Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all. ~ Peter Drucker
The world is full of them. You make them every day. And it’s getting harder… a lot harder
Never before in the history of the world have you seen such an abundance of choices. Just step into any super-market and try to pick out something as basic as a toothbrush. You’ll see 10s (if not 100s) of different options. Different brands, colors, sizes, shapes, handles, functions, manual, electric… it can get overwhelming.
You are faced with similar situations at home and at work. As the demands for your attention grow, you are presented with an abundance of choices. You cannot do it all (and you shouldn’t). You need to select how and where you spend your time so you can get the maximum return for your investment. In such situations (aka every day life), what you choose NOT to do is crucial.
The reason is simple: what you don’t do determines what you can do.
You already have a to-do list, now it’s time to create a NOT-to-do list.
How to create a not-to-do list
Take out your agenda / calendar for the last 30 to 60 days.
Do you have a personal assistant or a secretary? Have a chat with them as they should be quite familiar with how you spend your time.
Once you have collected all the data (the more, the better), block out 30 minutes and examine it.
Take a look at the activities that occupied the most time. Look at the recurring things you had to do. Which ones shouldn’t be there or you don’t want to be there in the future? Which ones were a waste of time, could’ve been delegated or outsourced?
This is the beginning of your not-to-do list.
Now let’s add some more to it.
Do not check e-mail first thing in the morning
Your email is nothing more than a nice organizing system for other people’s agendas. Treat it as such. Take care of your needs first. Have a morning routine free of email and the distractions it brings. Take care of your Most Meaningful Task (MMT). Only once you have had a productive start of the day, open your email for the first time and see what the world needs from you.
Do not check e-mail last thing at night
Nights are for sleeping. It is hard to fall asleep when you just read an email that is going to make the next day super busy and overwhelming. You’ll start thinking about it. You’ll start planning. You’ll have a hard time falling asleep, wake up tired and you’ll lack energy for the whole day. Count sheep before you fall asleep, not emails.
Do not agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time
Meetings and calls can be quite time consuming, especially when there is no clear end goal. This is especially true in the corporate world which is jam-packed with useless daily meetings about policies, sales quotas and other “important” topics that everyone should know about it.
Before you agree to attending a meeting or a call of any kind, ask for the purpose of the call, or at least for the agenda. Ask how long it is supposed to take. If you don’t get a clear answer to any of those, simply don’t take the appointment.
Do not multitask
Multitasking is sexy. The idea that you can do two or more things at the same time might seem like the holy grail of productivity. It isn’t. Technically speaking, you are not even multitasking, you are quickly switching between the various tasks. You brain cannot hold who thoughts at the same time (science agrees).
Single-task instead. Concentrate on one activity, clear out distractions, get the job done and only then move on to the next one.
Do not let people ramble
People like to talk. Some people don’t like to talk as much, but they have a hard time getting to the point, or even worse, switch from topic to topic forgetting there was a point in the first place. Don’t let them. Don’t give them the opportunity to ramble. Instead of “how are you?” ask “what can I do for you?” when someone calls you. Or tell them you are in middle of something so if they can keep it short, you don’t mind taking the call right now.
A big part of GTD is GTP — Getting To the Point (credit for this one goes to Tim Ferris)
Do not take your phone to the gym
Why do you go to the gym? To exercise (hopefully). Your phone does not belong there. Use gym time (or jog time) as your mental break. A break from calls, emails and messages. A break from the outside world. This is your time so don’t allow your phone to interrupt you.
“But I keep all my music on my phone and I need to take it”. No problem. Take it, but put it in “airplane mode” so it essentially becomes an mp3 player.
Do not bring electronics into the bedroom
Bedrooms are for sleeping (and for other things, wink, wink) and your gadgets don’t belong there. The blue light (the one that comes from any screen) is detrimental to your sleep quality. Plus, you increase your chances of being woken up in the middle of the night by a beep, ping or vibration coming from one of your 100s of apps, or from a random telemarketing call unaware of the time zone you are in.
