There are a lot of distractions at our fingertips these days that can persuade us out of our productivity groove. You might feel like you’ve tried it all—from setting alarms and reminders to leaving yourself encouraging messages on post-it notes. You may even have tried the classic to-do list to push yourself into gear.
Well, if you’re still struggling to get everything crossed off that list, then career psychologist Sinead Brady has another method for you to test out: a not-to-do list.
According to Brady, identifying what you don’t want to do will determine what you should do—and focusing on not permitting yourself to get distracted may actually jump-start your productivity in a way that traditional to-do lists do not.
How to create a not-to-do list
- Dedicate a few minutes of the day to sit down with a pen and paper.
- Write out all the tasks that you are responsible for as part of your role.
- Identify the high, medium, and low priority tasks by circling them with different color pens.
- Then, think about what you tend to get distracted by, or which of the low-priority tasks you tend to get caught up in that use up your time and energy.
- Once you’ve considered everything, narrow your list down to three or four of your most culpable personal distractions.
Here are some of the most common distractions that will likely make an appearance on your not-to-do list:
Checking emails first thing in the morning
Though you may intend to focus only on work emails, the reality is that your inbox is full of distractions that can lure you into a downward spiral in terms of productivity. Avoid checking emails first thing in the morning by starting your day with a more meaningful task that will set the tone for the rest of your day. That could mean getting your most pressing assignments out of the way or giving yourself time to quiet your mind through meditation.
Social media feeds and emails on your phone
Phones are too accessible and can keep you glued to the screen for much longer than you had intended. Instead, carve out specific times to check your phone and social feeds. Take a page out of the book of some of the most successful people (including Bill Gates, Katia Beauchamp, and Arianna Huffington) and restrain yourself by checking emails at prescribed times during the day. Try to keep yourself phone-free half an hour before bed and when relaxing with friends and family.
It is a fact that our brains cannot do two things or hold two thoughts at the same time. The multitasking illusion is held together by your brain flipping constantly between things, meaning that your focus and ability to complete whatever you need doing is diluted. Instead, try concentrating on doing one thing as best as you can for 25 minutes without distraction. Then, take a few minutes to rest, move your body, and get some fresh air before heading to work again.
The key to the not-to-do list is to keep it brief. Too many restrictions may leave you feeling suffocated and paralyzed. The goal here is to free up your time from the things that you don’t have to do, so that you have the opportunity to boost your productivity by giving yourself the space to do what you need to do, to the best of your ability.