I left my phone tucked next to my pillow this weekend like it was a hotel chocolate waiting for me to discover it later. Despite my smart phone being the requisite link to my social world, job, family, and navigating where to eat a taco—I needed a break from the constant demand of text messages, phone calls, and email responses. And you know what? My friends and family hardly cared that I texted them back 12 hours later.
In those silken hours of uninterrupted time I went for a walk in the winter sun, read for hours, and dined at a swank midcentury steakhouse without once fact-checking my conversation via Google. And my conversations went deeper, my shoulders untensed, and in those long pauses when I would have been looking at my phone new ideas bubbled up. One of those ideas? We’re so set on creating our endless daily “to-do” lists, what if instead we swapped them up for a “not-to-do” list in 2019?
A not-to-do list is exactly what it sounds like. It involves making a list of things that you can consciously abandon, or decide are not worth your time, in order to increase your productivity and work life balance. In our digital age we are hit with so many things calling out for our immediate attention, whether it’s from our email, Slack, or dating apps, a not-to-do list can help prioritize the most worthwhile way to spend our time.
“The wisdom of the crowd does not pertain to your productivity. So you have to get creative about finding out how to not engage in practices that are standard for your colleagues, but perhaps counter-productive for you.”
A not-to-do list may sounds like it was created by stoners (and people like me who quit technology for, um, a few hours) but, in fact, many have championed the idea. Numerous journalists, thinkers, and authors who study beneficial work habits have zeroed in on the concept because productivity is as much about what you don’t do as what is on our bloated to-do lists.
One such individual Jocelyn K. Glei, the host of the popular podcast Hurry Slowly. Glei writes on her blog, “In this age of distraction, we’re all dodging and weaving between so much incoming information that what you don’t do on a daily basis has become as important—if not more—as what you do execute on.”
Here’s a list of things that Glei does not do while she works: Schedule morning meetings, listen to music or radio with words, look at emails until she has done 90-minutes of truly productive work, eat lunch at her desk, and use Slack, among many other seemingly mandatory tasks.
While many of us may be required to be on Slack for our job, there are other things that we can set limits on in our daily lives. Some not-to-do list items on my agenda for 2019? One day out of seven where I do absolutely no work, one day where I don’t drive, and blocking off parts of my calendar as “busy” to get more writing or creative brainstorming done.
“Here’s a list of things that Glei does not do while she works: Schedule morning meetings, listen to music or radio with words, look at emails until she has done 90-minutes of truly productive work, eat lunch at her desk, and use Slack.”
Of course, my not-to-do list is going to look different than yours. I know it’s a privilege that I can abandon my phone for hours at a time and have a no-car day. Every person’s not-to-do list is its own unique snowflake as Glei notes: “Generally speaking, the wisdom of the crowd does not pertain to your productivity. So you have to get creative about finding out how to not engage in practices that are standard for your colleagues, but perhaps counter-productive for you.”
What are other ways that you can create your own not-to-do list? The first step is to look at your big picture goals and what you want to achieve. Work-life balance is a priority for me, but your goal might be launching your side hustle into a full-time gig or whittling away a chunk of time to learn some new skills.
According to productivity experts, once you are clear on where you want to be in your career in a year to six months from now, that can help you crystalize the daily things you can do that make up your not-t0-do list. After determining what your daily tasks are to reach your goal examine your usual to-do lists, how does each item relate to your goal?
If an item is dragging you—for example, my attention-sucking dynamic with my phone was preventing me from being present and relaxing during the weekend—then simply drop it. Like it’s hot.