You’ve heard of a to-do list, but what you might really need is a to-don’t list. Instead of focusing on all the tasks you have to get done, it could be beneficial for you to look at everything you don’t need to or even shouldn’t do. It sounds like a waste of time, but it’s actually not: Seeing clearly what shouldn’t be taking up your attention is a great way to prioritize your time and focus on what really matters. There are two kinds of to-don’t lists to employ, so here’s what you need to know.
To-don’t 1: Bad habits
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The first kind of to-don’t list you should make is one of bad habits you want to avoid. This is all about goal-setting. The habits that hold you back can be obvious to you or you may not realize some of them, but once you get started writing them down, more will come.
Some suggestions are these:
- Don’t sleep more or less than you’re supposed to, meaning you go to bed on time and don’t hit snooze in the morning.
- Don’t put off answering emails.
- Don’t skip breaks or lunch.
- Don’t save all your work until right before it’s due or you need to leave work.
- Don’t work all day and night without setting boundaries for when you’re off.
As you make your list, you’ll discover the trouble areas you’re facing. Set aside a time, say every Monday morning, to review and update your list, tracking the progress you made on not doing those things last week, removing any that you’ve overcome, and adding new trouble spots that you’ve run into. As simple as it seems, having it all written down gives you a roadmap and something concrete to focus on while you blast through the bad habits.
Two-don’t 2: Tasks you don’t need to do
A lot of productivity methods focus on what you, specifically, need to contribute to your workplace, team, or various responsibilities, but some of the best ones also leave space for you to delegate tasks to others. Saying “no” to requests or new tasks that you don’t have the capacity for or there’s no reason for you to be the one to do is a special talent we should all cultivate a little better. One way to do that is to keep a list of the tasks you aren’t touching.
Consider making a list that includes things like the following so you can set clear boundaries and stick to them:
- Don’t pick up other people’s responsibilities on a group project.
- Don’t follow up with someone who is refusing to communicate.
- Don’t waste time on emails unlikely to get a response.
- Don’t schedule everyone’s work for them.
- Don’t agree to new elements of a project until existing tasks are handled.
Keeping a real record of the things you are drawing a line in the sand about will help you actually stick to that line. It also helps to have and idea of what you’ll say if and when someone asks you to do something on your to-don’t list. Thanks to the existence of the list, you can simply say, “I appreciate you thinking of me for this, but I don’t have space for that right now in my current schedule. I’ll let you know when I’m done with the things I need to do.”
Once you have your lists compiled, refer to them. Keep them somewhere you’ll see them, like next to your computer or in a note on your phone, and let the power of writing down what you’re not going to do guide you as you tackle the actual to-do list.