The Not To Do List
We all have our own methods for creating and managing “to-do” lists; but “not-do-lists” are often more effective for fine-tuning performance. My colleagues will attest to my (slight) obsession with productivity in recent years. Managing a business along with a two-year-old can provide a strong catalyst to prioritize our most important and limited resource – time.
The Tim Ferriss Show has become required listening during my morning commute. I highly recommend starting with The Josh Waitzkin episode. Waitzkin has perfected learning strategies that can be applied to anything, including chess (he’s a national champion), jiu-jitsu (he’s a black belt under Marcelo Garcia) and Tai Chi Push Hands (he’s a world champion). In The Art of Learning, Josh reveals his unique systems for thematic learning and building resilience – or simply, doing less to accomplish more. More on this phenomenal book later. Until then, here are a few habits to eliminate distraction:
- Do not answer calls from unrecognized numbers. Better yet, don’t answer unplanned calls. They are just unplanned interruptions. Let them go to voicemail.
- Do not email first thing in the morning or last thing at night. The former scrambles your priorities for the day. The latter just gives you insomnia.
- Do not agree to meetings or calls without a specific agenda and timeline. Any meeting with a clearly stated objective, including questions and topics to address, should not last more than 30 minutes. See next bullet.
- Do not ramble and do not let people ramble. Guilty, but working on it. Think about what you want to communicate before you communicate – then, make your point simply, quickly and efficiently.
- Do not check email constantly. If you could only choose one item on this list to drastically improve productivity, this is it. Eliminate “manufactured emergencies” by batching email and checking it only a few set times during the day (ideally during lulls in creativity).
- Do not work more to dig out. This one is a personal challenge as well. Just remember that if you are too busy, you are not prioritizing. Define your single most important task each day and tackle it first thing in the morning when your mind is fresh.
- Do not carry a digital leash all day, every day. Leave your phone at home or at your desk when going to meals and meetings. Take the leash completely off at least once a week and run free. Anything you might miss while recharging your batteries on Sunday will still be there waiting for you on Monday morning. Checking email all weekend is no way to spend the little time you have on this planet.
- Do not forget work is not life. I didn’t figure this out until a certain catalyst arrived two years ago. Schedule “life” and defend it just as you would your most important business meetings. Review Parkinson’s Law and force yourself to cram work into fewer hours to increase your productivity. Focus, get the critical few done, and get out.
For more, I highly recommend spending ten minutes listening to Tim, here. You can afford the time – you are not that busy.