A few weeks ago, we talked about managing your to-do list. I mentioned the “do not do” list in that post, and I wanted to go a little more in-depth on that today. To quickly recap, the steps to managing your to-do list were:
- Step One: Identify what you want to accomplish. It can help to think about how you want to feel, here. Not to get too touchy-feely, but very often we’re after that feeling that comes with productivity, and not productivity itself. So identifying that I want to feel like I’ve made good progress, or done my best, can be important.
- Step Two: Consult your calendar. What’s possible, in the amount of time you have available?
- Step Three: Brain dump—get everything out of your head and onto paper.
- Step Four: Sort your list. Decide what’s important and what’s not, note what is urgent and what can wait.
You now not only have a list to work from, but—even better—you have a prioritized list. But a sorted list almost always has a few things that end up in the “not important, not urgent” category. And that’s where the “do not do” list enters the picture.
This list is exactly what it sounds like: things you won’t be doing.
There is freedom in admitting that there is more to accomplish than there is time in the day. To make the things that are high priority happen, we have to get rid of some non-essentials. This doesn’t mean they will never get done, but instead, that today is not the day to do them.
Here’s what my “do not do” list looks like today:
- Play solitaire on my phone
- Eat sugar
And here’s the thing about a “do not do” list: you only have to stick to it for one day. If I want to eat sugar tomorrow, maybe I can. Because that’s tomorrow. I’m not going to worry about it today. But today, I can commit to not eating sugar. That’s a small win, but small wins add up. Little wins, for the win. You can probably also see now how a “do not do” list can help with habit formation.
Sometimes our “do not do” list may be projects we are excited to get to but need to save for another day because of time or other constraints. Or, at the end of the week, we might realize that the same task has made it onto our “do not do” list every single day. If this is the case, stop and ask yourself: does this really have to be done? If not, go ahead and mark it off your master list. If it does need to be done, is it something you can delegate?
The “do not do” list can also be expanded to help you simplify decision-making. If you feel guilty every time a volunteer sign-up form lands in your inbox, and you end up overcommitting yourself, make some “do not do” rules for yourself around volunteering. Do not sign up for anything that takes more than an hour. Do not sign up for anything that requires committee meetings. Next time a volunteer opportunity arises, you’ll be able to identify if it’s a good fit more quickly. Drop off paper products at school? That’s an easy yes. Head up the annual art gala? That’s definitely going to require committee meetings and lots of hours, so it’s a no.
Knowing what you aren’t going to do can be just as powerful as knowing what you are going to do. It gives you freedom because when the opportunity arises, you’ve already made the decision. You don’t have to waste any mental energy debating whether or not you should have that cookie or turn on Netflix or say yes to a commitment. You put it on your do not do list, so it’s an easy no.
Have you ever tried a do not do list before? Let me know in the comments!