You probably have a list somewhere. Maybe several scribbled on the backs of receipts, neatly organized in a notebook, or typed out in an app. Each one a litany of tasks to tackle. To-do lists can be great. But a “Not-do” list may be what you really need.
Case in point: I was preparing for a recent vacation and knew I would have limited time to work in the evenings. I simply could not do everything that came my way. So I had to carefully consider how I would spend the time I did have.
I decided to focus on areas where I could have the biggest impact. And that meant figuring out what I needed to ignore.
I went about this in a strategic way. I already knew the areas where the business needed my attention and I could help really quickly. Where the two intersect — that was where I decided to focus my attention and effort on while I was traveling. Anything else belonged on my Not-do list.
This exercise was revealing. It showed me that I was overly involved in tasks that were not critical or that others could handle. I have since returned from vacation and forced myself to stick to the same type of thinking and prioritization. It is both refreshing and freeing.
I also put the question of what you “do not do” out on social media to learn how other people cut out the “not so important” from their day. Plenty of folks responded, and some themes quickly emerged.
If you are ready to create your own Not-do list, here are some areas to start looking:
1. Unnecessary emails — By removing yourself from distribution lists or email threads where you are Cc’d (but do not need to be), you can drastically cut down on the noise. The fewer unnecessary emails to quickly review and delete, the better.
2. Noncritical meetings — You probably do not need to attend half the meetings you currently go to — especially if a plan is underway and you already shared your thoughts. Talk with the organizer and ask to be brought in if and when you are needed. (And if it is not essential for you to be there, ask to be removed from the invite list.)
3. Problem solving — This one is entirely within your own control. Make a choice to not overreact to small challenges or jump in right away to solve problems that other people can handle and are trained to address.
4. Status updates — Why spend time thinking about areas of your job that are already running smoothly? If you want to check in, you can always monitor the ongoing progress against your predefined goals. Give yourself space to focus on pressing problems or areas that require your expertise.
Identifying what you will not do helps bring clarity to where you can help and where you might be getting in your own way.
I know it did for me. Once I filled up my Not-do list, I was able to see how I could make a real impact. Of course, I still find plenty of things to fill my To-do list. But I can now focus on long-term strategy and look ahead to what is coming. And I have capable teammates who can get things done but also speak up and ask for help when they need it.
So take a step back. Decide what you will not to do. Make room for more meaningful work. And give others an opportunity to do the same.
What would you add to your Not-do list?