Why You Should Replace Your ‘To-Do’ List with a “Don’t-Do’List

We’ve all heard about the importance of creating To-Do lists – they keep us focused, give us something to work towards and it’s motivational when we see things being ticked off the list.

And that’s great when it works – for some people To-Do lists are invaluable. But for others their lists just seem to get longer and longer, with tasks spilling over into the next day, week, month or even year!! Or they are so determined to get to the bottom of the list that they work into the night to get things done.

So perhaps, for many of us, the key to getting things done is more about our Don’t-Do list than our To-Do list. Let’s face it, we all have an idea of what we’d like to achieve by the end of the day or week, but life has a habit of throwing things in that can make achieving this difficult. But with a Don’t-Do list you stand a much better chance of getting there.

Let me give you an example. A colleague of mine used to work really long hours (and when I say long hours, I do mean ridiculously long!!). She was great at her job and got fantastic results. However, when she had her first child she returned to work knowing that she could no longer continue to work the hours she had been. So we created a Don’t-Do list for her – it was a revelation. Suddenly she was working sensible hours, enjoying family life and getting more done. In fact she was doing such a great job at work that she soon got a promotion. Win-win.


6 Things to Put On Your Don’t-Do List

Don’t be a Slave to Your Smart Phone.

Smart phones are great, but they can be a massive distraction. Turn off notifications so you aren’t tempted to look at things as they come in. Or, better yet, set time in your day or week when you are not going to have your smart phone with you.

Don’t Always Be Available.

It’s fine to give yourself time to actually do your work/ live your life!! The key is to set expectations. It could be that you put a message on your phone or email telling people that you aren’t free now but will get back to them in a certain timeframe. Or perhaps you have key times of the day when your team know that you’ll be available for them to contact you.

Don’t Check Messages and Emails unless You Have Allocated Time To Respond To Them.

Generally checking your messages 2 or 3 times a day is more than enough. If you are checking your mails more often than this it takes the focus away from more important tasks; or perhaps the content will play on your mind; or maybe you’ll fire off a quick response only to realise later that you’ve not given it your best attention. At best you will find yourself repeating things – you read the message once when you haven’t time to deal with it then have to re-read it when you do!

Don’t Always Say Yes.

This is a massive thing for lots of people. Learning to say ‘no’ in a really positive way is a skill that’s definitely worth mastering. If you haven’t got the time, skill or inclination to do something, then don’t do it.

Don’t Feel You Have to Do Everything Yourself.

The Art of Delegation is another skill worth mastering. Surround yourself with people you trust, be there to support them – and delegate. This is a massive win-win. It frees up time for you and can help develop those around you. Of course don’t just delegate the rubbish tasks, give those around you the opportunity to take on more complex and interesting things too. They’ll thank you for it.

Don’t Work More When You Are Feeling Overwhelmed.

As soon as we become overwhelmed we become less productive. It’s important to stop what you are doing and take some time out, even if it is just 15 minutes to have a cuppa, go for a walk or listen to some music. Or even stop for the day and pick things up tomorrow. The key is to truly give yourself a ‘time-out’ – let yourself relax and your mind de-muddle. When you start again prioritise what needs to be done. The key to overwhelm is not spinning more plates — or doing more — it’s defining the few things that can really fundamentally make a difference, then doing them.


Of course for all of us our Don’t-Do lists will be different – they may apply just to your work life or may also include your home life. But a well thought out Don’t-Do list will give you more time and make you more productive.

Go on. Try it.

Whats on your Don’t-Do List?  Let me know.