The Secret of the 6 Item TO-DO List


big rocks

Time Allocation

Time “management” IS ESSENTIALLY TIME ALLOCATION—doing the activities that matter the most as opposed to the activities that matter little.  The visual representation of this concept is as follows:

If you have a jar (your day) and you need to fill it with the maximum number of items to get done (rocks and sand), you will get more into the jar if you put the big rocks in first (the important stuff) and then fill the sand around it (the little stuff).  Therefore, you want to schedule the big rocks first.

 Get your high priority items (the big rocks) onto your list first.  If you crowd your day with the little stuff (sand), there will be no room for the important items.

The Optimal TO-DO List

Of course there are seemingly more things to do in a day than you have time for.  The first way to handle this is to have a maximum of 6 items on your to-do list each day.  This takes 10 minutes to prepare at the end of each day.  You list the six things for the next day and also indicate what was accomplished today. It looks like this:


Items for 7/10/13 Accomplishments for 7/10/13
Call the next CPA on my list for lunch Done, set for 8/17/13 at noon
Call 10 clients and set appointments for conversion from commissions to fees Left 6 messages, 2 appointments set, 2 no answers
Place ad for new assistant Done, used on line service—already see 3 responses in my email
Take calendar and set seminar schedule for 2014 Need to check our vacation schedule to complete this
Call Gold’s gym—do they have a trainer I can use? They recommended I call World’s gym—will put on tomorrows to-do list
Call that guy I met at MDRT about his need for alliance with me Called and left phone message—sent email also.  Out on to-do list for 8/17 in case I don’t hear back


At the end of each day, you fill in the right side with what you accomplished and then you make your new list for the following day.  You spend 10 minutes making your list for the next day and documenting what you got done today.  This little discipline will have a HUGE impact on your accomplishments.

The advantage of listing only 6 items is that

  1. You won’t feel overwhelmed
  2. You have a much greater chance of completing them and feeling empowered which leads to even greater personal productivity
  3. It forces you to list and focus on the most important items

Think of the times when it seems you have accomplished a great deal in very little time.  It almost seemed like a time warp in which time shut down for you while you accomplished a list of to-dos.  Well, that can happen often when you have six things on your list and you just do them, when you make up your mind, that if nothing else gets done, come hell or high water, you will get your list completed that day.

I KNOW THIS SEEMS OVERLY SIMPLISTIC, BUT HERE’S WHY IT WORKS.  Currently, you do many activities daily.  The problem is you really don’t see which activities have the biggest payoff.  Some are a waste of time and produce nothing, while others produce tremendous profit.  For example, maybe you invested 60 minutes having lunch with a CPA and that CPA now sends you 8 wealthy clients a year.  That one hour you originally invested has produced a tremendous payoff.

Or maybe, you called a few radio stations to suggest a financial show on senior issues.  That three-hour investment produced the invitation to do the radio show which you now use to fill a seminar every month, saving thousands of dollars in marketing costs and gaining unparalleled credibility.  So, you can see that some activities produce most of the benefit.

Unless you arrive at work each day having thought about the most important things to do that day BEFORE the day starts, you will get swept into low payoff activities.  You are wired up as a human being to react to your environment rather than proact (more about that later).

Think of your business as a football game.  The coach and the players spend hours going over and over the plays on paper, in practice sessions and watching videos.  They master what they will do BEFORE they get on the field.  If you are like the average advisor, you wait to get on the field to make your game plan.  IT WON’T WORK—THE OPPOSING TEAM (daily distractions) WILL CRUSH YOU.

By having a list of only 6 items, you focus on items that will produce super results and the other items that seem so important are actually those that produce little to no results.  These will never make it onto your list as long as you produce the list before game time.

The other reason to enter each day with the written list is to guard against your natural inclination to react. It’s easy to succumb to and involuntarily react to the environment (e.g. answer a ringing phone, open mail on the desk, handle an unimportant request) than to willfully determine your actions each day.  That’s why 90% of the people are workers (they are told what to do by the business owner) and only 10% of the people decide what needs to get done (the business owners).

Easily Eliminate These Interruptions

Now of course, you will say that you have too many interruptions and never get through your to-do list each day.  Good news—we can solve that for you.

Currently, you allow other people to determine how you spend your day rather than you determiningon phone bored how you spend your day.  For example, do you answer your phone when it rings?  I don’t, because if I answer my phone, someone other than me determines how I will use the next few minutes.  If instead I return all my calls from 4 to 5 pm from my voice mail, then I determine how my time is used.

At first you may think that it’s crazy not to answer your phone because maybe it’s a business opportunity.  However, if you keep a log of the next 10 calls you receive, you will find that 90% are poor uses of your valuable time and generally distractions.  Rarely does your phone ring with a business opportunity.  If it did, top executives would not have 3 levels of assistants to screen their calls.  They would take all of their calls personally.  Most incoming calls are time-wasters.

You answer your phone because you have nothing more important to do.  You allow interruptions because you don’t have a list of 6 life-important issues to complete that day.

And if the incoming calls are of any value, perhaps your voice mail message should say “The best way to reach me is by email. My email address is…”.  By receiving an email rather than accepting an incoming call, you determine when your time will be used for activities rather than delegating this to someone else.



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