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If you’re interested in what a not-to-do list is, and how creating one can help you, then this article is for you. In essence, a not-to-do list, is the Yin to your to-do list’s Yang. The not-to-do list gives you parameters or bounds for you to stay on track and achieve your actual to-do list.

It helps you stay focused on the important things you want to achieve. The idea behind the not-to-do list is simple; pinpoint the barriers standing in the way of your achieving what is on your to-do list.

Oftentimes these barriers can be bad habits that you’ve subconsciously formed, and the only way to overcome them is to constantly remind yourself that this behavior is not useful. With that being said, if you’re ready to learn even more about the not-do-do list and why you should create one, let’s dive in:

What’s An Example Of A Not-To-Do List?

Perfectionism: This one is for both personal life and work. The idea is not to hang on every detail, or get bogged down trying to write the perfect blog post, email or client pitch. After a certain amount of time you get diminishing returns from extra work and it makes sense to apply this effort in areas you can move the needle more.

Not Planning: Especially for work not having a short and mid term plan to shoot for can leave you rudderless, which means wasting time on non important urgent tasks.

Not Taking Breaks: This is crucial, even though it seems like you can get more done not taking breaks it is not true. The best approach is to use an external pomodoro timer that remind you to take short breaks.

Using Your Phone At Work: This one was huge for me, I’d end up wasting an hour or two on my phone a day and shifting mentally to not wanting to do this limited phone time and increased productivity.

Spending Too Much Time On Emails: Another big time waster, if you’re constantly checking your email you can’t get much done.

Feeling Sorry For Yourself: When you have a rough day or week, the worst thing you can do to yourself is feel sorry for yourself. It compounds negative feelings and can be self fulfilling so you perform poorly.

Futurecasting: Spending too much time in the future in your mind, takes you away from the present and can often lead to anxiety.

Dwelling On The Past: Focusing on the past is as bad as futurecasting as it can make you anxious and takes you away from what you should be doing.

Focusing On Weakness: Focusing on your weaknesses can leave you in a negative mindset too, and does not help you fix your weaknesses or excel in the areas you’re strongest in.

Focus On What You Don’t Want: As my motorcycle teacher says “you go where you look” if you’re focused on what you don’t want you may end up there. Focus on the things you want to achieve and it makes them more likely to happen.

Skipping Breakfast: Whenever I skip breakfast I’m less productive and less able to focus.

Skipping Exercise: Some days I don’t have an hour for the gym, but that’s no excuse to skip exercise, a 10 minute high intensity interval training can be as good for motivation as the gym.

Skipping Meditation: Not meditating really affects my mental health and productivity so skipping is a big not-to-do .

How Do You Write A Not-To-Do List?

The idea is to, over the course of a normal day, track your habits, patterns and things you do to understand what may be stealing time, making you less productive or happy. The best way to do this is by using the red/blue exercise.

Write the date and day and write everything that you didn’t want to do, but did do in red. For example, every day I push snooze or doom scroll for an hour on Instagram it’s noted as red.

Whereas every day I meditate or exercise, that’s noted in blue. It makes it easy to identify the habits you want to stop.

Alongside the red/blue journaling you should also keep note of tasks that were frustrating, time consuming or where you felt less efficient. The idea is to identify areas in your life where you could outsource or delegate certain tasks, or find areas to ask for help.

How Do You Put Your Not-To-Do List Into Action?

After a week of red/blue journaling you will have identified most of the habits you’d like to stop. The idea is to then write these down, ideally next to your to-do list. Then find ways to put them into practice.

One example for me is using my phone in the day. It’s a huge time sink for me, so I noted that in my not-to-do list and then built a system to not use my phone at work. The system is simple, I put it out of reach, in my bag or when I’m working from home I leave it in another room.

Another one for me is to spend less time emailing. So now I only check my emails once a day and respond to all my emails in one batch. When I adjusted this habit and was actively trying to not check my emails all the time, it became easy to put into practice.

I’m Already Very Productive. Do I Need A Not-To-Do List?

The answer will always be yes, even if you’re more disciplined than most and never look at your phone in the day, spend hours writing emails, or any other productivity killer. The great thing about creating a not-to-do list, is you can use it to improve even moderate behaviors.

Let’s say you use “Ok” or “umm” a lot, you can use a not-to-do list to improve even this most basic behavior. So, even if you can make only a 1% improvement every week on small behaviors, you’ll still be improving 52% a year.

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