Productivity / Business Productivity

The life-changing magic of five minute ‘to-do’ lists

Most of us barely have time to scratch let alone spend time growing our business. That's where the magic of having a five-minute business growth to-do list comes in.

3 February 2016 by

Hands up who else looks at their to-do list with joy when they have finished a task, only to find that particular task isn’t on the list … so they write it in just so they can cross it off? Just me?

I love crossing things off to-do lists.

My stomach does a happy dance and I get a silly self-satisfied grin every time my pencil gets to draw a line through something. For particularly crappy projects, I’ve been known to draw multiple lines through the one item to really celebrate the fact that I’ve finished.

The problem for me is, everything on my to-do list takes massive blocks of time and the crossed out lines are few and far between. Three hours here. Sixteen hours in one long coffee-filled block there. Two years over there (… see my previous comment about multiple lines being drawn through the one item and imagine my lines cutting through the paper on this one).

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"These are not everyday project or marketing tasks, but things that extend my reach, enhance connections, streamline a process or create a system."

Like most of you reading here, in my early years of business I was too busy working in my business to spend time growing it. (In my head, all business growth projects needed at least a week of dedicated time to get done, so my projects would never make it to the top of my to-do list.)

Then I discovered a bit of psychological magic trickery: the five-minute to-do list.

My rules for five-minute business building

The five-minute to-do list is a list I keep in a separate notepad away from my regular to-do list. It is not in plain sight but popped away in a drawer to be pulled out when needed. Putting it away means I don’t get distracted from my main tasks.

Every few days, I brainstorm a list of business growth tasks that will take no more than five minutes to do. These are not everyday project or marketing tasks, but things that extend my reach, enhance connections, streamline a process or create a system.

Things like:

  • Write a thank you card to a specific supplier.
  • Phone a colleague or alliance partner just to connect.
  • Create and schedule a social media quote image on Canva.
  • Brainstorm a list of potential blog topics.
  • Turn a regular email into a template.
  • Check my top performing Tweet of the past week and reschedule it to go out again.
  • Review LinkedIn connections milestones and jot a quick congratulations.
  • Check out posts from competitors that received the most shares and likes to see what I can learn and improve in my own posts.
  • Request a testimonial from a past client.
  • Research guest posting requirements for one site.
  • Re-read a past blog post and create a Tweet from it with a link back.
  • Change my email signature to send traffic to a new blog post or build my social media connections.

Unlike my normal list, the five-minute list is not prioritised. When I get a five-minute gap in my day, I pull out my notepad, scan the list and pick one that motivates me at the time, and get it done.

Freedom to choose from the list rather than just doing the next thing on the list takes out all the mental “shoulds” and “must do’s.” It feels more like a mental break and a bit of fun rather than a slog.

On super bad writing days, where finding words is like accessing decades old concrete via a jackhammer, I quietly pack up the project I’m working on, bury my regular to-do list in my in-tray and pray for a mini-fire that is contained only in the top left quadrant of my desk.

These are the days where I pull out my five-minute list and gleefully work through everything on the list in a massive productivity blitz purely for the pleasure of crossing things off. I think we can all agree this is a much better use of time when compared to my usual ‘bad writing day’ tactics of cat videos and tubs of chocolate ice-cream.

So there you go – that’s my simple trick for working on my business, even when I am super-busy working in it. Remember, you not be able to dedicate a week at a time to business growth. But five minutes here and there a few times throughout the week? That’s totally doable.

What would you put on your five-minute business building list?

Ingrid Cliff

from Heart Harmony Communications is a copywriter who works with small business owners struggling to find the time and the right words to market their business, and who feel stuck and frustrated (… and tempted to go get a J-O-B).


  • What great ideas, Ingrid!! I find I am more productive when I have lists, and being able to just pick one item that looks fun is a great way to fill a spare moment and get your brain back into “smile” mode. 🙂

    • Thanks Pauline. I adore my 5 minute lists! You get guilt free fun with them.

  • This is such a great idea Ingrid. I like doing this as well by putting quick tasks in a separate column on the to-do list (and confess to writing tasks down so I can cross them off!) but I have never heard the concept explained so clearly – i.e. a complete second list of items that take less than 5 minutes. I also have a ‘home’ list that I keep on the fridge with similar non-work stuff that needs doing. It also helps to get these little things out of your head and written down so they don’t get forgotten. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Glad to help. The home list is a great idea. I will liberate that one!

  • I really like the idea Ingrid. The only drawback I can see is if this becomes too much of a distraction from the tasks that need to be done, like an easy option. One thing that I would add to list is going through my inbox and tidying it up. Deleting those emails that are no longer relevant or moving them out of the inbox into the appropriate folder where they can easily be found and accessed at a later date. There is also the sent items that can tackled!

    • Hi Brad – Sorting the sent items for me is one of those long rainy afternoon tasks that requires much good coffee (and the odd port or three). I wish I was more disciplined with this one!

  • great idea Ingrid. Thank you 🙂

  • This has been a community favourite this week Ingrid! And for good reason. I love all these ideas. So simple to execute but the cumulative effect is huge!

    • Thanks Kelly. Little bits definitely add up! Glad the community likes it.

  • love this,sharing!

  • LOL – One of those just do it things I think.

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