We live in a world of to-do lists. Many of us keep one in some form, be it a journal, a task manager, a grocery list, or a voice inside the head.
We’re addicted to compile never-ending to-do lists and it feels so good to check off items as we progress with our work. But we hardly manage to clear our list by the end of the workday.
It’s only natural that we want to keep stock of what we’re supposed to do, but only a few will keep stock of stuff that won’t get done. That leads us to the not-to-do list, which is as much important as the to-do list itself.
The idea is nothing new. Tim Ferriss, for example, is a big advocate of the not-to-do list. It’s a simple list of tasks that you, by setting your boundaries, refuse to do anymore.
A not-to-do list is a dynamic yet permanent list that you keep for your reference to help filter out important work.
Let’s go ahead and see how to compile your very own not-to-do list.
Your secret weapon for productivity: the not-to-do list
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Grab a pen and write down a simple list of tasks and activities that you won’t do anymore.
You can convert your to-dos into not-to-dos by applying one of the following principles: (1) elimination, (2) automation, and (3) delegation, in that order.
Ask yourself the question of whether a task needs to get done. If the answer is not a clear yes, then it’s a no. So, eliminate it.
If your task needs to get done but can be automated in some way, take your time and brainstorm possible solutions.
If elimination and automation aren’t viable options, consider delegating your task to someone, even when you know that you’re the most capable person to do that task.
You won’t delegate important stuff, but what about the urgent ones?
You can set up an Eisenhower Matrix (named after the American president Eisenhower) and cluster tasks based on whether they are
- Both urgent and important (quadrant 1)
- Important but not urgent (quadrant 2)
- Urgent but not important (quadrant 3)
- Neither urgent nor important (quadrant 4)
Q1 and Q2 stuff will land on your plate. Note, however, that Q2 tasks are the ones that create momentum: these are the important things that will never get full attention unless you make them a priority. Q3 tasks can be automated or delegated; Q4 tasks are perfect candidates for elimination.
If you’re in favor of bullet journals, write down a simple list of activities and tasks that you refuse to do anymore. Your list isn’t a mere collection of tasks. If you want to kick the habit of checking emails first thing in the morning or saying yes to every project, add them to your list.
An Eisenhower Matrix is a very handsome tool, but a simple not-to-do list would do the trick as well. I found that keeping it as simple as possible will better guide my decisions.
Creating your not-to-do list is one thing; sticking with it is another…
You need to consult your list every single day when you’re in trouble. That’s why keeping your list in front of you, whether on your home screen or on the wall, is very important. I keep my not-to-do list in the Evernote shortcuts (listed as reason #25 why I can’t quit Evernote).
As I mentioned earlier, your not-to-do list is a dynamic creature―it needs regular revision. The weekly review is the perfect time to keep your list updated.
It’s a good idea to cherry-pick some items from your not-to-do list and put them into your affirmations. (Affirmations are dedicated statements that reflect your core principles and values.) By adding some items to your affirmations, you ensure that you respect your boundaries and that’s when you save time for important Q2 stuff.
Let’s recap, in a nutshell, what your not-to-do list is all about…
Whether you need a to-do list or not is of personal preference. If you, however, keep a to-do list, it’s imperative that you get the inversion: a not-to-do list.
It helps to weed out the unwanted stuff and focus on the things that matter most. Creating a not-to-do list should take no more than half an hour. Once you get it, however, you’ll recognize that your to-do list shrinks to its half over time.
Schedule a one-on-one meeting with yourself and compile a simple list of tasks and activities that you want to get rid of. Cut the nonsense.