The Not-To-Do List approach

October 31, 2020
4 mins read
Ben Willmott

There are countless examples of how to improve your productivity, whether creating to-do lists, The Pomodoro Technique or Getting Things Done GTD) plus various tools to help you track it all.

How you track your actions is really important as otherwise procrastination can creep in.

A productivity technique I’ve come across recently that is so blindingly obvious, I’m amazed I haven’t done it before is called the Not-To-Do List.  

This tool will help you find out what you should NOT be spending time on and help you either automate them, delegate them or eliminate them!

I class this as a productivity technique as using Pomodoro or GTD might work for you to organise what you should be doing, but if you don’t element the things you shouldn’t be doing then you’re likely to fail.

I have no stats to back this up, but I’m guessing the amount of time we spend doing the things we should not be doing, massively outweigh the things we should!

What is a Not-To-Do List and does it increase productivity?

A not-to-do list isn’t just about stopping non-impactful things completely, it can also be about automating the action or delegating it so we can then improve our productivity.

For example, if you love a clean house and you spend a few hours a week cleaning it, why not delegate it and get a cleaner.

You could be making money with your business in those hours saved or spending more time with your family.

Or do you spend hours and hours going back and forth at the supermarket, when you could do one big online shop every two weeks and repeat the order, or sign up with someone like Hello Fresh, who not only deliver your food but also tell you what recipes to cook with the food provided?

Not everyone can afford a cleaner, or get food plus the recipes delivered to your door, but it’s not just about spending money to save time.

It could be the long unstructured meetings you have at work, you can eliminate these through any number of changes like creating better meeting agenda’s, having more quick face to face conversations, or highlighting to your boss how many hours you’re spending in meetings vs doing actual work.

How do you create a Not-To-Do List?

First, you simply need to write down the actions and things you spend time on that don’t serve you, whether that’s linked to your personal growth, your income, your family time or future goals.

Why not spend 10 minutes now, writing these down? Here are some examples of the actions and things I added to my not to do list, then what I automated, delegated or eliminated.


What are the top 3 things I must eliminate first in my life?

Now hopefully that was pretty enlightening, and already you’re thinking I need to cut them all out! Be realistic, though, think about how you can automate and delegate as well as eliminate is vital?

Potentially there are some actions you can’t automate now, but if you hit your financial goals in 6 months you can then?

You might be thinking, I have too many here and eliminating, delegating or automating them all in one go just isn’ going to happen.

That’s fine, like any plan in life you’re not going to do it all in a day. Just pick the top 3 you can action now, that will have the most significant impact on your work and personal life.

What are the top 3 actions that move the needle the most in my life?

You now know what you shouldn’t be doing, but what should you be doing.

If you’ve completed the above exercise, now think about the top three actions that really have an impact on your life positively.

Write these down to first recognise what they’re, but also as you’re not to do list get smaller, you’ll have space to do what should be on your to-do list.

For example, I need to spend less time at my desk and more time working out problems or creating plans on our writeable walls at work with my team.  

This approach helps me find the solutions far quicker, and it’s a much more enjoyable way to work.

If you’ve only read this post, do the exercise now, just 10-15 minutes to complete it, but it will give you considerable savings in your time going forward.

I hope this works as well for you as it does for me. Good luck with it.

Ben Willmott
Ben is Head of Agile Practices at the London based creative agency Karmarama where he creates bespoke ways or working for his clients and teams. Ben is also the founder of The PPM Academy specializing in coaching Project Management, Agile Delivery and how to be more productive at home and work.

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