Busy vs. Productive: 3 Keys to Tackling Your Perpetual To-Do List

A friend asks how you're doing, and on autopilot you respond with: "Oh, busy."

But actually, I'm trying to re-frame that conversation by instead saying, "Productive!" Busy implies "busy work," which to me implies "filler space." And ain't nobody got time for that! 

I'm also commonly asked how I juggle a full-time corporate job with frequent travel, my side business, and an active social life. The truth is, I can't juggle. (No really- at my last leadership training for work we had to do an exercise where the team taught one person (me) how to juggle... and I failed miserably.) I also suck at saying "No," and I quite literally want to design all the things. 

So while I'm not the best at balancing things, I DO somehow manage to accomplish it all with minimal mental breakdowns. The first keys to my success?

Time blocking & my Passion Planner

The beauty of the Passion Planner layout is that each day has an hourly breakdown with "today's focus" at the top. I start my weeks by blocking out all my meetings or travel, which are then highlighted in blue. The "white space" around those meetings (if any) is when I have desk time to complete my actual work or answer questions my team may have. I divvy out my tasks within those spaces and fill them in too, instead of just making an arbitrary list. 

At a high level, this helps me quickly see what space is "leftover" for when someone changes my priorities or adds a last-minute task to my list (which happens pretty often). It also helps me better track how long it actually took me to do certain tasks, so I can be realistic in assigning a timeline for the future. 

Social commitments get placed on the monthly spreads first, then are infilled in the weekly/day spread. I try to keep no more than two weeknight commitments, and one weekend event- anything more than that has put me over that "mental capacity threshold." If there is travel involved, I make sure to block that time out too. Sometimes I even have to add "commute" and "dinner" to my weekday hourly breakdown to reinforce how much time is realistically leftover. 

That's not to say that my time is completely regimented, but even just being able to see how those 24-hr buckets are filled helps me be more realistic about what else can be accomplished. It's also a great way to mentally prepare myself for those booked-to-capacity weeks.

That brings me to my next key:


I am CONSTANTLY having an internal monologue (you know, those voices in your head). It goes something like this for both my day job and my evening & weekend routine:

  • "Is this my priority?"
  • "Is this 30 minutes better spent doing A or B?"
  • "What needs to be done so someone else can do their job?"
  • "Is this something I can delegate?"
  • "In what way does my team need me right now?"

Part of filling in that white space is also knowing how to properly prioritize what comes first. Answering the questions above helps with that. Communicating those priorities and knowing when to push back on others' expectations is also important. It's not uncommon for those priorities to shift during the week- heck, even during the day/hour in the retail industry! Enter...


This one can be difficult. I spent all that time pre-planning everything down to the hour and strategizing what my week was going to look like. Then BAM. Someone is asking me to pivot that ship.

I recently became much better about vocalizing what is replacing what at my day job. For instance, "A, B and C were my priorities this week. If this really is of higher priority, A, B and C won't be done until next Tuesday. Is that alright?" This helps reaffirm what really should be your priority, and helps communicate to your supervisor & team everything that ultimately needs to be done. 

    In the evenings, this also means being open and intuitive to how I'm feeling. One of my all-time favorite quotes is:

    "The frightening and most difficult thing about being what somebody calls a creative person is that you have absolutely no idea where any of your thoughts come from, really. And especially, you don't have any idea about where they're going to come from tomorrow." - HAL RINEY, ART & COPY

    I love this quote because of the authentic sentiment that creativity isn't wired like a switch. A creative cannot just say to themselves, "Oh, it's 7:30 p.m. According to my schedule that means I need to produce 2 new products." [flips switch] "Done!" 

    Nope. Creativity strikes when it strikes. In the middle of the night, when you're laying in bed staring at the ceiling. During a meeting when someone says something that correlates. Out shopping for something completely unrelated.

    And sometimes, especially after particularly draining days... my brain shuts itself off when I get home. Striking a balance between self-care and procrastination, I have to decide: am I going to push through this funk or am I going to be flexible and shift that task to another day & time? The beauty (and the struggle) of owning your own business is that you can answer that however you wish, as long as the deliverables are completed by whatever deadline was set (by you or your client).


    How about you? How to you manage to get everything on your never ending to-do list completed?


    • CC

      I am always trying to figure out what to do first! Great tips thank you!

    • Ashley Love

      I am forever “busy” but not sure it’s always productive. This was super helpful <3

      I love making lists. I always feel so accomplished when I cross something off of it (sometimes I put “make to-do list on my list”). I definitely need. better system.

    • KRisty

      Thank you for the great tips! I am currently struggling to keep everything in running smoothly in my world. Great post.

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