Do not answer calls from unrecognized phone numbers
If the call is coming from an actual person (telemarketers are not considered people), or if it is important, they will leave a voice-mail which you can check at your convenience later on and get back to them. Unless you are expecting a really important call and you have no idea from which number it is going to come from, there is no real need to answer calls from unrecognized numbers.
Do not check e-mail constantly
Email is not actual productive work (unless you work in customer service). Email is just “busy work” and people spend up to 28% of their time doing it. Not a good idea. Instead of being left at the mercy of other people by having your email open all the time or getting yourself distracted when your phone vibrates with a new alert, set specific times for checking email. Once after you’ve had a productive morning, once in the afternoon and once in the early evening. You control your inbox, not the other way around. Always remember that.
Do not spend excessive time on social media
What’s excessive? 3.2 hours per day (the average time for people between the ages of 18 and 64 according to Ipsos). Sure, take a break, catch up with some Facebook friends, follow the trends of Twitter, check out the latest cool pics on Pinterest, but don’t let those activities ruin your productivity. Set a timer for 15 minutes and indulge as much as you can. But once the buzzer goes off, get back to work.
Do not eat in front of the TV
It is nasty habit (I speak from experience). Eating can be boring, especially if you have to do it by yourself. You fire up Netflix just to have something to do while you eat. “Just for 15 minutes” you say to yourself. Three 50-minute episodes of Game of Thrones, Grey’s Anatomy or [insert favorite TV show here] you wake up from this temporary black-out and you realize that half of your day is gone.
If you put food and TV together you open yourself up for the creation of some unhealthy habits. What should’ve been a 20-minute lunch becomes a 40-minute one because once you start watching something, you’d want to finish it. Or you’ll need to have a snack every single time you sit in front of the big black box because your brain associates TV with food so your cravings will kick in. Not because you are hungry, but because it’s a habit.
Either way, TV and food should not be combined.
Do not read or watch mass media news
When was the last time you read a major newspaper or flipped on the news channel and there were news about something good happening? A very long time ago. If you follow mass media, you might start believing that the world is a terrible place full of murderers, pain, suffering, global economic crisis and we are all either getting fatter, more stupid or we are going to die sooner than what we expected. It is hard to want to get out of bed, not mention be productive, if that is your belief about the world.
Go on a news fast. Limit the amount of negativity that you intake. If you still miss following the news, opt in for reading this kind of stories.
Do not try to form more than one new habit at a time
Positive change can be addictive. You introduce a new habit and you start seeing the results. You feel good so you want to do more. You might be tempted to add another change. Fight the urge. If you introduce too much novelty into your routine, you might run short of will power and start self-sabotaging your success.
Do not try to be perfect
Perfect is the enemy of good. ~ Voltaire
Life is not about being perfect, but about getting things done. You cannot achieve absolute perfection. There is always a little more you can do, a little thing you can improve and tweak. Plus, even if you do all of those improvements, who says it is going to be “perfect”? Perfection is subjective and the strive for it can stop your progress dead in its tracks. Do the best you can with the time and resources you got. Get the job done. Let go of the need for perfection.
Do not spend time thinking about anything beyond your control
Can you do something about it? If the answer is “no”, don’t even worry about it. If it is outside of your control, spending time thinking and worrying about it won’t change the facts. Accept it, make peace with it, move on.
Do not do anything you can delegate to somebody else
Time the most precious resource you have. You should be spending it (at least the majority of it) in two types of activities: things that you are the absolute best at or things that you enjoy. Everything else should be delegated or outsourced. Don’t enjoy paying your own personal bills? Outsource it. You are good at web design, but not the best ? Outsource it to someone better.
Life is too short to be bogged down with doing things that you don’t enjoy. Outsource and delegate as much as you can.
Over to you now
How and where you choose to spend your time is the bloodline of your personal and business productivity. Examine what you do on a regular basis and you’ll likely find things that you should not be doing. Create a not-to-do list. Knowing what not to do can be as important as knowing what to do.
What activities are on your not-to-do list? Share in the comment section below: