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The not to do list – the best tool to regain personal power and time



Nearly everyone these days manages a “to do” list. They can be a powerful way of managing the multitude of activities we face in modern life when used correctly.


The inverse tool, the “not-to-do list" can be a lot more powerful.


I became aware of this concept after managing teams for several years. One of the things most people struggle with is juggling a whole list of demands. They find it very hard to prioritize.


I found myself in many one-to-one meetings where my direct report would ask me for help. They wanted to understand and define the priorities they should work on.


I would run through their to-do list with them and help them put it in order of priority. What I would do at the same time (without realizing it) was to define the things that they didn’t need to do at all.


I was helping them create a “not-to-do list".


I have found that helping people learn to prioritize is a valuable part of my job as a leader. It adds value to my team.

However, I have found that what energizes and motivates people is to help remove their burden. To help them identify what they don’t have to do.


The “Not to do” list has more impact on their productivity than a prioritized “To do” list.


The reason is simple, what people stop doing determines the things they can do.

I have also discovered the value for me as a leader. I too can make my own “not to do” list to free up time for what really counts.


Here are the top 7 items on my current list, with a short description of why they are important to me:


1) Do not look at my phone for the first or last hour of the day

My mind is calmer at the beginning of the day. I can see things more clearly. It is a time when I can meditate and I also find myself more creative. It is also a time when I can be more present with my family. I don´t touch my phone until I have my coffee in front of me, one hour after getting up.


Similarly, after a busy day, my mind is often swirling around. I engage in something called a “Digital Sunset” proposed by the author Cal Newport. I don´t touch my phone at least one hour before bed to allow myself to relax better before sleep.

2) Do not start the workday with mails

I used to get to work, open Outlook, and start responding to my outstanding emails, just like one of the dogs in Pavlov´s experiments. Complete reactivity. Now I always start the day with the most challenging item I have on my plate. I do this for at least the first 30 minutes. This gives me the feeling of having achieved something useful and productive before diving into a sea of emails.


3) Do not stay seated for more than 16 minutes 40 seconds at a time

I learned about the dangers of being seated too long after reading the book “Sitting Kills, Moving Heals” by Joan Vernikos I now get up and move every 16 minutes and 40 seconds. Why that amount of time? Because 16 minutes and 40 seconds are 1000 seconds.


I use a small alarm clock (not my iPhone) that I bought on Amazon to count down these 1000 seconds continually for me throughout the day. I no longer sit for hours at a time and I have noticed a real positive impact, both physically and mentally.


4) Do not allow people to ramble on

I no longer let meaningless conversations ramble on. I avoid interruptions. I am far more abrupt with people.


I just say “I am in the middle of finishing something here, can I speak to you later”. Undoubtedly I am a bit less empathetic, but my previous alternative version lost a lot of valuable time in gossip.


As Time Ferris the author says, a big part of GTD (Getting things Done) is GTP (Getting to the Point)!


5) Do not automatically accept all meeting invitations

If you saw my last blog post, you will know that I am a stickler for optimizing meeting time. I no longer just blindly accept meeting invitations. I go out of my way to reject quite a number. Previously I would let other people´s invitations rule my agenda, as though I were a puppet. No more!


6) Do not constantly check the news

Although I like to be kept abreast of what is happening in the world, I used to be pretty addicted to news websites. I would falsely tell myself that what I was reading was valuable. Research has found that checking the news too often can cause higher levels of anxiety. Not much happens every hour.


I now check up on the news only twice a day. At midday and early evening. Both times I spend less than 10 minutes doing this. It has made NO difference in terms of having less information and has given me back a SUBSTANTIAL amount of time.


7) Do not go to bed later than 11.15 pm

In the past, I could easily be trapped by the latest Netflix episode, a football match, a TV program, or a conversation that drifted on. However, I have found that good sleep is vital for optimal performance (a subject for a later intense blog post). Getting to bed on time is a key “not to do” for me. This one takes discipline, but the results make it worthwhile.


"People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. Innovation is saying no to 1.000 things."


Steve Jobs 


I highly recommend you build a list of items to put on your own “Not to do” list. This can be a real game-changer in terms of becoming a more effective and productive leader. It will also improve the quality of your life.


If you need any help or advice with producing a “Not to do” list, reach out to me here.





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