The Not-To-Do List approach

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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 essential; otherwise, procrastination can creep in.

A productivity technique I find so valuable 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, delegate, or eliminate them!

Pomodoro or GTD might work for you to organise what you should be doing, but if you element the things you shouldn't be doing, you're likely to succeed.

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 improve our productivity.

For example, if you love a clean house and spend a few hours a week cleaning it, why not delegate it and get a cleaner?
You could make money with your business in those hours saved or spend 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 and recipes delivered to their door, but it's about more than 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 agendas, 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 need to write down the actions and things you spend time on that don't serve you, whether linked to your personal growth, income, family time or future goals.


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

Hopefully, that was enlightening, and already you think I need to cut them all out! Be realistic though, thinking about how you can automate and delegate as well as eliminate is vital.

There could be 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 isn't going to happen.
That's fine; like any plan in life, you won't do it all in a day. Pick the top 3 you can act on now that will significantly impact 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 impact your life positively.
Write these down to first recognise what they're, but also, as your not-to-do list gets 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 is a much more enjoyable way to work.
If you've only read this post, do the exercise now; take 10-15 minutes to complete it now, as it will save you considerable time in the future.

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

Ben Willmott
Ben is Delivery Director at the London based creative agency Wunderman Thompson 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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