There is something incredibly satisfying about crossing a completed task off your to-do list, but if you want to maximize your productivity, you may also want to consider making a “to-don’t” list. Creating this list is an exercise in recognizing what you don’t actually need in your life, and which areas you can scale back on. The items on your to-don’t list are the tasks you should avoid for the sake of your focus, performance, and well-being.
For example, Wharton professor and author Adam Grant told TED Ideas about the tasks he’s cut out of his life — including using screens without having a concrete intention in mind. We asked members of the Thrive Global community to share items they put on their to-don’t list, and how it helps them thrive. You may want to borrow some of these.
Falling into the procrastination trap
“Don’t procrastinate, deny your tendencies, or beat yourself up.”
—Bill Ryan, business coach, Charlotte, N.C.
Finishing a book or movie you don’t enjoy
“Don’t feel pressured to finish a book or a movie just because you started it — time is precious. If you don’t enjoy or benefit from it, skip it and change it to a movie or book you truly love.”
—Jonathan Verhaeghe, personal finance blogger, Luxembourg
Doing tasks that can be delegated
“Doing projects I know should be delegated is at the top of my to-don’t list. I often don’t have time to train that person with the essentials to do the job.”
—Diane J., EA, Boston, MA
Working late on a regular basis
“As a mum and business owner, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of working late nights and burning out when your family needs you the most. I also don’t work every night — in fact, I’ve made it a rule to only work late for one or two nights, and only if I have to.”
—Sarah Lloyd, PR business owner and mum, Hampshire, U.K.
Attending every social event you’re invited to
“I don’t participate in social events with people where there’s a low chance of getting to know someone. This usually includes big parties that are just really for drinking and letting off steam. I reserve my social time for small group meetings where I can intimately get to know someone. I equate ‘being social’ to ‘getting to know someone.’”
—Kenny Ho, software engineer, New York, N.Y.
Spending time with naysayers
“Naysayers block your positive energy, discourage thinking outside the box, and undermine your opportunities for success. Be positive, it’s such a great source of energy!”
—Trish Tonaj, author, coach and speaker, Toronto, Canada
Forcing yourself to complete a task when you’ve run out of steam
“I don’t force myself to complete a task when it’s just not working. Instead, I think it through as much as possible, jot down some thoughts, and then I walk away — literally. I make a cup of tea, go for a walk, or if I’m home and it’s after-hours, I take a shower. Turning off my brain somehow turns it back on, takes the pressure off and allows it to make the right connections, put words together correctly, and solve whatever problems were stumping me. Suddenly, the task is easy, not impossible, and takes much less time than it would have if I’d just sat there feeling frustrated.”
—Dawn Yanek, content creator and founder, Mount Kisco, N.Y.
Starting your day with a business call
“When we moved to Florida, I created very clear boundaries for how I begin each day, starting with coffee, long pup walks, and journaling. On my almost absolute ‘to don’t’ list is to never start my day with a business call or text, or to have a client appointment before at least the first two have occurred. Sometimes the journaling has to wait, but this walk with my dogs benefits both them and us. It gives me time to practice walking meditation in nature, and provides daily quality time with my family before anything can disrupt my best laid plans.”
—Susan J. Hilger, certified life and leadership coach, St. Petersburg, FL
Reaching for your tech devices when you wake up
“I don’t reach for my iPhone or laptop immediately upon waking up. There’s no need to start my day by looking at someone else’s social media highlight reel. It’ll just give me a comparison hangover! Not doing this helps ensure that I don’t start my day in a bad mood.”
—Tanya Brown, intuitive business coach, Hoboken, N.J.
Taking back-to-back meetings
“I say no to back-to-back meetings as often as possible to ensure that I have a break to perform at my best. With some exceptions, I also limit my meetings to a maximum of 30 minutes. I have a booking calendar with 15 minute slots, which is my preference.”
—Carolyn L., marketing consultant, Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Doing your taxes yourself
“I put doing my own tax return on my to-don’t list. In all honesty, I’m sure I could work out how to do it myself, but I just don’t consider it a good use of my time. Delegating my tax return to an accountant helps me thrive because I can focus my time, energy, and brain space on the parts of my business that I love and am good at. It also reassures me that it’s done properly — I wouldn’t want to stay up in the middle of the night worrying about it.”
—Vicky Shilling, wellness business coach, Dublin, Ireland
Letting your thoughts spiral out of control
“My ‘to-don’t’ list includes overthinking and taking part in negative self-talk during rare moments of solitude. Instead of spiraling into self-deprecating thoughts, fears, doubts, and my never-ending ‘to-do’ list, I practice mindfulness. By focusing on my breathing and practicing gratitude on a daily basis, I become more self-aware and present in every moment.”
—Tina Chow, content creator, Ontario, CA
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