Use a To-Don’t List To Reexamine Your Productivity Goals

Use a To-Don’t List To Reexamine Your Productivity Goals

December 06, 2023

Ten steps to maximize your morning routine. Five ways your lunch break can make or break your day. Seven tips to make your after-work to-do list work for you.

Today’s fast-paced culture is filled with strategies to be more and do more. But what if the answer to boosting your productivity is doing less?

Research suggests there’s power in keeping a to-don’t list. This technique eliminates unhelpful actions that sap your energy and distract you from your goals. 

How to create a to-don’t list

Start by envisioning your typical workday. At the top, record the activities you least enjoy or that eat up the most time. Examine your list for items or habits that detract from your most meaningful goals. Then determine which ones you can eliminate.

Examples include scrolling social media, mindlessly checking emails, joining teams or committees that no longer interest you, or performing work you can automate or delegate.

You might create separate to-don’t lists for home and work. Or you could break lists down by day, week or month.

Granted, there may be many things you don’t want to do, some of which still need to get done. (Don’t talk to that guy in accounting. Don’t do laundry. Don’t clean the bathroom.) The idea isn’t to eliminate everything unpleasant in your work or personal life. But the right list can help you focus and create more time for the activities you enjoy.

The following don’ts are almost universally applicable. They can help you get the ideas flowing.

  • Don’t schedule or attend unnecessary meetings. A simple rule of thumb is to make sure every meeting has an agenda. This keeps everyone on track, reduces meeting lengths and improves efficiency.
  • Don’t pay attention to your inner critic. Negative self-talk is counterproductive to accomplishing your goals. Discouraging words reduce your energy and sap your motivation.
  • Don’t sit at your desk for too long. Being at your desk doesn’t mean you’re being productive. Take a break every hour to stand up, stretch or get outside. It gives your mind a chance to reset and be more innovative.
  • Don’t perform busy work. More hours don’t always equal more work. This is especially true when people are busy for the sake of appearances. Instead, prioritize your goals to get more done in less time.

The benefits of improved focus

Creating a to-don’t list doesn’t mean throwing away your to-do list. Instead, it complements your to-do list and prioritizes your energy for the most critical aspects of your day.

Improving your ability to focus on core goals is no small matter. Getting more done while feeling less busy reduces stress, burnout and work-life imbalances. And those results deserve a spot high up on your to-do list.