When it comes to productivity, the mind often goes to to-do lists. 

Whilst to-do lists are important and a staple in productivity systems, it is also important to consider what is on your not-to-do list (or stop doing list). This is a list of behaviours, activities, or habits that you don’t do (or are trying not to do), across your work and/or personal life.

Establishing, understanding, and sticking to your not-to-do list can greatly improve your productivity, as you may find yourself more protective of your time and limited resources, and selective with how you use them. It is important that you're dedicating time to only those things that matter. 


Source: Safely Endangered Web Toon 

Some questions to ask yourself

When considering what should be on your not-to-do list, ask yourself these questions:​

  • What value does the task provide/add?
  • How do I feel when I’m doing the task? (Is it emotionally draining? Does it make me happy? etc)
  • Do I feel guilt, anger or frustrated after completing the task?
  • Can this be delegated?
  • Does it negatively impact my relationships?
  • Is it bad/good for my health?

Spend the time now, don’t waste it later 

Now, keeping these questions in mind - spend some time, not 5 mins, but maybe an hour, on retrospection. Make a list of all your tasks from the last week, or previous weeks - in particular the recurring ones. If you’re putting a not-to-do list together for personal and work, make sure to cover everything. Consider any patterns, as well as any outliers.

You may find that a lot of items on your not to-do list are recurring as you may have formed a bad habit here and there. 

Now that you have an exhaustive list, it’s time to systematically go through and ask the above questions against each item.

Be ruthless

Whilst going through your retrospective list, try your best to be brutally honest. It’s just you you’re working with. Are there tasks listed that help you procrastinate? Are there things that you just need to say no to? Are there items you know deep down you should stop doing, but haven’t yet? Be ruthless with where your energy and time goes. 

A jug of water labelled Our Resources full of water and six glasses underneath that it could poor into

Image credit: Aletheia Délivré

Refine regularly

As you develop your not-to-do list, it’s important to regularly reflect and refine. There will be things you may have originally believed didn’t add value, but your role changes and now they do. Or things that previously brought you joy, that no longer do.

Our not-to-do list

Now, you want to see ours, don’t you..? 👀

Thought so. 🤔

The below is some of our not-to-do’s. Remember, this list is reviewed regularly; hopefully it’ll help to get you started.​

  • Do not spend too much time on social media (You define and decide how much is too much)
  • Do not go to bed with your phone
  • Do not look at your phone first thing in the morning
  • Do not accept meeting requests with no specified end time or clear agenda
  • Do not expect to like everyone, or for everyone to like you
  • Do not eat heavy meals/food after 8pm
  • Do not be too tough on yourself
  • Do not stay indoors all day
  • Do not have meals at your desk
  • Do not say yes when you want to say no
  • Do not neglect your health
  • Do not answer calls from unknown numbers 

‘No’ is the hardest word 

When we were putting our not-to-do list together, it became clear that a lot of things that kept coming up, (a pattern of regularly occurring activities) could have been eliminated if we had just said no. But saying no is so hard at times. Learning to say no to both yourself and others is a really great skill to have. But, it takes time and practice.

We suggest that you come up with a few polite ways to say no in person and email, so that you always have an approach that works for you. The first few times you may feel guilty for saying no, or feel the need to provide an explanation. The more you do it, the easier it’ll become.

"It’s only by saying ‘no’ that you can concentrate on the things that are really important" - Steve Jobs

How is your list looking now?

Are there a few obvious things to add? A few you’re not too sure about? Remember this list will constantly evolve! 

Remember, what you don’t do, greatly impacts what you can do.

Each morning (or night, depending on how you work) when you’re putting your to-do list together (try using Llama Life, a productivity tool that helps you work through your list), don’t forget to consider your not-to-do list. Hopefully it becomes an automatic step of your productivity system.

Good luck! 

A llama wearing sunglasses with text Llama Life is the most fun you'll have with your to-do list