on and on it goes.

Sound familiar?

I keep a running list on a legal pad, and every time I think of something else I want to/need to do, I add it to the list. Just looking at it makes me want to break out in hives.

By now you’re probably thinking, get to your point already, what’s the cure for all this small business overwhelm?

I’ll tell you what it is. It’s a clarifying notion called “closest to cash,” which I learned from Naomi Dunford of ittybiz, and it works really well for me when I’m smart enough to apply it.

Here’s the deal. When you have 27 things on your plate and you don’t know what to do next, what you do, as Naomi says, is —

“Work on the thing that’s closest to cash.”

Now, if your business is established, you’re doing fine, and the greenbacks are rolling in like nobody’s business, good. Actually, great.

Or, if you’re still at your day job and doing something on the side for extra dough until you build your side biz into the juggernaut that makes it possible to leave your day job, and you don’t need to rely on the income from your side gig to survive, fine.

There are circumstances under which you don’t necessarily have to  start each business day with “closest to cash” as your guiding principle.


If you have to make your business work – now – because that’s what pays the bills and you don’t have next month’s mortgage payment, or if you just took the leap from a day job to doing your own thing and you need to get some income rolling in pronto or you won’t be eating dinner next week, then you can’t be thinking about getting the world’s greatest website designed, or how to get more Twitter followers, or the killer product or program you want to launch in the next 6 months, or even what to write about on your blog next week. (Unless these things have the potential to get dollars in your pocket sooner rather than later. Sooner, as in, not three months or six months or a year from now.)

This doesn’t mean you stop focusing on the business-building activities with long-term payoff, it just means that each day begins with your closest to cash opportunities, in order of what is the very closest, then working your way out from there to things that could get you cash in the next few weeks and so on. You don’t do the longer-term payoff things until the closest to cash things are taken care of.

I’m telling you, once I learned this technique (thanks, Naomi), everything got far easier and much less stressful.

For example, when I take a look at that long list of things to do from above, I see a whole lot of “want to do but won’t get me paid soon,” and a couple of “things to do right now that will.”

My top 5 closest to cash action items from the list above then, in order of priority are:

1. Client work for Client A (obviously, because I can bill for this within the next few days)
2. Client work for Client B (ditto)
3. Write up mini-proposal for referred client lead
4. Send writing samples to potential web copy client
5. Follow up with business owners/potential clients met at recent networking event

Aaah, sweet clarity. Seeing the list in order of priority gives me energy and focus, and stops the overwhelm.

I recently did this exercise again, mainly so I could stop myself carrying on like the world’s coming to an end because I can’t get everything on the to-do list done today.

And “closest to cash” is how I made that happen. Now I get up each day knowing exactly what to do, and in which order, and I feel calm, happy, relaxed and productive.

And that’s what I got for ya today.

So how about you? What’s your productivity tip or trick for knowing what to do next when there’s a mountain of things to do? Please share your ideas in the comments below so we can all learn from each other.  : )

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