I got up this morning and realized I had a lot of work today in preparation for a few key engagements where I needed total focus. I knew the four things on my “To Do” list that I clearly had to focus on to make these deadlines with some breathing room to spare.

What I wasn’t very clear about was what needed to be on my ‘Not-To-Do’ list.

I never thought about the importance of having this type of list, but someone introduced me to this concept just a few weeks ago.

The ‘Not-To-Do’ list are those things that might distract me from getting my to do list complete, especially when I’m working with a deadline and it is coming up all too fast. It is simply a list of things I won’t do.

Here is how this works for me.

In the morning when I get to my desk, I pull out a small post it note. On this post it note I write my four or five most critical to do items. Some people are able to brainstorm and write down all the items they need to do, but writing more than five I have noticed tends to paralyze me as it feels like too much to do, so I find something else to do so I don’t feel overwhelmed. Trust me, the other thing I find to do is something that is not on my to do list, but something I know I can complete quickly to get that dopamine hit of accomplishment as a reward for my brain.

Here is what is on my ‘Not-To-Do’ list for today.

  1. I will not read all 498 emails in my SPAM folder for fear of missing out on something.
  2. I will not answer any telephone call that is not scheduled. As a matter of fact, I will turn my phone off when a call is not scheduled.
  3. I will not let myself get distracted because something will ‘only take a minute.’ I will remind myself it never, ever, not ever will ‘only take a minute.’ I will however, write it down so it’s no longer taking up space in my brain.
  4. I will not allow app notifications that distract me. I feel too anxious with all that unexpected buzzing, pinging, beeping. I’m under enough anxiety working on my to do list.
  5. I will not multitask. I will finish one of the items on my to do list and then move on to the next. Multitasking is just too energy draining and is not productive at all.
  6. I will not check my electronics more than once every two hours. Do not check emails more than three times a day. OK, self confession, this one is very hard. I have to set the timer on my phone to keep track of this.

Result: I can get the stuff I need to get done when I need to get it done.

What’s on your ‘Not-To-Do’ list?

Oh! There goes my timer.