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Using a To Don’t List to Manage Time

Time management experts (including me) stress the importance of having a “To Do” list and you can’t move these days without being assailed by the plethora of options available.  This list, updated and prioritized daily will help you identify and execute the most urgent things but it will not help you identify the things that you should eliminate from your day.

While a To Do List is essential, it is a purely tactical tool. Strategic Time Management requires a different approach, and at the heart of the time edge is the “To Don’t List”. This is an important concept that flows directly from Unbundling  Identification From Action and Controlling the Tyranny of the Urgent, and it involves creating a list of all the things that you identify that are candidates for elimination.

Note that I said “candidates”. This doesn’t mean that you have committed, or even decided, to get rid of them. Rather it is a fearless inventory of all the things that don’t belong in your day. It is the equivalent of allowing yourself to dream. The collection process has nothing to do with how you’re going to get rid of the items you put on the list, which becomes an inventory for detailed analysis that will come later in the process.

The To Don’t List is a formal, written list that you produce regularly. Unlike the To Do List, you do nothing to execute at the time you add an item to the list, and this makes it a very liberating process. Normally, when we add things to our To Do List they eat up time. By stark contrast, the things we add to our To Don’t List create immediate potential payback in our mind.

The object of the exercise is to capture tasks that you don’t want to do and get them in one place where you can categorize, sort and use them to develop action plans at a later date. You will either be delegating, outsourcing or eliminating through process changes, but however they are to be eliminated doesn’t matter at this point.

Once you adopt the concept of separating identification from action, the next move is controlling of the tyranny of the urgent and finding the best ways to collect the data.
The following sections will analyze different techniques that you can use to identify activities for potential elimination. Before getting there, there are three concepts that need to be considered:

  •  Working Below Your Pay Grade
  •  Urgent and Important Activity Analysis
  •  Separating activities from results