Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Make a To-Don't List

In the battle to become more productive, many turn to the to-do list as their primary weapon. You might be one of those people. And while you might start using a to-do list with the best intentions, it can spiral out of control and take over.

How? By becoming a dumping ground for what you need to do, what you think you should do, and what you want to do somewhere down the line. When that happens, the list just keeps getting longer and longer. It demoralizes you. It turns work into an endless slog.

When chatting with a friend about this recently, he suggested (based on something he’d read) creating a to don’t list rather than a to-do list. My friend was joking. And, much to his chagrin and amusement, I thought that it was a great idea.

A To Don’t List?

What do I mean by a to don’t list? Mainly, a list of tasks that you shouldn’t waste time on. Tasks that you’ll never get around to. Task that will go on to what someone once aptly described as a someday/never list.

The task that you put on your to don’t list will depend on you — I’ve found that the needs of no two people are the same.

To create a to don’t list, you need to take a close look at all of your tasks. Then, depending on the task, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this really important?
  • Is this one of those tasks I keep saying I’ll eventually get around to?

If the answer to the first question is Yes, then ask yourself 1) why it’s important, and 2) whether you need to do it immediately. If you can’t come up with an answer and/or if you don’t need to do it immediately, shunt the task to the to don’t list.

If the answer to the second question is Yes, then it immediately goes on the to don’t list. No questions asked. No guilt involved. Do the deed, and don’t look back.

Focusing Your To Don’t List

Sometimes, putting together a canonical to don’t list can be tough. Things come up, ideas appear, passion takes hold. And, if you’re like many people, you put those things on your to-do list.

You shouldn’t. Or, at least, you should think about it before you do.

I advocate creating a list that focuses on the tasks that you need to tackle each day. If you find yourself with various other tasks that pop into your head, or the urge to add more tasks to you daily list, then consider having a parallel daily to don’t list.

Your daily to don’t list might change from day-to-day. It might not. But it’s a good reminder of what you shouldn’t be focusing on.

Thoughts? Let's start a conversation on Twitter.

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