How to Create Your Don’t Do List for Increased Productivity

I have been preparing to teach the last 2 modules of my 12 part Star Achievement Series to a long-time client in Charlotte in early August.

In so doing, I came across a piece I love, but can’t take credit for and want to share it with you. I bet like me, you never thought about creating a Don’t Do list. By the way, I love Daniel Pink’s work and encourage you to dig deeper into the resources he offers.

Please feel free to share this with your colleagues and family.

The Law of “Don’t Do”
By Daniel Pink (The Flip Manifesto)

(The two most influential management gurus), Jim Collins and Tom Peters have long advised companies what to do. But both suggest that the secret to high performance for individuals is deciding what not to do. For instance, if you’re reading this at your desk, somewhere within an arm’s length is your “to-do” list. Many of us can’t imagine daily life without it. A to-do list focuses our attention and delivers a delicious dose of dopamine to our brains each time we cross off an item.

Peters has nothing against to-do lists, but he says that they’re insufficient—that we should also create “to-don’t” lists. He recommends that we specify and enumerate what holds us back—the actions, behaviors and obligations that sap our energy, distract our attention and therefore ought to be avoided.

“Get rid of all the clutter that undermines your sense of focus,” Peters has advised. Your to-don’t list can help you illuminate what belongs on your to-do list. What you decide not to do is probably more important than what you decide to do.”

The key insight of both Peters and Collins is that we spend too much time on addition and not nearly enough on subtraction. Yet it’s only by taking away what doesn’t matter that allows us to reveal what does matter.

Daniel Pink dont do list
Homework Assignment

Here is a little assignment (contest) for you to complete today. Create your own Don’t Do list for this week and share it in the comments below. See if you can come up with at least 5 items and stick to your list. We’ll send one lucky winner the Get Things Done & Control Your Day online learning program.

Good luck!

Joan Burge

“A great piece of art is composed not just of what is in the final piece, but equally important, what is not. It is the discipline to discard what does not fit—to cut out what might have already cost days or even years of effort—that distinguishes the truly exceptional artist and marks the ideal piece of work, be it a symphony, a novel, a painting, a company or, most important of all, a life.” – Jim Collins


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17 thoughts on “How to Create Your Don’t Do List for Increased Productivity”

  1. Savannah Andrews

    1. Don’t procrastinate…..Just do it.
    2. Don’t snooze the alarm in the morning….Just get up when alarm goes off.
    3. Don’t sit in chair and roll to do things…..Just get up and move.
    4. Don’t drive around and around for the closer parking space…..Park far away to get more exercise.
    5. Don’t take elevator to 2nd floor…..Take the stairs.

  2. My To-Don’t List would be:

    1. Don’t over-commit by saying yes to every request.
    2. Don’t stress about 1 mistake – they happen – move on and focus on current activity.
    3. Don’t forget to encourage others. Positive thoughts less stress for all.
    4. Don’t forget to utilize your task list. Remove what is done and enter new items.
    5. Don’t put yourself last – you are the star of your own life!

  3. Alice Rezendes

    My To-Don’t List would be:
    1. Don’t read emails before or after work.
    2. Don’t let work be the top priority in my life.
    3. Don’t volunteer to work for any additional Executives.
    4. Don’t let small problems bother me.
    5. Don’t forget that this is the first day of the beginning of my life.

  4. I really like the concept of a To-Don’t list. My To-Don’t List:
    1. Don’t let other people’s personal problems and their need to talk take me away from getting my work done.
    2. Don’t let email be a constant distraction.
    3. Don’t feel the need to always be perfect.
    4. Don’t stress so much!
    5. Don’t stay up late every night to always be tired the next day.

  5. Oh, my! The things I shouldn’t do…
    1. don’t procrastinate – just do it!
    2. don’t sit so long; get up & move
    3. don’t hesitate to ask for help
    4. don’t pick up that “let me do just one more thing before…”
    5. don’t ignore the reminders – they were set for a reason!

