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The Not-to-do List: The most effective list to boost your productivity

As the quote suggests, the first time I heard about The Not-to-do List was from Tim Ferriss’ blog.

I have to completely agree with Tim on not-to-do lists being more effective than to-do lists. This is basically a fixed list of things that you commit to not doing.

By not doing certain things we can limit “busy work”, increase our focus, keep our priorities in check, and overall live a less stressful life.

My Not-to-do List:

1. Do not use notifications on your phone

I don’t have any audible or vibrating notifications on my phone. The reason: It is very distracting and disconnects me constantly from what I’m doing, or from the person I’m sharing time with.

If it is an important communication, people will call, so don’t worry about missing out.

2. Do not check email at bed

I don’t check emails first thing in the morning, I do this to avoid de-railing from my priorities and letting others push theirs into my day. I also avoid reading emails before sleeping for two reasons: 1. If I get my mind working I won’t be able to fall ASLEEP easily, and 2. Blue light, which comes from devices like mobiles, tablets or computers, excites the production of melatonin in the brain, which will make sleeping more difficult.

3. Do not stress for low-impact problems

You can tell the size of a man by the size of things that bother him. Whenever a problem arises, I inspect it to decide if it’s worth my time. If is a low-impact or unimportant problem, I delegate it and forget about it. If I can’t delegate, I don’t deal with it as if it were urgent.

4. Do not engage into negativity-filled conversations

This kind of conversations are very taxing on energy, they are normally promoted by energy vampires that will suck the life out of you if you let them.

If it’s a conversation that you can’t avoid, such as if a subordinate needs to vent, then try to flip the tone of the conversation: ask the person what he/she (not you) can do to improve the situation? And if it’s above their area of influence, then ask what you can do so he/she can move on.

5. Do not consume media aimlessly

I don’t watch, listen or read the news. I don’t go browsing the web to find material to consume either. The news are generally very negative, and most of the time don’t really add value to my life. Also, if it is something important, most of the people talk about it, so I still get informed of events that might impact me.

For the media to read and watch, I usually pick from curated sources, like Pocket’s Recommendations, Farnam Street, Tim Ferriss Blog, etc.

6. Do not multitask

When I was a teenager, multitasking was considered to be linked with more productivity, so I was a heavy multitasker. I know now that multitasking is awful for productivity, so I need to remind myself to not multitask.

Our brain doesn’t have the capacity to work on more than one thing at a time, so when we claim to “multitask”, we are actually switching between tasks. For our brains to fully recover the lost concentration after switching tasks, it may take up to 15 minutes, although a study concluded the average time is actually 23 minutes. For example, by doing two 20 minutes tasks in “multitasking” mode, it could take up to 1 or 1.5 hours, instead of the 40 minutes it would take if you only do the second task after completing the first one.

Part of the problem is that we feel we are being productive while multitasking, so we get a positive dopamine release as a reward, which reinforces the bad habit of multitasking.

I have more items on my Not-to-do List, but these are the work-study related ones.

Try making your own Not-to-do List and keep it visible to remind you to stick to it!

This post is an extracted adaptation from one of the chapters of my book: Become Super Productive.