If you get decent value from making TO-DO lists, you’ll also get significant returns – in productivity, in improved relationships, in financial stability, and in heightened levels of happiness – from adding certain things to a TO-DON’T list.
As you may have guessed, a TO-DON’T list’ is a list of things not to do. It might seem a bit amusing, but it’s an incredibly useful tool for keeping track of unproductive habits like these:
1. Worrying about the wrong people.
The ladies of The Real Housewives of Orange County, they’ll survive without you. The family members and friends of Duck Dynasty, they won’t notice your absence if you stop watching their show. Even the private lives of your elected politicians and local public figures mean nothing in the grand scheme of your own life.
But your significant other, your friends, your children, your siblings, extended family members, business partners, employees and customers – these are the people who truly matter to you. Give them your time and attention. They’re the ones who deserve it.
And as you meet new individuals, be polite, but don’t try to be best friends with everyone. Take things slow and remain focused on your core people – the individuals whose absence would immediately make your life less fulfilling.
2. Focusing all your attention on future events instead of present moments.
This moment will never happen again. Look around. Cherish your time as you’re living it. Work towards something, but enjoy the journey of getting from here to there. Experience each step. Don’t succumb to a vicious cycle of overbearing productivity that forces you to constantly think about every imaginable time and place except right here, right now.
It’s often hard to tell the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory. And someday you will likely discover that the small moments you’re living now are really the big ones worth dreaming about. So learn to appreciate what you HAVE NOW before time forces you appreciate what you HAD THEN. (Read The Power of Now.)
3. Delaying decisions.
Sometimes it doesn’t take as much strength to do things as it does to decide what to do.
Life is filled with difficult decisions. As you move through life you will come up on many forks in the road where both paths look equally as promising. The important thing is not which path you choose, but that you do in fact choose a path.
Deciding sometimes hurts. Not knowing which path to take can be painful. But nothing is more disheartening than never making a decision. If you never choose a road, you will never know where it leads. So when you’re faced with two equally good options, don’t be one of the people who choose the third option: to not choose.
4. Saying “yes” when you really mean “no.”
Stop over-committing. While saying “yes” can take you down some wonderful roads, there’s also a ton of value in saying “no.” Your time in life is extremely limited; do you really want to give it away so easily?
If you don’t have time to commit to a new project, fulfill a favor, etc., it’s a good idea to just say “no.” Refusing a new request from friends, family, customers, etc. can be difficult, but rarely is it as stressful as over-committing and leaving no time for yourself.
The ambition to be successful in life is not always the biggest challenge, narrowing the number of commitments to be successful in is. Even when you have the knowledge and ability to access highly productive states, you get to a point where being simultaneously productive on too many fronts at once causes all activities to slow down, stand still, and sometimes even slide backwards.
Bottom line: Say no when you know you should. (Read The Success Principles.)
5. Buying stuff you don’t need.
Proper money management is one of the most beneficial skills we can master to create a comfortable, happy future for ourselves, and yet it’s a skill that we are often culturally cut off from understanding. The consumerist society we live in tries to make us feel that happiness lies in owning things and continuously buying new things, and fails to teach us about the happiness not found in things.
When external influences suddenly motivate you to consider a new purchase, ask yourself this: “Is this thing I’m thinking of purchasing really better than the things I already have? Do I really need it? Or am I just being persuaded to be displeased with what I have now?”
You’ve heard the saying, “The best things in life are free.” Believe it. Spending time with friends, laughing, enjoying the antics of a pet, seeing a child smile, experiencing intimate and heart-felt moments with a significant other – these gifts are precious and free. Money brings comfort, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying that comfort. But it’s important to spend money on the things that matter to you, and let go of spending that doesn’t add value to your life. Spend on what you need, but don’t forget why you’re buying what you’re buying, or the spending will become a destructive habit.
Gossip is the evil. If you want to know something about someone, ask. Don’t assume; that’s how gossip grows and spreads.
If you’ve talked to more than one person about something someone else is doing, it’s time to step forward and actually talk to the person you’ve been talking about. And if it’s truly ‘not your place’ to talk to this person, it’s likely ‘not your place’ to talk about them either.
