Stop being stuck with a not-to-do-list

Almost everybody has a to do list. Do you? If you do not have it on paper or in a productivity app, you probably have one in your head. But have made up your mind about your not-to-do-list? Deciding on what not to do is often more important for your long-term success, so you want to read on.

There are several best practices for a good and helpful to do list. It’s ideal length and level of details depends largely on your personality. Most people get overwhelmed by a too detailed list and should work to keep their to-do-list short.

For some people it is different. For example, if you have ADHD, it can be helpful to be very specific and detailed in your tasks. It makes them more actionable for you. Thus, your ideal list is often significantly longer than for most non-ADHD people.

Most importantly, to do list items should be actionable. That means they should include a verb, so that you really can act upon them.

To do lists can be a great tool, if used right. If you are still struggling with your productivity and with working on the important things for your goals, you might benefit from another tool: the not-to-do-list.

There are actually several ways to use a not-to-do list:

  1. The not-to-do-now list
  2. The not-done-by-me-list
  3. The stop-doing-list

Setting priorities with a no-to-do-now-list

Using the not-to-do list to set priorities for your actual tasks works like this:

Whenever your to do list for a day gets too long, you deliberately divide it in a to-do-list and a not-to-do list for today.

That way, you can get the items on the not-to-do list off your mind and out of your way. You don’t consider them anymore. You reduce the anxiety associated with a long to do list. In effect, you remove build a mental barrier to start working.

Instead, you focus on the most important things for today. Of course, at the end of the day you need to decide, how to deal with the items on the not-to-do list. Will you do, defer, delegate or delete them? In fact, the future folders in a tickler file are a great way to deal with these not-to-do-nows. Items put in there will be out of sight and out of mind. At the same time, you still make sure to reconsider them later.

Focus with a not-done-by-me-list

A variation of this approach is to deliberately delegate tasks from your to do list. So, they are not done by you, but still taken care of. In effect, you set up a not-done-by-me-list. With both approaches you use your not-to-do-list as a tool to set priorities among your tasks.

Build habits with a stop-doing-list

The second type of a not-to-do list could also be called stop-doing-list. It deals with more general topics. It is a collection of activities, habits and mindsets you want to avoid. Topics on this list can include things like “checking social media every twenty minutes”, “drinking more than five cups of coffee a day”, “doing things myself which I should actually delegate”, “eating junk food” etc.

This way you create a checklist of behaviors to avoid. It can be a reminder when you are looking for the reason you feel stuck. But keep in mind that just writing it down does not stop you from doing it. You need to invest in habit building to follow through with your resolutions. [LINK]

Use the not-to-do-list to get back on track

No matter if you use your not-to-do-list for concrete tasks or to remind you self of activities you want quit. These approaches can help you to focus on what is important for your success and your wellbeing. They can help to get you back on track when you feel overwhelmed.