The Not-To-Do List: 9 Habits to Stop Now


This is how the world felt before Crackberries. (LeoLuigi)

“Not-to-do” lists are often more effective than to-do lists for upgrading performance.

The reason is simple: what you don’t do determines what you can do.

Here are nine stressful and common habits that entrepreneurs and office workers should strive to eliminate. The bullets are followed by more detailed descriptions. Focus on one or two at a time, just as you would with high-priority to-do items. I’ve worded them in no-to-do action form:

1. Do not answer calls from unrecognized phone numbers
Feel free to surprise others, but don’t be surprised. It just results in unwanted interruption and poor negotiating position. Let it go to voicemail, and consider using a service like GrandCentral (you can listen to people leaving voicemail) or Simulscribe (receive voicemails as e-mail).

2. Do not e-mail first thing in the morning or last thing at night
The former scrambles your priorities and plans for the day, and the latter just gives you insomnia. E-mail can wait until 10am, after you’ve completed at least one of your critical to-do items…

3. Do not agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time
If the desired outcome is defined clearly with a stated objective and agenda listing topics/questions to cover, no meeting or call should last more than 30 minutes. Request them in advance so you “can best prepare and make good use of the time together.”

4. Do not let people ramble
Forget “how’s it going?” when someone calls you. Stick with “what’s up?” or “I’m in the middle of getting something out, but what’s going on?” A big part of GTD is GTP — Getting To the Point.

5. Do not check e-mail constantly — “batch” and check at set times only

I belabor this point enough. Get off the cocaine pellet dispenser and focus on execution of your top to-do’s instead of responding to manufactured emergencies. Set up a strategic autoresponder and check twice or thrice daily.

6. Do not over-communicate with low-profit, high-maintenance customers
There is no sure path to success, but the surest path to failure is trying to please everyone. Do an 80/20 analysis of your customer base in two ways–which 20% are producing 80%+ of my profit, and which 20% are consuming 80%+ of my time? Then put the loudest and least productive on autopilot by citing a change in company policies. Send them an e-mail with new rules as bullet points: number of permissible phone calls, e-mail response time, minimum orders, etc. Offer to point them to another provider if they can’t conform to the new policies.

7. Do not work more to fix overwhelm — prioritize
If you don’t prioritize, everything seems urgent and important. If you define the single most important task for each day, almost nothing seems urgent or important. Oftentimes, it’s just a matter of letting little bad things happen (return a phone call late and apologize, pay a small late fee, lose an unreasonable customer, etc.) to get the big important things done. The answer to overwhelm is not spinning more plates — or doing more — it’s defining the few things that can really fundamentally change your business and life.

8. Do not carry a cellphone or Crackberry 24/7
Take at least one day off of digital leashes per week. Turn them off or, better still, leave them in the garage or in the car. I do this on at least Saturday, and I recommend you leave the phone at home if you go out for dinner. So what if you return a phone call an hour later or the next morning? As one reader put it to a miffed co-worker who worked 24/7 and expected the same: “I’m not the president of the US. No one should need me at 8pm at night. OK, you didn’t get a hold of me. But what bad happened?” The answer? Nothing.

9. Do not expect work to fill a void that non-work relationships and activities should

Work is not all of life. Your co-workers shouldn’t be your only friends. Schedule life and defend it just as you would an important business meeting. Never tell yourself “I’ll just get it done this weekend.” Review Parkinson’s Law in 4HWW and force yourself to cram within tight hours so your per-hour productivity doesn’t fall through the floor. Focus, get the critical few done, and get out. E-mailing all weekend is no way to spend the little time you have on this planet.

It’s hip to focus on getting things done, but it’s only possible once we remove the constant static and distraction. If you have trouble deciding what to do, just focus on not doing. Different means, same end.

What other no-no’s would you add to the list?


Posted on: August 16, 2007.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

271 comments on “The Not-To-Do List: 9 Habits to Stop Now

  1. Hi Tim,

    My name is Jessica I am the editor at “Lifestyle For Men Magazine”
    the reason for me commenting is I am looking for approval to use this blog post in our magazines business section.

    Please contact me and I can give you more details and answer some questions for you :)



  2. I am using 4-Hour Body. Amazing, thank you. Really. Have lost 30 pounds over the last 18 months.
    Can you apply your wisdom and insights to the issue of identifying tried and true, useful, reliable, non-med-oriented, self-help strategies to combat mental illness ?

    I think your particular approach on this broad subject would be well received and constructive.

    Thank you.



  3. But, if I stop doing these time-filling tasks, what will I fill my time with?

    Today: Spontaneous tea party with the kids, acting as stuffy French butler. Delivered 15 bite-sized courses to a couple of rowdy high tippers.

    After a few months of better utilizing my time to rapidly grow my business:
    Spending a month driving up the West Coast, from SoCal to Vancouver with the whole family. Can’t wait. These aren’t tips, they’re life changers. Thanks!


  4. I love #2 and #9. I’m always checking my emails first thing in the morning or on my phone and it really does slow down my productivity in those critical hours now that i think about it.

    I really need to work on #9 and really pinpoint my focus on my tasks. Being a college student, it’s hard to stay focused when the subject material is as boring as watching grass grow. Oh well, gotta get better!


  5. Great list! Another not-to-do: Do not keep talking about what someone did to you that you didn’t like. Either ask for what you want, set a boundary or let it go. This will save time and make you happier.


  6. Hi guys!
    I am a new business owner and would love any tips on how to promote my business. I have read Tim’s book and have already gotten a bunch of awesome ideas, I’ve got to say that purchasing it was one of the best investments I’ve ever made.
    I’ve been a personal trainer in Canada for almost a decade and moved to Brazil a year ago. I’m living in a small town where my dad and I opened an English school that has been steadily growing in a short period of time. Now that I have helped my dad get things started, I want to continue to follow my passion and take my services to Rio. There is a huge potential for both personal training clients as well as clients who need to learn English (especially with the World Cup and Olympics being hosted in the city within the next couple of years.) I’ve also noticed that Brazilians pay a ton of money to learn English in the most ineffective way possible. They can do up to 6 years of schooling and graduate without knowing how to speak the language at all! The focus is grammar and little emphasis is done on conversational English. I’ve been fortunate enough to find a methodology that has been proven to work and hope to use it in Rio and offer a service where results are actually guaranteed.
    Once I get to Rio, I see endless possibilities on what my company can offer: English in company, personal training in English, Fitness classes for foreigners in hotels, etc.
    I was wondering more in terms of marketing since I don’t know too many people in the city and have extremely limited funds to spend on advertising.
    Any help would be extremely appreciated!!
    Thanks in advance,
    Mariana :)


  7. Great tips you got there. For me, real estate is a tough industry and your tips nailed them completely. Bookmarked on this and definitely coming back for more! Of course, keep up the good work too.


  8. I would add to the list – social media on mobile.

    Most of social media (think instagram, facebook, twitter, pinterest, etc) is actually rendered much better in a full desktop browser (remember facebook’s first lousy attempt at mobile?), and the mobile experiences all have some sort of limited functionality.

    But….that isn’t the most important point. Like Tim’s email perspective, I have the same for social media – delete the apps off of your phone, and you won’t be trapped by that addicting “+1″ that you see hovering over every app, letting you know that there is something that demands your attention.

    Amazing how much less you even need to check your phone when you don’t have constant beeps, vibrates, etc calling your attention away from whatever you are supposed to be doing (we all know multi-tasking is BS by now – yes, even for WOMEN).

    So, delete mobile apps….and then you’ll only waste time on these sites when YOU decide to check them….on your desktop.