The ‘Not To Do List’: Why Everyone Should Have One...
Using a To Do list is the most simple task management system around. All it requires you to do
is decide what’s important and then add it to a list. Yet all too often, the
To Do list, which is meant to help us achieve more, just becomes a ‘vertical filing
cabinet’ – a store for a myriad of ideas, thoughts and tasks that come at us throughout the
As a result, time-eating items smother what’s really important and knock us off course.
So here’s the antidote – a list of Not To Dos of all the jobs that should never find their way
into our daily schedules.
Here are a few suggestions for what to avoid:
1) Non-Productive Items.
Remove all non-productive, low-value tasks that demand our time, but actually just make us ‘busy
fools’. These are the culprits responsible for making us feel end of a day that we have done a lot,
even though in reality we’ve achieved very little.
2) Time-inefficient Tasks.
Try to avoid listing time-intensive items that could be done a faster way. Running
errands that take you away from your desk can often be done more efficiently. For example, why take
40 minutes to go out to the bank when, if you subscribe to Internet banking you can complete a
transaction in one tenth the time?
3) Tasks Better Outsourced.
Why are your doing tasks that can be readily outsourced to others who are better equipped
or more able to do them (and for a small price, in most cases). When we have multiple calls on our
time, we know we can’t do everything, so why try? Just because you could do something doesn’t mean
that you have to, so hand the job over to someone who can do it faster and better than you.
4) Tasks That Don't Move Your Forward.
If you find yourself doing things that don’t move you consistently towards a goal, a
target or an objective, either professional or personal, think hard about doing them at all.
These are things that you do out of habit, rather than a strict necessity, or to meet a specific
goal. When you’ve been doing the same things day after day for years and years, it may be time to
question whether these regular tasks should be on your To Do list at all.
Be honest with yourself.
If you find yourself trying hard to justify why a task that’s actually non-productive should
remain on your To Do list, then make it a ‘Not To Do’.
If you have a notebook full of old To Do lists, or use task management software that archives
completed jobs, look through these and identify the ‘time strippers’ that all too regularly crop
6) Time-wasting interruptions.
Consider keeping a journal for a week or so, noting any interruptions that occur during your
working day, causing productivity to dip.
7) Easy Tasks That Don’t Offer Real Benefit.
Particularly when faced with having to battle through a tough project, it can be easy to ‘bunk
off’ from tough tasks and populate your To Do list with ‘avoidance items’ instead, which give
short-term ‘pleasure’ rather than the ‘pain’ of a difficult but more important task.
8) Things that other people give us to do.
Delegation may be a great productivity-boosting tool, but not when you are the one being dumped
on by others. Sometimes that’s the nature of your job, but when the opportunity arises to say ‘No’,
take it, and keep other people’s tasks off your To Do list.
9) Things You Hate Doing.
Try and limit the number of unpleasant tasks that make it onto your To Do list, not by ignoring
them if they need to be done, but by finding ways to change a process, or a routine, so you no
longer need to do them at all.
Most of us are guilty of adding large, scary items to our To Do list like ‘Exhibition’ or
‘Marketing’. But while these may be useful aide memoires, they aren’t very helpful in giving us
practical actions that we can get on with right now. Consequently, they remain untouched on our
list because we’re not sure how to tackle them. So make sure that only smaller do-able actions make
it onto your To Do list by asking yourself the simple question: ‘What is the next action I can take
to move this project or item forward?’ Answer that and you will have an item that can go on a To Do
11) Vague Tasks.
By this, we mean vague To Dos that that are written using a ‘general’ verb like Do, Organize,
Create or Contact. These are too ‘fluffy’ and lacking in focus. If you aren’t using verbs like
Write, Phone, Meet, File, then you probably aren’t creating small enough actionable steps.
12) Open-ended Tasks.
If your work-day contains tasks that don’t have a specific ‘deliverable’, these
possibly shouldn’t be on your To Do list because it will be difficult to know when you have
Instead, quantify how much needs to be done to complete the task, for instance ‘Write 10 pages
of report’ or ‘Make 20 marketing phone calls’. This will break large jobs into smaller pieces.
Revisit Your Not-To-Do List.
When you have made up your list of Not To Dos, print it out and stick a copy to a wall near your
desk. Then remember to give it a glance when planning the week ahead.
Having a Not To Do list forces you think from another direction about how you use your time.
Unlike a To Do list, it may not need to be updated daily, but it should still be a ‘living
document’ that will change over time and with circumstances. So, review what is on it regularly,
and add to it as necessary to stop those nasty Not To Do items creeping back in.
The very fact that you are spending time looking at the flip side of your To Dos will help you
create a more streamlined week by making you realize just how you are squandering at least part of
your time and so holding yourself back from ultimate success.