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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

To-Do Lists Are Great, But Do-Not-Do Lists Might Be Even Better for You

Be honest: How many items on your to-do list are there simply because they’ve always been there? Like checking your email every 30 minutes, or having the weekly check-in meeting with the marketing team, or reading every article in an industry publication.

On the other side, consider what activities you wish you had more time for, like reading books, going to the gym, calling loved ones, and so on. When the things you want to do most are less urgent, it’s easy to postpone them—and live life passing them by.

As Cody McLain points out in this piece on Medium, this inconsistent prioritization of “mediocre” activities can seriously get in the way of your ability to spend time meaningfully and commit to what matters most. And when you agree to just fine routines instead of the essential and meaningful ones, you lose those opportunities to cultivate hobbies, habits, and career choices that are critical to your happiness.

“Each ‘yes’ has an opportunity cost associated with it,” he says. “In other words, in order to spend your time or money on one thing, you give up the opportunity to spend it on something else.”

And you’re right: Thinking of your choices as always in sacrifice of something else is certainly a negative way to live your life. But, McLain argues, it’s also a realistic perspective that ensures you’re weighing those decisions practically.

“Ultimately, saying ‘no’ is about prioritization,” he continues. “With each ‘no’ you give yourself time to focus on the things that matter most to you.”

That’s where the “Do not do” list comes in. Inspired by David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, this productivity tool is a way to consciously identify and limit those tasks that aren’t worth your time. That might look like limiting your Facebook usage or outsourcing those annoying weekly errands.

“My ‘Do not do’ list contains things that I have determined I will absolutely not do,” he explains. “This folder allows me to dump ideas or tasks that I realize aren’t worth my time — so that I can keep myself focused on the areas the really matter.”

Personally, here’s my current (and growing) list:

  • Scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed as a must-do every morning
  • Getting coffee or lunch with people I only feel meh about
  • Browsing for new desktop wallpapers and calling it a motivational necessity
  • Creating productivity-themed music playlists, instead of actually being productive

So, now ask yourself this: What are you going to put on your “Do not do” list to make room for the things that matter?

Photo of person working courtesy of Steven Errico/Getty Images.