We all have to-do lists; I know that mine make me more productive and help me stay on track. I keep a Moleskin notebook with me filled with my daily and weekly to-do lists – I don’t even know if I could survive without that thing anymore. I live by to-do lists – I even have a book by Sasha Cagen containing dozens of other people’s to-do lists that I love.
If your day looks anything like mine, you might relate to the following to-do list:
– Check email and respond (20 minutes – one hour)
– Check twitter and respond (10-20 minutes)
– Check facebook and respond (10 minutes – one hour)
– See what work needs to be done for the day and start (who knows?!)
– Answer phone calls and texts (one hour – ???)
…and the list goes on.
Do you see how over two hours can be wasted before I’ve even gotten to my work for the day? Thus, the need for the “Don’t Do” list.
A “Don’t Do” list is liberating. It cuts out the crap from your day that can waste hours with nothing to show for it. It frees up space for you to do the things you really want to do.
This is a new concept for all of us, since we’re in a world that places value on how much we get done in a day. Danielle LaPorte makes a great case for “Stop Doing Lists” in her runaway bestseller, The Fire Starter Sessions (a must-read, whether you’re trying to slow down or not).
Here’s what my “Don’t Do” list looks like, and then we can talk about yours.
– Check email before I’ve planned out my work day.
– Spend more than 20 minutes on email – star the emails that matter, respond if appropriate, and move to the “Needs Attention but Isn’t Urgent” folder. (I highly recommend creating such folders, and it’s very easy to do, whether you use gmail our Outlook.)
– Send “Hey, how are you?” texts while I’m working.
– Start the work day without having a 20-minute walk and/or leisurely cup of coffee.
– Spend time complaining about the work that needs to be done instead of actually starting on it.
– Get roped into doing something for someone else until my other priorities are met.
– Work through my lunch and leave the office late.
– Go to bed without spending at least 30 minutes on something I really want to do (reading, sewing, watching Mad Men with my man).
Your “Don’t Do” list might contain things that wouldn’t make sense to the rest of us. Maybe you need to be better at delegating tasks you’re not the best at, so your “Don’t Do” list might say something like, “Don’t order product – show Kenny how to do it instead.” Time spent delegating can feel like a waste, especially if you’re fast at something – but think of the hours saved when Kenny begins to regularly order the product. Is ordering office supplies really making the best use of your time, or can you free up the mundane tasks so that you can experience breakthroughs at work? One or two hours a week saved adds up to 2-3 workweeks saved during the year. Think that’s insignificant? It’s not.
Your list might say, “Don’t respond until you’ve taken five minutes to clear your mind.” “Don’t eat fast food until you’ve done 30 minutes of yoga” (once you’ve done the yoga, you probably won’t want the fast food). “Don’t neglect Buster’s walk until the end of the day.”
We like to think that “don’t” is a negative word, but the truth is that the time saved gives you power. What will you do with that power? If “power” feels like an icky word to you, think of what you can do with the time. Three weeks to focus on an amazing project won’t only make you feel productive, but it’ll likely score you recognition. Maybe even a raise. More money while I do less of the tasks that I don’t love doing? Sign me up.
My friend Marianne sent me a great link today about lists – Peter Bregman from the Harvard Business Review recommends two lists you should look at every morning, and highlights the way we can get stuck in an endless cycle of responding in our insta-communication lives. I highly recommend you read it.
What’s on your “Don’t Do” list?