Creating a not-to-do list
Dec. 5, 2011
by Ivan Raconteur

Many people are concentrating on Christmas lists at this festive time of the year, but there is another kind of list that might just add more enjoyment to our lives.

One of the best things we can do to increase productivity and add to the quality of our lives is to make a list of things to not do.

We have heard for years that we should make and follow a “to-do” list, but these don’t work for everyone.

Making a list of things not to do is based on the ridiculously simple principle that what we don’t do determines what we can do.

Here’s why. Each of us has a finite amount of time and energy. The more of that time and energy we spend on things that are not important, the less we will have to spend on things that really matter, such as skylarking and carousing (or whatever activities one enjoys).

I have been doing some reading on this subject, and have come across some brilliant suggestions.

My favorite is “never agree to participate in a meeting without an agenda or end time.”

How many hours per month do we spend in unproductive meetings?

The routine goes something like this:

For every hour spent in a meeting, 10 minutes is spent waiting for people who arrive late or step out temporarily.

Five minutes is spent waiting while people shuffle through stacks of paper to find calendars or other documents.

About 10 minutes is spent trying to identify the purpose of the meeting or in what order items will be handled.

Another 15 minutes is spent socializing or talking about things that have nothing to do with the purpose of the meeting.

This leaves about 20 minutes out of each hour spent discussing pertinent items, and that is being optimistic.

Unfortunately, for most of us, this particular “not-to-do” item is merely a happy dream.

Another suggestion is not to answer e-mails and voice messages first thing in the morning or last thing at night, and not to feel one has to read (or listen) and respond to all messages immediately.

Scheduling specific times during the day when we will batch-process our correspondence would be a lot more efficient than constantly stopping what we are doing to deal with the latest message.

We have been bamboozled into thinking everything is urgent, but those of us who are old enough to remember the days before e-mail, voice mail, and smart phones know that business got done just fine without them.

It is not the urgency that has changed, it is the perception of urgency.

Another excellent suggestion is to not try to do everything.

If we fail to set limits and prioritize, we may find ourselves wasting time on less important things, while the important ones remain undone.

Some say we should add skipping breaks to our list of things not to do.

Stepping away from our desk for a couple minutes can allow us to recharge, refocus, and work more efficiently than if we plow through the entire day with our nose to the grindstone.

There are also plenty of ways we can tidy up our non-work lives by adding to our list of things not to do.

Not watching random television programs might be a good place to start. If we aren’t watching a specific show, the box should be off.

Even household chores might be good candidates for our list.

For example, there are weeks when I don’t get around to doing the dusting at the bachelor pad.

So far, this has not caused the world to come to an end.

I could add not worrying about the dusting to my list.

That doesn’t mean I will quit dusting – I will just do it when I get around to it, and I will stop worrying about it if it doesn’t get done every week.

By making a not-to-do list, we give ourselves permission not to worry about inconsequential things.

That sounds simple, but it is a giant step toward reducing stress.

Not thinking about doing trifling tasks will free up our brains for more satisfying activities.

Clearing our minds and schedules of things that are unimportant is like ditching a load of excess baggage.

We won’t miss it, and we will enjoy the freedom that not doing these things – and not wasting energy thinking about them – will give us.

And, getting back to that suggestion that we not try to do everything, the holidays would be the perfect time to implement that advice.

Instead of focusing on what really matters to them, many people spend the holiday season frantically scurrying around like over-caffeinated squirrels, chasing a million nugatory details and trying to make everyone happy, and, as a result, making themselves utterly miserable.

The curmudgeon’s advice: do less, and enjoy it more.

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