    Thanks, Joan & Jasmine! Another timely reminder.

  6. I love that these are ranging from work to personal to psychological don’ts. Here are mine:
    1. Don’t leave your credit card in your wallet – you know you’ll spend money
    2. Don’t over extend yourself socially this month – your friends will live without you
    3. Don’t be so sedentary – 10 min yoga is not an effort
    4. Don’t read the comments on Facebook – they’ll just make you mad
    5. Don’t forget to look out of the window and breathe as you cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge – perfect way to start your day

    Thanks Joan – great reminder to lose the things that don’t help you.

    1. Congratulations, Jenn. Your name was drawn as our winner of the Get Things Done and Control Your Day program! I’ll be sending you an email with how to login and access your program shortly.

      1. Wow! Thank you Jasmine! I have received the log in details now and I’m looking forward to accessing the program. Thank you again.

  7. My Don’t Do List for This Week:

    1. Don’t wait until Friday to pack up stuff from the Board and Executive Office book cases behind my desk for the scheduled office carpet replacement happening Friday to Sunday

    2. Don’t delay getting staff members’ information for their ASTC conference registration now that the attendees’ list just became available this afternoon

    3. Don’t worry that I could only process four donation requests today, and perhaps for the week, since urgent conference registrations, plus booking flights and accommodation, for six people became a top priority today

    4. Don’t feel bad for taking time to write this list to Joan – because it’s 2:36pm and I’m having lunch at my desk and this is my time to relax (and I really want that online learning program Get Things Done & Control Your Day)

    5. Don’t dilly-dally when there is urgent work to be done, or I won’t be able to justify ‘not working’ spending an hour on this Wednesday’s webinar Solutions to the Travel Planning Problems

    6. Don’t spend any more time on this and get back to work – now that and I have actually laid out what needs to be done and by what days, and finishing up lunch

  8. Sat down this morning with my cup of coffee to think about this to-don’t list. I think I am so trained on identifying what I need to do that coming up with a list was more difficult than I thought. That being said, I have come up with 5 things on my to-don’t list: (1) Don’t read emails upon arrival; (2) Don’t sway from the schedule; (3) Don’t reward performance until the actions are complete; (4) Don’t eat fast food, ever; (5) Don’t procrastinate doing the important things.

  9. My list consists of the following:
    1. Do not check news and Yahoo websites more than twice a day.
    2. Do not eat out. Eat what I brought for breakfast and lunch and leftovers at home.
    3. Do not shop on the internet.
    4. Do not have a relaxing cocktail when I get home. Stick to water or herbal tea instead
    5. Do not turn on the T.V. when I get home. Go outside and walk instead.

  10. Barbara Corley

    Wow! What a great article and awesome homework assignment. I can really benefit from this. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Don’t check mailbox in front office more than twice a day (morning, afternoon)

    2. Don’t ignore “to-do” item reminders scheduled on calendar

    3. Don’t multi-task…..FOCUS!

    4. Don’t check email every time I see a new message. FOCUS!!

    5. Don’t allow papers to pile up on my desk. Causes distractions

  11. Shannon Zimmermann

    Don’t skip breakfast.
    Don’t talk myself out of exercising.
    Don’t spend money today.
    Don’t let inbox get out of control.
    Don’t stay up past 10 pm.

  12. I love this post! This week, my “to-don’t” list will include:

    1. Accept responsibility for/Try to fix problems that don’t belong to me
    2. Obsessively check my email, distracting me from projects that need my focus
    3. Get caught up in the office gossip
    4. Work excessively to the point where there is no “me” time left in the day
    5. Listen to the little voice inside my head that says “you can’t handle this”

  13. My To-don’t list would be:

    1. Don’t constantly check my emails
    2. Don’t let people pass on work they should be doing themselves
    3. Don’t over work!
    4. Don’t stress too much. I am not a brain surgeon, someone will not die!
    5. Don’t let work eat into family time!

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