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September 29, 2020

To-Do Lists and To-Don't Lists – #MTtalk Roundup

Michele Doucet

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©©GettyImages/Hendra Su

We are all familiar with the "To-Do" list. To-Do Lists are important tools that help us to prioritize what we want to accomplish in a day. In fact, many of us likely start our workdays listing what we need to do using one. Before we know it, we've planned out our whole day, perhaps our whole week or even month. We've filled our lives with what can often feel like a never-ending list of tasks.

So what if we also created a "To-Don't" List at the same time?

The Busyness Trap

Before the pandemic, many of us were caught up in the "busyness trap."

We all know what that trap looks like. Days filled with tasks to complete, juggling multiple priorities, and a rush to the finish line... not to mention the commute. We even have a name for it: hurry sickness.

The pandemic, with its restrictions to isolate at home, has brought busyness to a halt – or, for those who continue to work, a break in the pace.

Instead of beginning each day at the starting gate and racing to the finish line, we ease into the day and complete our tasks with a comfortable stride.

Are We Sick of Hurry Sickness?

What will happen when the pandemic ends? Will we all return to working at a breakneck clip?

Some say that the pandemic has taught us that we cannot and will not return to the work life we had before. I hope that this prediction is true. No one knows with certainty what the new work life normal will be. In any event, there is something that we can do to prevent the busy cycle from getting a grip on our lives again.

To-Do or To-Don't: That Is the Question!

In my mind, we need to embrace the idea that doing less can actually accomplish more.

We all use To-Do Lists, most of us on a regular basis. But sometimes these can become overwhelming and even stressful. They can lead to hurry sickness and even burnout. So, what if we also created a To-Don't List at the same time?

The idea is to decide your goal for the day. Anything that accomplishes your goal becomes part of your To-Do List. Remember to add wellness breaks to this list, too! These physical and mental breaks are as important as the work you need to accomplish.

Once you've done this, build your To-Don't List. This should include any activity that does not contribute to your main goal.

As you go through your day, keep both lists visible – a visual and mental reminder of what you will and will not do. By keeping your focus on these two lists, all the unnecessary activity (clutter) falls away. You achieve more by doing less.

Essentially, by identifying what we will and won't do on any given day, we are able to achieve more with less effort. We can also bring more calm to our day. Think about the work that you have on your plate today. What will you make part of your To-Do List – and your To-Don't List?

To-Do Lists and To-Don't Lists

During our #MTtalk Twitter chat last Friday, we talked about the usefulness of To-Do Lists and To-Don't Lists. Here are the questions we asked and some of your most insightful responses:

Q1. Which do you prefer – electronic To-Do Lists or pen and paper?

@JoanaRSSousa I love pen and paper to do list, because writing down things help memorize and to think about it. Also, I love doing lists using mind maps and it's easier for me to do that on paper.

@ColfaxInsurance I generally reach for pen and paper, something nice about a physical list. If it's a list I have to be able to take with me anywhere – on my computer linked with my phone. I can forget a list, I hardly ever forget my phone.

Q2. Are there items you routinely add to your lists? What are they?

@JKatzaman Everything is a candidate for a list. Big or small, I'm an equal-opportunity forgetter.

@MaryEllenGrom I keep a stack of sticky notes in my paper notebook. All To Do's and action items from meetings transfer to a note so I can get those scheduled on my calendar ASAP.

Q3. What do you feel when you look at your To-Do List?

@Singh_Vandana There are times when it can be overwhelming. In that case I have to refer to the urgent/ important matrix to sort things.

@temekoruns To-Do Lists can either leave you encouraged, motivated or overwhelmed depending upon your aspirations and time given for completion.

Q4. What do you never include on your To-Do List and why? Should you?

Interestingly, most participants included self-care/me-time as something that should go on their To-Do Lists. Other comments included:

@llake Daily routines. They're daily, so, um, why waste time writing them? But that's me because I remember them. With the exception of eating – that, I forget to do.

@CoachHollyW No. The routine stuff I don't have to remember. My lists are for non-routine and specific tasks.

Q5. What do you find is always left until last/unfinished on your To-Do List?

@letusthink2 The least prioritized one then that moves into the top of the list the next day.

@TheCraigKaye Things that assist with self-care. On reflection we shouldn't wait for burnout to rest, a burnt out candle can't add light to any situation!

Q6. Why would you need a list of things not to do when you can simply not do them?

@MicheleDD_MT To-Don't Lists help to develop productive habits by eliminating distractions.

@aamir9769 It reminds you every time that these are things which you are not to do. Sometimes the mind gets diverted to such tasks stretching "the golden time."

Q7. What could you put on a To-Don't List today and how will that help you?

@Yolande_MT Don't criticise (self or others). Don't get hung up on things that don't matter. Don't try to carry a mountain I should climb. Don't put off the things I can do today.

@_TomGReid I've put a few chats on the don't do list. Even something as simple as "Don't stay up so late" can be helpful.

Q8. Who knows about your To-Do and To-Don't Lists and does this matter?

@Midgie_MT Only me. Considering I live alone, it is not really something I would share with friends. Yet I definitely see the benefit of someone holding you accountable for things, especially the To-Don'ts.

@MyFunnySpeaker My accountability buddy and I exchanged the big lists so we know the trajectory. Outside of them no one knows my specifics.

Q9. What impact do you have on other people's To-Do Lists?

@PmTwee Prioritization is key, I always influence others to use it.

@lg217 I have a strong impact because I help them accomplish it whether it is helping them adapt to the change in schools, to work adjustment. I am there with them and help guide them in any way I can.

Q10. What will you do differently around To-Do and To-Don't Lists as a result of this chat?

Many participants said that they would prioritize more and better, and add self-care to their lists. Two more reflections are:

@BrainBlenderTec Appreciate!! As the world changes we have many things to be grateful for and skills to share. We have to take a step back, look at the whole forest, realize how far we've come and what a wonderful world we have.

@temekoruns Adding mandatory durations to timebox what needs to be done will keep you accountable. Also remove the "busy" items rather than repeat them, only to find out you were in no way productive.

To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat over here.

Coming Up

In a world where we want to be mindful of how we spend our time, successful collaboration can be a very effective tool. For our next #MTtalk, we're asking and discussing if collaboration is the new "cool." In our poll this week, we'd like to know why collaboration is important to you. To see the poll and cast your vote, please click here.


To-Do Lists

Managing Interruptions

Eisenhower's Urgent/Important Principle

Managing Conflicting Priorities

Effective Scheduling

How Productive Are You?


How to Be More Organized


Minimizing Distractions

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