The to do list. We all make them, some of us stick to them and many espouse the benefits of writing no more than three items on theirs if they want to be productive and achieve big things.
But what if we got rid of the to-do list altogether?
What if we went to the productivity dark side and wrote a not-to-do list?
The not-to-do list is a new trend in the productivity world, with the BBC recently publishing an article showcasing its benefits and detailing the successful people using them – like serial entrepreneur and author Tim Ferris who lists ‘people who ramble and meetings without a clear agenda’ on his not-to-do list.
The premise is that you write a list of tasks you don’t want to work on, to remind you to focus on the things you do – the tasks that really matter and help you move towards your goals in a more concrete way.
I love this idea and have been implementing something similar over the past year as time as a new parent has meant only slithers of time for getting anything done.
In this case, the not-to-do list has been a revelation.
On mine – wasting time on social media, writing long emails, answering the phone to strange numbers and insisting the house is spotless.
The last one is particularly hard, but I enforce it because it really does free up a lot of time for the things I want to do, and that serve my long term goals – like going on adventures with my husband and daughter, writing, reading and spending time in nature.
I’m a long time lover of the to-do list but I must admit that the not-to-do list has been even more powerful.
Not only in helping me be more productive in the least amount of time I’ve ever had to focus on my own goals, but ensuring I don’t burn out (again) by putting all my energy into ‘busywork.’
Busywork is anything that doesn’t move you forward, but rather just spins your wheels while wearing you out (and down) in the process.
The idea of the not-to-do list is also touched on in 7 Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Covey. The Time Management Matrix in the book speaks of the notion of ‘non-urgent, not-important’ tasks which are exactly what should be going on your not-to-do list.
Instead, focus your time on the urgent and important tasks to move yourself towards your goals.
So next time you are about to put pen to paper, or finger to keypad, pause and think about the tasks that are holding you back from making real progress in whatever you are looking to make progress in. Write them down and start formulating your very own not-to-do list.
Going to the productivity dark side might just be the missing link in helping you finish that book, start that side hustle or get that promotion.
It’s not often that not doing something helps you achieve your goals, so this might just be the one list worth sticking to.