Need to boost your productivity? Make a not-to-do list

Career psychologist Sinead Brady believes deciding what you don't want to do focuses the mind more than a traditional to do list ever could

To-do-lists need no introduction – they are the lists of tasks that you ‘want’ to get to before the end of the day, starting off with the most to the least important tasks. As you work your way through your day you tick off (or viciously scribble out) the things you have completed.

In theory their function is to get you organised so that you feel that life is more manageable, and ultimately boost your productivity.

If to-do-lists work for you, you are in the lucky half of the world’s population. For the rest of us, to-do-lists get usurped by the business of the day and tend to get longer as the day goes on. Half finished items get ticked off in a desperate bid to feel like you have achieved something. And if you are anything like me you are more likely to spot a unicorn than to actually get to the end of one!


But what about replacing your To-Do-List with a Not-to-Do list to jumpstart your productivity? Remember, what you don’t do determines what you can do. And in a world where distractions are constant, the not-to-do list becomes your saviour outlining the things that you refuse to be distracted by.

Create Not-To-Do List

  1. Find 15 minutes today to sit down with a pen and paper in hand. This is a once-off exercise so no excuses. Find the 15 minutes and make it work hard for you. Trust me, you will be amazed at your mindset shift.
  2. Write out all of the tasks that you do as part of your role.
  3. Circle your high, medium and low priority tasks in different colour pens. I use the traffic light system for this- red for high priority, orange for medium priority and green for low priority tasks.
  4. Take a second to figure out what your most common distractions or what the low priority tasks are that you get caught up in that soak up your time and energy.
  5. Once you have collated the data, boil it down into three or four personal distractions that are your productivity vampires.

Common Offenders

There are certain things that we all do, typically at the start of the day, that bring us down a rabbit hole. Here are some of the most common offenders that need to be on your not-to-do list.

  1. Never check emails first thing in the morning. This is an alien concept perhaps, but your inbox is full of distractions that drag you into a downward spiral in terms of productivity. Instead of checking emails first thing in the morning, start your day with the most meaningful task you have to complete. Get your head around it and start to work on it. Once you have your day off to a productive start, then check your emails.
  2. Do not constantly check your emails or social feeds or your phone. Instead allocate specific times to check in on your phone, emails and social feeds. Some of the most successful people in the world, including Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Birchbox’s Katia Beauchamp and Arianna Huffington operate strict rules around checking emails. Each take the approach that once in the morning, once at mid-day and once in the afternoon is sufficient to run their empires! All three never check emails or phones for 30 minutes before bed or when they are with their family.
  3. Forget multitasking! The notion that it is possible to do more than one thing at a time, and to do both well, is nonsense. Fact, your brain cannot do two things or hold two thoughts at the same time. Instead, concentrate on doing one thing well for 25 minutes without distraction. Take a 5-minute break, get up and get out for some fresh air, grab a coffee or have a quick check-in with a colleague and get straight back to work.
  4. Keep it brief – too many not-to-do’s will paralyse you from action. The key here is to free up your time so that you have the opportunity to be productive and not just busy.

When you have your not-to-do list ready, write it out. Put it somewhere that you can see it and remind yourself that the new, improved and more productive you has a list of things that you don’t do, so that you can do the things you need to do to the best of your ability.  


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