How many times have you heard someone say “I’ll add it to my list of things to do.” We all talk about the infamous “To Do List,” but we rarely address the things that are a complete time suck—things that should be included on a “Not To Do” list. It’s actually just as important to create a “Not To Do List” so we don’t get overwhelmed and lose sight of what truly matters. In this blog post, we'll explore the power of not-to-do lists and how they can help you make the most of your time.
WHAT IS A NOT-TO-DO LIST?
A not-to-do list consists of tasks, activities, or habits that you consciously decide to avoid or eliminate from your routine. It's a strategic tool that helps you to prioritize and stay focused. Identifying and eliminating non-essential or low-value activities that can be distractions will actually help you be more effective. This proactive approach to time management allows you to create boundaries and protect your time and energy for meaningful and high-impact tasks. I am a firm believer in implementing solutions to create more efficiency—a not-to-do list is one such solution to maximize your time by only doing the things that really count.
WHY DO YOU NEED A NOT-TO-DO LIST?
I find it extremely hard to stay focused on my daily tasks thanks to life’s distractions that are constantly being thrown at me (and my ADD surely doesn’t help)! From social media notifications to endless emails, it's easy to get pulled in different directions and lose focus on what you really need to get done. That's where a not-to-do list can come in handy. Here are a few reasons why you need a not-to-do list:
- Reduce distractions: A not-to-do list helps you identify and eliminate distractions that can eat up your time and derail your productivity. It's a proactive way to say "no" to activities or habits that do not align with your goals or priorities.
- Create boundaries: Setting clear boundaries is crucial for maintaining productivity. A not-to-do list helps you create boundaries by identifying what you should not be doing, allowing you to protect your time and energy for what truly matters.
- Boost focus: By eliminating non-essential tasks or activities, a not-to-do list can help you improve your focus and concentration. You can avoid multitasking and channel your attention towards the most important tasks at hand, raising your productivity.
- Increase efficiency: When you eliminate unnecessary tasks or activities, you free up more time and energy to focus on high-value tasks. This can lead to increased efficiency as you devote more resources to tasks that truly matter, instead of spreading yourself thin across multiple low-value activities.
- Prioritize your tasks: By identifying what tasks or activities are not worth your time or energy, you can prioritize your tasks more effectively. You can avoid wasting time on low-value tasks and focus on high-impact activities that will move the needle forward.
THINGS ON MY NOT-TO-DO LIST
Let's take a quick look at some examples I include on my not-to-do list:
- Checking social media frequently during work hours: I understand that it’s important to stay connected through social media during the work day, but not having guardrails on your time will make it a total time suck. Instead, have a set time within your Model Week for social media during work hours. Use this time as a reward after finishing a time block early. You can also use apps to limit access on social media so you don’t get sucked into a wormhole!
- Mixing non-work-related personal tasks during work hours: As a mom, this is virtually impossible. That’s why I suggest implementing a “brain dump” strategy. I write down personal items on a sheet of paper as things pop into my mind. Then, I set aside time in my Model Week to work on those personal tasks. Once I had grown my business, I took Wednesdays and Fridays off, even when my kids were school age, to have dedicated time in my week to do all my home-related items. I know this is not a luxury for everyone…yet! But the cost of task switching is too high, so having dedicated time to address personal things on your work calendar is much more efficient.
- Attending non-essential meetings or events: Evaluate the relevance and value of meetings or events before committing to them. Asking for goals and deliverables prior to the event might force the organizer to have a more action-oriented agenda. It’s perfectly acceptable to arrive late or leave early and attend only the parts of the meeting that are meaningful and impactful for you. Don’t meet without a purpose and plan!
- Constantly checking and responding to emails: Email overload can be a major productivity killer. Avoid constantly checking your inbox throughout the day. Instead, schedule specific times to check and respond to emails. My podcast episode #72 “Stop the Inbox Insanity” addresses this very issue. I recommend having two time blocks within your day to check emails. Also, if your team is working off a Model Week, I would encourage them to also schedule email time blocks. It’s easy to go down rabbit holes because we think everything is on fire. The reality is that most everything will be there if you wait until the next day. Also, I liked NOT checking my email first thing when I walked into the office. This gave me an hour or two to get stuff done before I got caught in the email trap.
- Procrastinating on important tasks: Procrastination can be a major hindrance to productivity. Having a start-up and shut-down routine every day to identify the most important things that need to get done for that day and the next day is critical. My podcast episode #12 “Designing Your Perfect Schedule” details this more thoroughly. Part of my evening routine is identifying three major tasks that need to get accomplished the following day. The next morning, I review these items and put them on my calendar so I know exactly when I will be working on those tasks.
- Meetings for the sake of meetings: Only have effective meetings with the right people. I like the concept of Level 10 meetings. This idea is detailed in the book What the Heck is EOS by Gino Wickman and Tom Bouwer. It’s important to have a very streamlined meeting process with specific agendas and goals. Making sure the right people are in the right part of the meeting is key. For example, your marketing folks do not need to be sitting around when you’re talking about operations and vice versa. Organizing your meeting in a format that allows people to arrive and leave as information is pertinent to their role is crucial.
- Having an open door policy: While this idea sounds great, always having an open door is actually a super ineffective way of working. My podcast episode #15 “Seven Strategies to Reduce Team Interruptions” addresses this issue. Interruptions and task switching is really difficult for your mind and wastes excessive time. Having shut door time, which allows you to not get interrupted, is the best way to get the most accomplished. At a minimum, having closed door time for all staff to focus on a singular project so they are not always multitasking will produce greater dividends. On the other hand, having dedicated time within your Model Week to answer questions with an open door is also important.
Managing time effectively and efficiently is hard! It takes persistence, patience, and a whole lot of practice. Even though I have instituted time management solutions like not-to-do lists for decades, I still get distracted and trapped every now and then by silly, non-essential tasks. Yet without any boundaries on my time, I would undoubtedly waste hours upon hours every day. I encourage everyone to make their own not-to-do list and implement strategies that help reduce overwhelm and increase your efficiency. Time is too valuable to waste!