Personal Growth

Forget the To-Do List and Make a Don't-Do List

If you're anything like us, you've got a to-do list a mile long — and it's getting longer every day. Even as you check items off the top, there are more and more on the bottom. If it's all getting overwhelming, it might be time to take some of those tasks off of your to-do list and add them to a new list: the don't-do list.

To-Dos and To-Don'ts

Writing for Harvard Business Review, Alison Rimm described the way she augments the standard to-do list to maximize her task management and get more done. It's a matter of making not one, not two, but three lists. The first is for important items that don't have a deadline — things like "buy more socks" or "schedule a vacation." The second list is for things that need to be done ASAP, like "email client" or "draft a project budget." The final list might be the most important one of all: It's the don't-do list.

So what goes on your don't-do list? That all depends. It's not for things that you shouldn't do — you're not going to put something like "Don't waste time on Facebook" on this list. Instead, it's for things that would be tempting to add to one of your to-do lists, but that you just don't have time for. The don't-do list is a good place for anything that you can delegate to others, anything that isn't in line with your larger goals, or anything that just isn't as important as everything else on your list.

How to Not Do

The don't-do list is somewhat similar to the concept of swapping "I can't" for "I don't," but that rule is more about staying strong in the face of temptation. You won't say "I can't go out tonight since I'm working tomorrow." Instead, you say, "I don't go out on weeknights." But productivity expert Jocelyn Glei has her own conception of the don't-do list that bridges the gap between the two.

Glei's version doesn't de-prioritize things that might otherwise be on the to-do list, or reframe those tempting, fun items that might stand in the way of your goals. Instead, it's about things you don't do while you're working in order to maximize your productivity and effectiveness. So for Glei, that list includes items like, "I don't listen to music with words," "I don't treat emails from people I don't know as urgent," and "I don't work past 6 p.m." Combine the practices that work best for you with a firm sense of your priorities, and you just might transform your workday life.

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Need a little more help getting your lists in order? Pick up Damon Zahariades' "To-Do List Formula" (it's free with your trial membership to Audible). We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Reuben Westmaas November 10, 2018

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