Is your to-do list out of control? It is if you’re working at full capacity and can never complete everything on it.

Taming your to-do-list can be easier than you realize provided that you know what to do, and it’s also one of the most important steps you can take to avoid stress-related illnesses, including heart disease and cancer. Here are five easy-to-implement tips that can help you rein in your unruly to-do list.

1. Confront the beast

When you confront your beastly to-do list, you must be willing to face the truth about what is really going on in your business and personal life. The following exercise will take some effort, but the results are worth it. Here’s what to do:

For the next three days (a week would be even better), keep track of each activity in which you engage. This includes how many times you send text messages, how much time you spend on social media, how much time is devoted to phone communication, as well as how much time you spend in the various parts of your business. For example, track how long you spend prospecting, working on existing transactions and troubleshooting transaction problems.

Also be sure to note how much time you spend with your family or loved ones and how much time you spend engaging in self-care — this includes exercise, getting ready for work, preparing meals, etc. You should also track time spent in the car, as well as how much time you spend playing games, watching TV, gossiping at the office, or engaging in other activities that are not related to your business or self-care.

2. How many billable hours did you really have?

Once you complete your tracking for three days, calculate how many hours you actually spent delivering real estate-related services to your clients. Some people call these “billable hours.” In other words, if you billed for your services and had to assign that activity to a specific client you are working with, how many hours would you have logged over the three-day period? If you logged 18 actual billable hours over the three-day period (that’s 30 hours per week), your business should be doing well. (Please note that billable hours do include prospecting time.)

Next, note how many hours you spent in nonbillable activity. You may have been away from your house for 12 hours, but how many hours did you spend in activities that did nothing to build your business? Most agents are surprised to discover that a big part of their busy day had nothing to do with helping them grow their business.

3. What are your priorities?

The next step in taming your to-do list is to go through your activities for each day and place them in either the business or personal category. Divide your list into two different areas: business and personal.

Next, place your “billable hours” at the top of your business list and then rank-order these. Repeat the process with any remaining “nonbillable” activities.

Once you finish your business list, go on to your personal activities. Make sure that your personal self-care activities are ranked at or near the top of your list. You can’t nourish and care for others if you don’t nourish and care for yourself. Make eating well, exercising, and taking time off to relax and unwind a priority.

4. Your three daily “big rocks”

You now have a concrete description about which activities are most important in your business and personal life. As you begin each day, the first thing you must do is to identify the top three most important things you must complete in order to have a successful business and a satisfying personal life. Some people call these your “big rocks.” Here’s where the term originates:

Assume you have an empty bucket. You fill it with three large rocks. Is the bucket full? The answer is “no,” because you can add pebbles to the bucket. Now is it full? The answer is “no” again, because you can add sand. Is it full now? Again, the answer is “no,” because you can still add water.

The point here is that if you start with pebbles, sand or water, there will be no room for the big rocks. The same is true for your business. By completing the most important tasks at the beginning of the day, you keep your business focused and on target.

Motivational speaker Brian Tracy, in his book, “Eat That Frog,” references a similar approach. Take the biggest, nastiest task you have to do (the “frog”) and complete it (“eat it”) first.

5. Eliminate the bottom 20 percent of activities on both lists

The 80-20 rule describes how 80 percent of your results come from engaging in the top 20 percent of your activities. What this means is that the bottom 20 percent of your activities requires 20 percent of your time, but yields only about a 1 percent return in terms of your overall effectiveness. In other words, you normally devote a full day each week to activities that give you a return of 1 percent or less.

So here’s the bottom line: To tame your to-do-list, focus on the three big rocks you must do each day. Those three rocks can be summed up in six words: “Generate leads, convert leads, close transactions.” Next, stop engaging in the bottom 20 percent of your current activities that are providing little, if any, return. Wouldn’t your to-do list be a lot easier with a full day extra per week every week? Use this approach and you’ll be truly amazed at the results.

Bernice Ross, CEO of, is a national speaker, trainer and author of the National Association of Realtors’ No. 1 best-seller, “Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success.” Hear Bernice’s five-minute daily real estate show, just named “new and notable” by iTunes, at

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