“‘TO DO or NOT TO DO’ – this is the list question!”


No surprise there, obviously, but perhaps the number of tools available to help us be more productive is a surprise. There are literally hundreds of apps out there to support us in our drive to be effectively productive and now, to add a bit of spice to the productivity mix, most of us are working physically apart from the rest of the team. So, an app to keep us on track would seem like the most sensible thing to own right now but there is perhaps one item that has stood the test of time and could enhance our team productivity more than any other, and it’s not even an app.

It is the ‘TO DO’ list. Perhaps the most underrated productivity tool in the history of doing things. Even cavemen and women had ‘to do’ lists – “1. build fire, 2. hunt meat, 3. gather berries, 4. increase population (repeat)” – legend has it that cave men had the increase population bit at the top but that cave women (quite rightly) put the other three in front, being more practically minded of course!

Do you have a ‘TO DO’ list? Of course–most of us do, and if you didn’t have one you probably will have now that you’re probably in a café, or, (oh wait we can’t do that), sat at home. But have you given much thought to a ‘NOT -TO- DO’ list? It turns out that this is at least as important according to productivity experts.


So, what exactly is a ‘NOT-TO-DO’ list?

Well, first things first, it’s not a list of bad habits you’re determined to break or negative behaviours you want to be sure to avoid.

What it is, is a list of tasks that you might think you should do, or might want to do, or might be asked to do by someone else, but these tasks don’t move you toward any of your larger objectives. They don’t feed your soul and aren’t necessary for you to do, the result being that you are much better off not doing them????! Therefore, they should either be left undone or you should delegate them to someone else.

It’s a Mindfulness Tool more than anything else because your ‘NOT-TO-DO’ list brings clarity and peace as there will be less anxiety in your mind over things you think you should do, or worse, have told someone else you will do, but are having trouble getting to. It will also bring greater transparency and improve your relationships with your colleagues and customers because you will no longer be making promises you may not be able to keep.

It may sound counterintuitive but set aside some time, about 30 minutes, for creating your first ‘NOT-TO-DO’ list. We promise that done right; your increased productivity will be well worth it.


Here’s how to get started:

#1. Bring together a rough list of contender tasks for your list.

Review how much time you spend on tasks each day. Look at any notes you have kept, or in your calendar, that will give you an insight into how you spend your time. Whatever you’re spending time on that doesn’t directly align with your long-term goals and vision for yourself should definitely be considered, along with tasks that have been nagging at you for a long time but you’ve never got round to completing. Any tasks that other people ask you to do that don’t align with your goals should also go on the list. Also, and here’s a big one – a task that makes your heart sink the moment you think about it, that should also be a contender.

#2. Ask the contenders some questions.

So now you’ve got your contenders for the NOT-TO-DO list, interrogate each of them with some questions –

“Will this task assist me in accomplishing my goals and contribute to my vision of success?” Yes/No

“Will I or anyone else suffer impactful negative consequences if this task is ignored?” Yes/No

“Is the task urgent, or important?” Yes/No

If you’ve answer NO, NO, & NO, then put the task on your NOT-TO-DO list.

If you answered YES to the questions about consequences and urgency, ask two further questions – “Is it important that I do the task?” (Yes/No). “Could I delegate?” (Yes/No)

If your answer is No/Yes then put it on the NOT-TO-DO list.

#3. Prior Planning Preparation Prevents Poor Poor Performance – the 7Ps

The whole thinking around your NOT-TO-DO list is so that you are prepared and able to quickly say no to tasks that don’t fit your long-term goals and/or don’t need to be done by you.

When new tasks get added to your NOT-TO-DO list be prepared with some rapid answers in case anyone requests you to do something that doesn’t fit with your long-term goals – this includes yourself!

One particular method might be to have something written down as a common email response, or something you can read over the phone to give you confidence to push back.

#4. Revisit and rethink.

When you’re requested to take on new tasks, or as you yourself seek new ideas, test each and every one against the questions above and be strict – it either belongs on your ‘TO-DO’ list or it belongs on your ‘NOT-TO-DO’ list.

Be watchful of your time and energy, and if you periodically review your list you’ll be surprised at how more productive you and your team become.



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