Write a “Not To Do” List to Get Things Done

The Problem: Procrastination-Masking Productivity

Have you ever sat down to do some task (say, write a blog post) and an hour or two later, you’ve trimmed your fingernails, adjusted the thermostat, dusted your desk, created a new playlist of “concentration music,” sent that text you forgot to send yesterday, investigated the broken piece on your chair, tried to fix it without success, researched ergonomic desk chairs, and ordered a new chair on Amazon…but you’ve made no notable progress on the original task?

Have you ever received that desk chair in the mail two days later (thank you, Amazon Prime), and realized that the chair has moved through more postal service check points in the last 48 hours than you have moved through items on your check list?

Please tell me I’m not the only one who experiences this!?

A Solution: The NOT TO DO List

After one too many unfocused and unproductive days like this, I got fed up with myself and created a “Not To Do” list.

Where a To Do list tells me what I should do, a Not To Do list tells me what I should not do, so I can focus on those tasks I deemed important enough to write on my To Do list and am now avoiding like the Whomping Willow.

What’s On My NOT TO DO List

Once I’ve moved my extraneous devices to another room and gotten set up in my comfy chair with my concentration music, I set a timer for 15-30 minutes. Until that timer goes off, I am not allowed to do the following:

  • check email
  • check notifications
  • send text messages
  • change the music
  • answer the doorbell
  • switch to a different task or project
  • move between tabs in web browser (or open new ones)
  • conduct internet “research” (Instead, make a note to research it later.)
  • wash dishes
  • get a snack/drink
  • basically, anything that is not the task itself

Sometimes I am distracted by what Martha Stewart would call “good things.” (“Researching student learning styles will help me be a better teacher!” my wandering brain says.) But there is a time and a place for those tasks to happen and it is NOT while I’m supposed to be writing a blog post!

I keep a physical notepad and pen nearby so I can jot down any of those “pressing” tasks that pop into my head. I have an agreement with myself that as soon as the timer goes off I can drop what I’m doing and tend to these tasks. Usually, I find they are not so urgent.

Stay Strong

Even with this method, my procrastinator side is astoundingly inquisitive and can easily become entranced by something as mundane as a stray thread. But we keep at it because, just like playing great music, concentration takes practice.

What’s on your Not To Do list?

P.S. A note about timers: my mom always had an ample supply of kitchen timers, but they seem to have gone the way of the landline telephone because I’ve never owned one. If you rely on your phone for a timer, try setting the timer with the volume all the way up and then leave your phone in another room.

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