Most business owners structure their to-do list by order of necessity. Higher level tasks get done right away; lower-priority jobs get shoved onto the back burner. It’s tough enough to keep up with the current demands of the job and the additional demands placed by others. New tasks come onto our radar as we finish up existing items.

But for many, the greatest struggle is getting all of those “other to-dos” done. Paul Burton is the author of four books and numerous articles on productivity and time management, and the developer of QuietSpacing (, a customizable productivity system that helps busy people increase focus and results on the job. A lot of what Burton does is find ways to cut through the clutter of what we do on a day-to-day basis, and do those tasks in a more efficient and effective manner. He has a few tips to help blow up that backlog.

“Most of the backlog items aren’t mission critical, which is how they became backlogged,” Burton says. “Yet, accomplishing them moves the satisfaction needle more than anything else we do.”

Here’s a two-step process that effectively clears away the backlog.


Backlog projects often seem harder and more complex than they actually are. Burton says that comes from the psychological back pressure that builds up every day the project remains undone. The pressure release valve for backlogged projects is called chunking and here’s how it’s done:

  • Set aside three minutes.
  • Pick a backlogged project.
  • Make a quick list of the steps to completing the project.
  • Take a look at the steps and consider how doable it is.

That’s it. Chunking is easy and now the backlogged project seems more manageable than it did three minutes ago.

Once you’ve cataloged and chunked your backlogged project, the next step is to find the time to actually do the work you need to do in order to complete the project.

Burton has a tactic to help with that, too. First thing every morning, he says, select one of the steps of one of the backlogged projects and commit to getting just that one step done.

Keeping the effort small and doable is the key, Burton says. The aggregated effect of this incremental effort results in the backlog going down over time.

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