Ultimately, you should focus on judging less, loving more, and resisting the temptation to gossip about others, or portray them in a poor light. Be impeccable with your words. Speak with integrity. Avoid using your words to gossip about others. Use the power of your voice to spread truth and love only. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the Relationships chapter of 1000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
7. Filling every waking moment with activity.
Downtime is imperative. In all walks of life, the highest human performance occurs when there is equilibrium between activity and rest. This is due to the fact that the human body is designed to labor in short pulses, and requires rest and renewal at regular intervals, both physically and mentally. In other words, your productive working days should look something like this: activity, short rest, activity, short rest, etc.
Make time every day to not be busy. Have dedicated downtime moments – clear points in the day to reflect, rest and recharge. Don’t fool yourself; you’re not so busy that you can’t afford a few minutes of sanity.
You deserve quiet moments away from the daily hustle, in which no problems are confronted, no solutions are explored, and no demands are being made of your time. At least twice a day, while you’re awake, withdraw yourself from the sources of stress that refuse to withdraw from you. Do so for a few minutes and simply be and breathe.
What do you need to stop doing? What belongs on your TO-DON’T list? Leave us a comment below and share your thoughts.
Photo by: Alex
Braja Patnaik says
The “To Dont List” – a great way to stop oneself from going back to old ways. Thanks for the post. I would add procrastination and brooding over past events to the list.
Hm, I used to have an Evernote list of things I should remind myself to stop doing. One of them was “Stop talking more than you list.”
When I get excited, I tend to forget about active listening and talk 60% and listen only 40%. That is a 20% decrease of listening than I should!
So what I’m saying is you should focus on listening more every day and stop talking so much! People love talking about themselves or just talking in general, so let them. 🙂
Stop thinking that you DON’T matter. Although no one has a “walking on water” life, but we should make an effort each day to contribute our best to others and ourselves.
To paraphrase Maya Angelou: I may not be a philanthropist, but I do want to be remembered as being charitable, with a smile or kind word that touched someone’s life.
I love this list and would also add:
Worrying about people who do not weigh the impact of their words before they speak them. Related to your point above, there are those close to us who do matter, and who we have checked over time are trustworthy. I spend time still getting upset at people who play the ego game and who use openness of others’ to then try to find a way to put them down and boost themselves up.
Other to don’ts:
Regrets: learn from the experience, understand who you were then and why you were motivated and confirm that your motivation is different and you have learned from it
Waiting to be perfect: getting something done, and reasonably well is better than torturing yourself for something that may miss its deadline or may never get done. There are different standards of “good enough” and very rarely does something need to be perfect: a work of art, a defining book, a marriage proposal. But most other things are about finding out the agenda of your audience and discerning the standard of “good enough” and meeting it. You will NEVER have enough time, resources or money to do the perfect thing, accept it. The amazing part is what you can achieve without enough of the 3 above items.
Don’t listen to others when you go off path, so long as you know why you are going a different way to others, and why it’s right for you, forget all other opinions. An amazing number of people will resent the freedom that a person creates in their own life when they choose to be true to themselves.
Related to another of your points: don’t think that the number of possessions equals substance. You’re buying into a game that will own you and defeat you in the end. Back out now and have the courage to show the substance of who you are, not what you have.
Don’t waste time bragging or proving you are right. We all have information to share, simple as that. And we can all show we know more than others if we want to. But it’s been proven that treating others well reaps better results than being a top down dictator.
Don’t hold onto anything or anyone who has gone: if a thing broke or was stolen, so be it. Remember what it stood for and hold that close. If someone left, the relationship you thought was there just was not quite what you had imagined. It is hard and there is healing to do, but it can strengthen your sense of who you are and your rights to a good relationship in the end.
john hackleman says
Pure genius … but I was only on step 22 from your last post. I need more time between your blogs. Haha!
At the end of my patience says
Excellent post… much needed.
Shelly Miller says
To-Don’t list – love it!
