Why you need a not-to-do list in 2023

Why you need a not-to-do list in 2023

Does your to-do list make you feel rubbish? A not-to-do list might be the answer.

Could a ‘not-to-do’ list be a better option? Jill Bausch, a leadership coach and former CEO of Futures Group Europe, reckons so. 

“People are so pressured by their to-do lists that they often don’t properly consider priorities, and when your priorities are off-kilter, you risk becoming professionally insecure or burnt out,” Bausch tells Stylist. “Without relentlessly prioritising, you often lower the quality of your output on the work and home front.”

What is a not-to-do list?

It’s simple: a not-to-do list is a list of things you don’t need to do. 

This doesn’t mean just sticking on every possible task in the world (skydiving, dating Brad Pitt, etc), but instead being conscious of requests that come your way and working out if they really need to go on your to-do list… or if they instead belong on your not-to-do list. 

“Get out your to-do list and move some items to a not-to-do list,” Bausch recommends. “Consider each item: does it have to be done now or today? If not, put it on today’s not-to-do list. Say no to items that aren’t vital to do today.

“Think: will this one thing matter in a week, in a month? If the answer is no, zap it to your not-to-do-list in a nanosecond.”

Essentially, a not-to-do list is a practice in saying ‘no’ and being more strategic about what you take on. It’s for all those requests that come in at work that really aren’t your job, for tasks that don’t need to be done today, for things that aren’t that important, and for stuff you just aren’t able to take on right now. 

How a not-to-do list can help you

Having a not-to-do list is a bit like having a massive bin in your brain. Rather than letting your mind get cluttered with stuff that belongs in the rubbish, you can quickly sort out trash into a receptacle and put it out of sight and out of mind. That helps to lessen the mental load of thinking about all the tasks swimming around in your periphery – you’ll know that if it’s on your not-to-do list you don’t need to think about it today. 

A not-to-do list can also be a way to delegate and prioritise. As tasks come in, ask yourself: does this belong on my to-do list, on someone else’s, or is it not worth anyone doing for now?  

Bausch says: “I sometimes ask myself, ‘What don’t I need to spend my time on?’ and make delegation decisions. I ask: ‘Is this task better suited to another team member?’ and ‘Can I delegate this to anyone else so I can focus on things I have to do myself?’ 

“Sometimes, however, the task is mine and mine alone. Knowing the difference between what you can delegate and what you alone must do makes managing professional and personal lives life far simpler and happier.”

Delegating where possible, saying no to things you needn’t do, and streamlining your to-do list by having a dedicated place for what you’re not doing can all work together to help you better manage your time and feel more on-top of your admin. 

Bausch adds: “Creating a not-to-do list, to complement your to-do list, is a proactive decision-making practice that helps you divide responsibilities among your team, avoid doing work that others should do, focus on the elements that you must do, and manage team members’ activities so that each person contributes, doesn’t overwork, and gives you their best efforts. 

“The not-to-do list is a tool of self- and team-management that can be very valuable in relieving stress and burnout. Remember, relentlessly prioritise, then focus on the win.”

Jill Bausch is the former CEO of Futures Group Europe, leadership coach, philanthropic strategist, and author of Why Brave Women Win, published by Leaders Press.

Image: Getty

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