If you’re anything like me, your to-do list is filled with pressing tasks like “pick up prescription” right next to less time-sensitive undertakings, like “run consistently”. Work to-dos mix with life to-dos; short term projects get listed under ambiguous goals that I don’t want to forget about — it can get a bit unruly.
Allison Rimm, a management consultant, writes in the Harvard Business Review that one way to get this system under control is to create three different to-do lists. The first is for “important but non-time-sensitive projects,” the second list is for “items that need to be completed today,” and the third Rimm has dubbed the “not-to-do” list.
Perhaps the most important of the three, the not-to-do list is used to “remind me of things I’ve consciously decided aren’t worth my time,” writes Rimm. “Writing these down keeps them from sneaking back onto my to-do list.”
We’ve all heard it said that the way we spend our days is how we spend our lives. One way to think of productivity, then, is that it’s more about what you don’t do, as this post from author and podcater Jocelyn K. Glei outlines. There are a million things vying for our time and attention. The not-to-do list helps us prioritise what we actually want to spend our time and attention doing.
“Taking the time to develop a clear mission — your personal purpose — and a vision of what success looks like is essential if you are to be judicious about determining what is important enough to get on your list in the first place,” writes Rimm. Here’s what she suggests.
Reevaluate Your To-Do List
Determine what your goals are, or at least the day’s goal, and look over your current to-do list. How does each task impact your goal? Does it need to be done today, by you? If not, you can ditch it.
Then, create your not to-do list. “Once you accept that you have more to do than time to do it all, that is actually a liberating concept. This realisation forces you to acknowledge there are lower priority items that you will likely never complete,” writes Rimm. “Delete those non-essentials, put them on your not-to-do list, and commit to letting them go.” No more wasting time.
Obviously, an important caveat here is for tasks you need to complete to live/keep your job. Sorry — you still have to do your taxes (or laundry, in my case). But tasks that are continually on my to-do list, like meal planning or finally reading all the old articles in my Pocket app, can probably come off. They’re just not priorities.
From here on, every time you add a task to your list, ask yourself how it contributes to accomplishing your goals. If it doesn’t, or it’s not important or urgent, throw it on your not-to-do list.
“This exercise should be energizing and inspiring, releasing you from feeling stuck, overwhelmed, or resentful,” writes Rimm. “Clear the decks to make the time and space you need to get to what you really want to accomplish.”