The Don’t Do List
I’m a big fan of lists. I’ve got lists everywhere: multiple to-do lists in multiple formats, item lists, shopping lists, people lists, goal lists, etc. One of my lists, and a favorite trick I use to remain focused, is to keep what I call the don’t do list.
The don’t do list is a list of things I’m not doing, or things I was doing and have eliminated from my to-do lists. It might seem silly, but the act of going through your projects and to-do lists and moving them to a don’t do list helps you prioritize and focus on the important things you should be doing. It also helps to shed light and add clarity to your process and workload. It’s pretty amazing to see all the things you could be doing but aren’t.
Keeping a don’t list is pretty straight forward. For me, I just have a big list in Evernote for when I record those things I’ve killed or said no to.
I do have a few rules:
- It’s only things that I’ve either rejected or killed. Never anything I’ve finished. Those stay on my to-do lists in a completed state, which is another little trick I find helps keep me motivated and productive.
- It’s not a back-burner. I try to only put things there that I never, ever plan on doing or working on again. Of course, this rule can be broken, but the goal is to try and keep it to things you’ve quit or said “no” to.
- It’s just a list, I don’t keep artifacts or reference items here. Those I move into an archive. I’m a bit of an information horder, I keep everything, but I like to keep reference items, deliverables, etc. away from my lists.
- I review it every once in awhile, just to give myself some perspective. This is great when I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
Of course, the prerequisite here is learning how to say no to things, and when to sunset a project. (Or, something I’ve been working at recently, keeping those zombie projects dead and gone for good.) I work really hard at those things and I still struggle with them; even though I know how important it is. I’m a do-er and I like to think of myself as a finisher. “No” and “I quit” are often really hard for me to say, even when there is overwhelming evidence telling me to do so. The don’t do list helps me make those decisions.
Bottom-line: Amazingly enough, keeping a list of things you don’t do can really help you focus on the things you do need to do.