A not to do list and why you should have one


The great thing about process time is that it lets us do just that – process; take a step back from the breakneck speed of life at work and concentrate more on the ‘How’ and less on the ‘What’ of our (working) lives.

Process time helps us to digest, plan, make strategies for problem solving and set up an action plan before we launch ourselves headlong into our tasks…

And then we are there – up to our necks in phones calls, mails, reports to write, meetings, tasks that get added to the piles, client visits blogs to read ;-) and any other number of demands on our time.

Process time is where we take a step back, or a step out, and examine what we are going to – sometimes how we are going to do it and sometimes how we are going to live our lives in between ..

Some people are sticklers for lists and I can understand that – there is a very satisfying feeling when tasks get crossed-off the list and we actually feel that we have achieved things in our working day.

Don’t rely on the memory – keep it on paper (perhaps) and have a look at it – wow, aren’t we the productive ones … there’s an app for that … probably.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I think that lists work for some people – Mindmaps work better for others – whichever you choose, it is often a good way of getting a handle on the day.

Well, that’s great, but there are just a few points here:

The list doesn’t get any smaller – often one task will generate at least two others – that must be someone or other’s law there, so we cannot really cross it off as done as there are outstanding problems to solve.

Lists are hard to prioritise – today’s number 1 priority could become this afternoon’s N°7 priority as things move organically in an ecologic conspiracy to entrap the most ardent of list builders and organisers among us.

Discipline is another issue – how many of us are more attracted to the quick-fix task that can be done and dusted in a short time, thus reducing the length of the to-do list?

I’m sure that we are often guilty of spending time on those tasks that we enjoy more than the endless mundane chores that give little, or no, return on our time and efforts – I know I do.

Sticking to the job at hand can be difficult and sometimes almost impossible, not only from cracks in our own discipline, but also due to unforeseen or outside factors – effectively throwing the To-Do list to the four winds.

OK, so now we need to act! To do something that will help us all get done the things that need to be done.

I’m talking about creating a ‘Not-To-Do’ list – you know all those little tasks that eat away at the seconds and minutes, that then grow into hours during the weeks, months and years at work, stopping us doing what really needs to be done.

Think about the Pareto principle – 20% of the work brings in 80% of the revenue – if we are focused on the important things – or 20% of the revenue is generated from 80% of the work – oops, that doesn’t look right – yes, and it shouldn’t look right, as this is far too much effort for far too small a gain.

Process time should also entail a certain element of discretion in choosing tasks that bring value – to the organisation and to the person performing them – some tasks that we routinely carry out, do not achieve this.

We should, obviously, be looking at what we need to do – but, equally, at what we do not need to do – yes! The famous Not-To-Do list!

Here are some tips to create your own Not-To-Do List :

  1. Turn off the indicator that lets you know when a new mail has landed in your in-box – check your mails 3 or 4 times in the afternoon and the same in the morning. Break the chains that are harnessing you to your mailbox.
  2. Write clearer, simpler mails and only when you have to – think of more face-to-face time with people (more will mean less in the long run) which can easily short-circuit a long ping-pong of mails that will often terminate in a face to face meeting anyway.
  3. Never send emails to people in the same office.
  4. Don’t send emails by just pressing the “reply to all” function – you are wasting your own and a whole lot of other people’s time.
  5. Don’t invite people who don’t have a key role in a meeting to a meeting – inviting people just to be polite will not gain you friends nor anything else.
  6. Don’t eat lunch at your desk – get out, get some air, change your environment – clear your head – you will be more productive afterwards anyway.
  7. If you are engaged in a task, turn your telephone off, or divert your desk phone – you need to concentrate fully – even on vibrator, the phone is a distraction, you will look at the screen to see who is calling and some of these calls you will inevitably answer.
  8. File things on shared disks or on the server that can be re-used by others – don’t reinvent the wheel – it is fine as it is !
  9. Schedule meetings just before lunchtime or near the end of the day if you need decisions or rapid feedback – people will generally act quicker and more efficiently if they think that their time is going to be encroached upon.
  10. Stop telling yourself that you can’t do something – of course if you tell yourself this, you are naturally right – you are too, if you say you cando it. Negative self-talk doesn’t help in any way, apart from sapping energy levels and creating barriers – Don’t do it!
  11. Spend time with negative or manipulative people – what do you expect to gain here? Leave them well alone – they will fuel you with pessimism, negativity and fatigue – don’t go there!
  12. Don’t answer a cellphone, where the caller’s number is masked – if it is important they will leave a message or get back to you – otherwise you will spend hours talking to the world’s greatest peddlers of snake-oil who will then tell their friends to call and waste your time too.
  13. If you use Outlook, Thunderbird, MacMail or Lotus Notes, get your inbox organised – establish rules for mails so that the majority get filed where you need to find them, for a lot that will mean the rubbish bin.
  14. Don’t horde any form of information – remember the 3 rules and choose one: 1. Actionit / 2. Fileit 3. Bin it – handle information once only (where possible).
  15. Remember that there is a balance to be struck between work and life – do not take work home and do not habitually work late into the evening – there are only so many miles that a car can travel on a tank of fuel.
  16. Remember that there is a family / work balance to be struck – ensure that your work doesn’t encroach on this – you need family time andsome ‘me‘ time.
  17. Ensure that there is a family / partner balance – family time is important but so too is the time you spend with your partner – remember, that person who was your friend before the kids came along ? This is a hugely important aspect of life-balance that is often overlooked…
  18. Ensure that you have time for yourself as a person – hobbies, sport, pastimes, interests or associative work – take this time. Do not neglect this.
  19. Do not put things off until the last minute – procrastination leads to high stress levels, although some people claim to need this impulsion to get fully motivated. The reality is that things get dropped into your lap at the last moment, so leaving things to the latest date you will be running the risk of having another N°1 priority landing at the same moment, which may be very difficult to manage effectively without breaking at least three of the above rules.
  20. Don’t forget your Not-To-Do list – it is so easy to slip back into old ways – you don’t need this, do you?

It’s great to concentrate our focus on getting things done – but it is only really possible once we have weeded out all of the parasites and interferences that distract us from being highly effective people.

Get your ‘Not-To-Do’ List together and pin it to a wall in your eye-line, and when you are tempted to do those old things that stole your time in the past, added to your stress and dissatisfaction and generally left you with a feeling of non-achievement – Stop!

Active Learning Solutions

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