Productivity: The Not-To-Do List

“The original lists were probably carved in stone and represented longer periods of time. They contained things like 'Get More Clay. Make Better Oven.'”
–David Viscott, American psychiatrist and author

“Sometimes our stop-doing list needs to be bigger than our to-do list.”
–Patti Digh, Four-Word Self-Help: Simple Wisdom for Complex Live

I love to-do lists. I love carving out some time in the morning to create a small list of tasks for the day. I love checking off the boxes indicating that I’ve done something. I love the fresh smell of accomplishment knowing that my day was well spent. To-do lists can be an invaluable practice for getting things done and moving work goals forward. Just as valuable as creating to-do lists is coming up with a not-to-do list. The latter is a list of things that we decide not to engage in so that we don’t fill our time with frivolous and unnecessary activities.


There’s certainly a lot of things that we can do in life. Like climb a mountain. Or start a non-profit organization. Or buy a dozen cats. But just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. In fact, doing the wrong things can be quite detrimental to our goals in life. Engaging in the wrong things could sap away precious time, energy, and money and hinder us from progressing in the things that bring lasting value and fulfillment. And so having a not-do-list is valuable for orienting us in the right direction and for eliminating the things that ultimately don’t matter. I will then have more time, energy, and money for the things that do matter such as building my relationship with God, serving others, and making disciples.

The number one item on my not-to-do list is watching TV (see post here). TV used to take up a couple of valuable hours each day. Having rid myself of television, I now have more time to spend with God or to meet with people or to get proper rest. Other things that fall into my personal not-to-do list include:

  • Checking Facebook and email in the morning (see post here)
  • Going to the movies (unless there’s a really good reason to do so)
  • Traveling the world (most people have this on their to-do list)
  • Running a marathon (something I’ve wanted to do but realized it’s not worth the additional time spent training)
  • Recording a music album (I’m not talented enough anyway!)
  • Shopping for new clothes (both a time and money saver)

By saying “no” to these things (see post here), I am able to utilize the extra time, energy, and money for the things that really matter to God and to me.

Now of course, I don’t put every single thing down on my not-to-do list. But I do jot down the things that I know I’ll be easily tempted to engage in and that will ultimately distract me from my goals. The aim of a not-to-do list is to help bring focus to our lives by refining the activities that we do. In order to focus on the things that really matter, we’re going to have to eliminate as many distractions as possible. And so, take some time to list down the distractions in your life and add the appropriate ones to your not-to-do list. You might want to review your list every so often to remind you of the things you’ve decided not to do in life. This will hopefully give you a better understanding of who you are and help you focus on doing the things that really matter in the end.