The value in ‘not-to-do’ lists

All my life I’ve written lists.

Grocery lists, goal lists and — of course — to-do lists.

(I blame my highly organized dad, who lives by lists, too.)

My to-do lists can be pages long, too, with items like, “Finish progress report for interns,” “Mail Shannon’s birthday present (from November)” and “Buy new jeans.” It’s overwhelming sometimes to read through it every day. But I can’t imagine how I’d manage everything I do without in.

Until one day I read a tweet about the “not-to-do” list.

I Googled it and came across the blog of Timothy Ferris, author of “The 4-Hour Workweek” — a book I actually own — who wrote about these lists. He said “not-to-do” lists are often more effective than “to-do” lists for upgrading performance.

“The reason is simple,” he writes. “What you don’t do determines what you can do.”

He came up with nine habits — mostly for entrepreneurs and office workers — to stop now:

1. Do not answer calls from unrecognized phone numbers
2. Do not e-mail first thing in the morning or last thing at night
3. Do not agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time
4. Do not let people ramble
5. Do not check e-mail constantly — “batch” and check at set times only
6. Do not over-communicate with low-profit, high-maintenance customers
7. Do not work more to fix overwhelm — prioritize
8. Do not carry a cellphone or Crackberry 24/7
9. Do not expect work to fill a void that non-work relationships and activities should

The concept, I thought, was interesting. By writing things I shouldn’t do, I’m indicated the habits I have that are counterproductive to my goals — or sanity.

So here’s my “not-to-do” list for Monday:

• Do not watch any reality TV. At least for today. “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” isn’t helping me improve my life.
• Do not read e-mail messages and not respond. Just respond and get it over with.
• Do not drink Diet Coke after 6 p.m. All that caffeine and aspartame can’t be good for anyone.
• Do not skip lunch. Go out. Get out of the office. It will make the rest of the workday bearable.
• Do not come up with a dozen excuses to avoid running today. Just suck it up and do it. I’ll be glad that I did.
• Do not write another to-do list. Not until this one is done.

So what’s on your “not-to-do” list today?


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