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The "To Don't" List

Most any business management book or website will offer the to-do list as one of the necessary tools for good time management. The to-do list is such a vital tool that you can find customized lists for performing necessary tasks as well as apps for keeping up with your list electronically. The to-do list is so important that Google has more than 2 billion listings for the tool.

The "To Don't" List

Complete Your To-Do with a Plan to Say No to Distractions


(Originally published in the December 2015 issue of Recognition Review.)

Most any business management book or website will offer the to-do list as one of the necessary tools for good time management. The to-do list is such a vital tool that you can find customized lists for performing necessary tasks as well as apps for keeping up with your list electronically. The to-do list is so important that Google has more than 2 billion listings for the tool.

Business management gurus will be quick to tell you that it is almost impossible to be organized without paying close attention to the to-do list. The rule for good time management always comes back to this list—the old “what you must do, what you should do, what you would like to do” list with your priorities noted with A, B, and C rankings beside each item. The to-do list is the key to knowing what the most important thing for your business is at any given time. On a personal level, I love the to-do list. It is a tool I have used with good results since college. Yes, the faithful old to-do list is still critical to success in the business world.

So, if we are all committed to following our to-do lists every single day, why is there always so much left on the lists at the end of the day? We make our lists, update our lists, follow our lists, add to and cross off items on our lists, and there is still so much more to do. How is it that we are so good at working on our lists, but we keep falling behind? That just doesn’t seem right, does it?

Today, I am taking the bold step of recommending to each of you a new list to use in conjunction with your to-do list. Today, I am proposing a way to get more done by changing the way you think about your list. Today, it is time to say yes, not only to working on your to-do list, but also to start working with a to-don’t list. Yes, you read that correctly—let’s make a “To Don’t list.” Now I know that a to-don’t list might sound a little strange to you, even radical. But, if done correctly, following this list will help you achieve more items on your to-do list. If you aren’t sure how to start your to-don’t list, here are five suggestions to get you started.

  1. Don’t try to be perfect around the holidays. It is December and in addition to all of the regular items on your to-do list, you have added a lot of holiday tasks that must be completed by certain deadlines. This is my favorite time of the year, but it can be overwhelming without a to-don’t list. So, before it is too late, let’s use a to-don’t list to enjoy the magic of the season. Remember that you don’t have to be perfect. Bakery cookies will work for the school party. Assigning everyone a dish to bring will lighten your load for a family get-together. Gift bags wrap each gift in a fraction of the time; this works really well for a busy retailer who offers gift wrap during the holidays! Learn to say no to holiday events—business and personal—that you aren’t excited about attending. Shop for gifts online after-hours; I can’t believe I am suggesting that. Give the same gift to several people on your list; we buy 10 of the same item each year for our adult nieces and nephews. If you just keep in mind that you do not have to be everything to everyone during this busy season, you may just find that you actually have time to enjoy the holidays.
  2. Don’t let technology sap your time. Several years ago, you probably started keeping your to-do list on your cell phone, your laptop, your iPad, or another device. Since you went high tech with your list, it seems that you have even less time. In fact, some days it feels that you spend your day just trying to remember what is important and checking your list to keep on track.  Wasn’t technology supposed to save us time? So, let’s make a to-don’t list for checking that to-do list. Do you also check for texts every time you check your list? Don’t! Do you play with an app—just for a minute— when you check your list? Don’t! Do you think of reasons to keep the device in your hand, or right beside you, in case you want to snap a photo to send to friends or want to check the latest news? Don’t! I recently had a conversation with a woman older than 30 who told me she was so stressed because she had so much to do. During the 10-minute conversation, she checked her cell phone eight times. I know why she isn’t getting anything done…

    “Do you think of reasons to keep the device in your hand, or right beside you, in case you want to snap a photo to send to friends or want to check the latest news? Don’t!”

