Not-To-Do Lists Are Just as Valuable as To-Do Lists
Some people can’t get through the day without a to-do list. Benjamin Franklin was one such person. He used lists to encourage his own self-improvement. But he didn’t just create a simple list as most of us list-makers do; he created detailed thirteen-week plans to guide him in practicing the thirteen virtues he held dear, such as temperance, frugality, sincerity, and moderation.
Some people are fond of to-do lists and even can be dependent on them. They get satisfaction not just from completing each task on the list, but also from crossing it off the list. (My secret: Make the first item on each day’s to-do list “Cross off this item.” It gets the day off to a good start!)
By contrast to us list-makers, some people create to-do lists and then ignore them. Still others don’t like them and won’t use them. Whatever your preference, many productivity and time-management experts advocate the use of a list that outlines what not to do. To-do lists typically focus on tasks you want to do or have to do in the near term. Not-to-do lists, by contrast, tend to focus on more general things you want to banish from your life, not just today, but for always.
Your objective in using a not-to-do list could be to achieve greater productivity, manage your time better, or discontinue a habit that’s driving you crazy. If you want to stop doing it—or perhaps avoid ever starting to do it—a not-to-do list might help. It can also help identify things you want to do eventually, just not now.
If a not-to-do list appeals to you, examine how you spend your time and identify activities and habits you want to stop doing because the results aren’t worth your time or effort. For example, activities you want to eliminate might include answering calls from unrecognized phone numbers or checking your email first thing in the morning. For some people, this approach is more effective than framing the habit in the to-do format: answer calls only from recognized phone numbers and check email for the first time after ten o’clock each morning.
Not-to-do lists can also serve as a reminder of things you want to avoid doing in order to achieve your goals or advance in your career. For example, your list might include these items: Don’t try to change anyone else. Don’t spent time on any activity that you can reliably delegate to someone else. Don’t beat yourself up over mistakes or missed opportunities. Or my personal favorite: Don’t obsess over writing that doesn’t want to get written. Just put it away and come back to it later on. In fact, this not-to-do helped me complete this article.