Three Reasons You Need a “Not To-Do” List

Over the years, I’ve intentionally become more organized. I keep careful track of my appointments. I schedule my tasks. I have a daily “to-do” list, and I am always looking for ways to get more done. However, it was only recently that I created my first “NOT to-do” list. That list almost immediately became my favorite productivity tool.

Three reasons you need a not to do list

I was first introduced to the idea of a “not to-do” list by Martha Beck in a magazine article published more than 10 years ago. She pointed out that our normal approach always adds stuff. We’re always giving ourselves something more to do. She argued that a “not to-do” list is essential for reducing stress. Her hilarious take on this list included four items:

    1) Not to do anything for her kids that they could do for themselves,
    2) Not to kill herself to make a living,
    3) Not to force herself to seek “value-added” leisure-time activities, and
    4) Not to try to please all of the people all of the time.

More recently, I read a blog post on this topic written by Michael Hyatt. He described how people who are getting results are given more and more responsibility. He shared his own “not to-do” list which he created after a promotion, when he had to be intentional about letting go of his former job’s duties. Yet, he also emphasized that a “not to-do” list is for anyone who wants to maintain balance.

I even had a mentor hint at this, while I was in grad school. He suggested that maybe I was trying to do too much. Maybe, instead of being frustrated by all the things I wasn’t getting done, I should just stop trying to do them.

Honestly, the message fell on deaf ears. Until a few weeks ago, when I read this quote:

“The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.” – Tony Blair

Somehow, this hit home. To lead MYSELF effectively, it was time to make some difficult decisions. To start saying no.

So, I finally did. Here are some of the wonderful things I am intentionally saying no to:

    No to running an nutrition business
    No to writing a daily blog
    No to building a online platform
    No to taking a course on writing
    No to attending a speaking conference
    No to training for a fitness competition
    No to starting a nonprofit

These are great things. Things I WANT to do. But I’ve said no. And I’m so glad I did!

In the short time since I wrote my list, I’ve discovered that my list has given me three things:

1. The opportunity to say yes. Yes to finishing my dissertation. Yes to caring for my dying mother. These things matter most right now. My “not to-do” list has made my priorities crystal clear.

2. Peace. Honestly, many of the things on my “not to-do” list are things I was only pretending to do. I wasn’t doing them. I was just wishing to do them and beating myself up for not doing them. My “not to-do” list has allowed me to grieve the opportunities I’m choosing not to take right now. To grieve them and to let the stress and guilt go.

3. Focus. My increased clarity and reduced stress have made it easier for me to focus. I know what I need to accomplish. My distractions, even the wonderful ones, have been cleared away. And I’m even more excited to accomplish my current goals.

What is one item you would put on a “not to-do” list?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

3 thoughts on “Three Reasons You Need a “Not To-Do” List