    For me, a to-do list on an electronic device was a time waster. Every time I checked my list, I also checked the weather radar, the stock reports, and the latest news items. So, I did something radical to save me time—I went back to the good old paper-and-pen list. That’s right. Call me crazy, but I stepped back into the olden days, put that list on paper, and posted it front and center on my desk. Now when I check my list, it is right in my line of sight and there is nothing to distract me.

  3. Don’t be scared to say no. If you want to have more time to concentrate on your to-do list, you must learn to say no. It’s one simple word, but it’s so hard to say because we are in the business of pleasing people. I had to tell a friend no today and I am still feeling bad about disappointing him. But I am also feeling that a weight has been lifted, giving me more time for what’s most important to my business. So, put the following “don’ts” on your list:
    • Don’t continue to participate in an organization that does not have your target audience as members. Instead, use your time to research organizations that could benefit your business and put your efforts there.
    • Don’t say yes to try to avoid losing a customer. We all want to accommodate every customer, but if you say yes and cannot fulfill that promise, you are in trouble.
    • Don’t agree to volunteer for something because someone strokes your ego. It is so hard to turn away from someone telling you how great you are. If you don’t have the time or desire to take on a project, run away from this person.
    • Don’t allow anyone to make their problem your problem. Once you begin to help someone find a solution to their problem, you may be perceived as having just agreed to take your time to help.
    • It is natural for us to want to help others, and it’s great as long as you don’t put yourself in more of a time crunch or let your business suffer.
  4. Don’t fill your plate with lower-level tasks. Some days it can be hard to get ahead, because you are forced to use your time on lower-level tasks. You need to be calling on the new CEO of a company you want to do business with, but you have to complete those 500 youth sports trophies. On the weekends, you need to be at the ballpark to hand out marketing materials to potential customers, but it is the only time you have to mow the lawn (or, for my Northern friends, shovel the snow). You need to find time to go to the gym, but you barely make it to work on time in the mornings. These are not things that are Priority A on your to-do lists, but they must be done anyway. How can we get our Priority A items done without neglecting immediate and repetitive tasks?

    Our association’s first president, Stan Seaman, once told me that my job wasn’t production. My job was to hire someone to build those trophies while I was out there making the next big sale—not wasting time because I now had someone to do production but working on what was most important to my business that day. Makes a lot of sense, don’t you think? Unless you really enjoy yard work or housekeeping, hire someone that does these tasks for a living. It may be a small price to pay if it frees up several hours of your day to be more productive. And if you find that you are always late, try getting up just 30 minutes earlier. Use the extra time to go to the gym, work on a project, or do paperwork while it’s quiet.

  5. Don’t avoid a written to-do list. The biggest “don’t” I can recommend is to not do something that gets me into trouble all of the time—the idea that I can somehow keep track of everything in my head. How many times have you walked into a room, then been unable to remember why you are there? Here’s a thought: Your brain is full. Keeping your to-do lists and your to-don’t lists out of your head and written down in an orderly fashion will keep your focused. Keeping things in your head will lead to things slipping through the cracks, your staff being in the dark, deadlines being missed, and you being frustrated.

    “How did it get so late so soon?” Dr. Seuss wondered. It is a question I have asked myself countless times. Accepting that if you have goals and dreams, you will probably never get everything done is key to reducing your stress levels. Learning to do what is important and stop worrying about what isn’t important in the grand scheme of things will go a long way to completing you’re A-level priorities on a daily basis.

    It is such a challenge to keep track of everything that needs to be done— at our businesses, at our homes, in our free time. But if you can keep your focus and if you can accept that everything does not need to be done, you will be in control of your daily life. Get started on your to-don’t list today. Eliminate the things that aren’t important, and be more productive.

Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and a prosperous 2016!

Fran Carville, CRM, is an Awards and Personalization Association past president, educational speaker, 2008 Speaker of the Year, a member of the Hall of Fame, and winner of an Award of Excellence from the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Fran and her husband, Tom Carville, CRM, own Carco Awards in Baton Rouge, LA.

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