To-do lists are helpful tools for many people, but they can quickly take over our lives, making daily living feel like just another item to cross off of a never-ending list. If you’re anything like us, you may even add easy tasks like ‘make coffee’ to your list, just to be able to cross off a win early in the day. Much like to-do lists can be great reminders of what we need to prioritize and focus on, creating a to-don’t list can help you remember what to avoid doing and make saying no to the things that don’t serve you a little easier.
Listen to this week’s episode of the rich & REGULAR podcast and keep reading for ways to develop a to-don’t list that may help you free up important time in your life.
To-do or to-don’t
Having a to-do list is often one of the best ways to prioritize what’s essential. It helps make sure you get the most important tasks completed first.
The to-don’t list works similarly, but it’s a conscious effort to avoid the things that either distract you from important work or that don’t help you achieve your goals. If you tend to get sucked into social media when you are meant to be working on a project, or find yourself distracted from your financial plan by chasing every shiny new investment opportunity, a to-don’t list might be a helpful way to avoid the things that drain you of time and energy.
Build your to-don’t list
Start by reflecting on your objectives and the things that are meaningful to you, such as work, family, community, health and finances. Then create a list of three to five activities you’d like to devote time to consistently. Your first couple might look something like this:
Goal: Family Time
- Spend Saturday mornings with your kids and let your partner sleep in.
- Spend time together without screens at least once a week.
- Have family dinner together at least four times per week.
Goal: Finances and Investments
- Set a financial check-in meeting with your partner once a month.
- Review all financial accounts weekly to confirm transactions.
- Read a new investment book once a month.
- Review financial goals once a quarter and document the progress made.
As you develop your list of things you want to either add or keep in your day-to-day life, remember to keep a lookout for the things that tend to get in your way, such as too much TV or unexpected work or social obligations.
If staying up too late watching tv during the week means you get a late start every morning and have to use the weekends to catch up on work, delaying the time you spend with your family, note that off to the side for further exploration. Perhaps you say yes too often to tasks you don’t want to do, which means you don’t have as much time to devote to self improvement or fitness.
Reflect on your priorities
Once you have a list of your intentions and actions, spend some time creating a separate list of your daily routine, including the most mundane, such as getting dressed or brushing your teeth. A spreadsheet or internet template that keeps track of time in fifteen minute intervals might be helpful for this. Remember that the point isn’t that you’re going to stop all tasks that don’t directly benefit your stated objectives, but to see where your time goes, especially when you’re not thinking about it explicitly and default to a mindless activity.
Next, compare your two lists and draw lines or assign numbers to your goals and the daily tasks that help you achieve them. Examine anything left over in the tasks list for items that distract you from making strides towards the life you want.
Say no to the right things
Once you have your list of tasks that don’t contribute to your happiness, try to find patterns in the things that aren’t serving you. As you reflect, you may find that saying yes to a work invitation that didn’t interest you, but you feel obligated to attend, keeps you from making progress, or that you avoid intimidating projects with screen time or other mindless activities.
Knowing where you spend your time can help you make sure you are devoted to the right tasks and help you move your plans forward.
Don’t forget to rest
Although focusing on your targets is essential, make sure that you also build in time to rest. Use some of your newfound time from the to-don’t list to daydream or go on a walk so that you can think about what you want to focus on in the future, not just the intentions you’ve set currently.
Keep your to-don’t list handy as a reminder of the things that drain your time and energy and as a way to help you stay focused on your goals.