#7 I am aware of most. I am always go go go, thinking activity will make things happen faster. When I feel the go go go thoughts and behaviors coming on I remind myself that some of my best work has come after I took a minute, sat on the deck, closed my eyes, and just listened to the birds.
Thanks for the great ideas.
This is a great list, especially the “Saying “yes” when you really mean “no.” One which I am usually guilty of.
I would also like to add to the list:
1. Hanging on to someone who misuses your efforts or is simply just not interested anymore: If someone really values you, they will genuinely try to make time for you. You won’t have to try hard to gain their attention and you won’t have to deal with abuse, neglect, ridicule, etc. Just leave… nobody would fault you for it. Remember it’s not a reflection of you, but of them. Find someone or something better to focus your efforts on – for example, yourself.
2. Being jealous/angry/vengeful of others: Just don’t. The only person you’ll ever harm (or the person you harm the most) is yourself and your loved ones. Let go and move on. You have so much more in your life that needs focusing on.
3. Eating too little or too much: Don’t fall for society’s standard of beauty and try starving yourself. There is a real reason why you feel hungry, don’t deny yourself. However, eating too much or unhealthy junk food makes you feel sluggish and lethargic. Eat only what you need, and choose healthy options whenever you can.
I’ll try thinking of more. =)
Patrik Edblad says
Great list, Marc! I’d add to stop doing urgent tasks that aren’t really that important and use that time for important tasks that aren’t urgent yet. 🙂
Stop worrying about events outside your area of control and drastically limit worrying in general. It’s much better to spend most of the time in a positive state of mind.
Fresh approach to the (not) to-do lists! 🙂
Worrying what other people think of you.
Everyone is so busy in today’s world that most are caught up in their own lives.
Focus on improving your life and not anyone else’s.
Great list…and some great ideas in the comments too!
A few of mine:
1- To stop focussing on my failures
2- To stop expecting to be able run before I can walk
3- To stop comparing and valueing myself based on societies expectations.
“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
It all starts with our thoughts and ends with our destiny. If we become the “watchers of our thoughts” and not wrapped up in the thoughts themselves, we have a much better chance to be on the right path. Great reminders! I have a daily checklist, it may be extended out to some “don’ts” as well as my many “do’s”… Thanks!
love the “not-to-do” list Marc!
The thing I try to remind
myself not to do: Judging. Either myself or others.
I think we all have a tape running inside our minds, saying things like:
“Oh no I gained another 2 pounds” or “why would she say that?” Or “she’s nicer/taller/smarter than I am” or “what is he wearing?” etc etc. It’s so ingrained that we might barely notice it. It’s a struggle but putting some perspective and unconditional acceptance between myself and such thoughts helps them melt away.
I’ve never thought about a “not to do” list before! Love the idea. Thanks for sharing your wisdom Marc 🙂
Loved reading it, every word of it and realized that my Dad has been telling me the same things for so many years but it is sinking in only now when I am reading it here, Thank you.
Also what Sarah wrote in the comments is equally great, thanks Sarah.
Karla McEvoy says
I love this “To-Don’t” list.
I would add: don’t worry about what other people think of you. This can help give you the space and freedom to be who you really are. I like to remind myself of the following quote whenever I start wondering what others think of me. “What other people think of me is none of my business.” – Wayne Dyer.
Arlene Appelrouth says
Thank you. Your posts always touch on what’s essential.
Steve Hayes says
Reading your blog post, I remembered when I was a teenager because I used to do some of the things you listed here. My biggest problem was about worrying about the wrong people and delaying decisions.
It’s good to grow up though! Fortunately I stopped doing those things before it was too late.
Nice read. Thanks for sharing.
[email protected] says
Gossiping tends to be self destructive most of all. And, in general, those who refrain from gossip often are exempted from the usual pettiness, as well.
renee segal says
The gossip comment is the most important. Gossip is called “the low-down” because it is really the bottom form of communication.
Here’s what’s on my TO DON’T list.
I need to stop focusing on the future, but my future sometimes seems brighter than my present. I’ve read that we create our future from our present state, but I can’t seem to shake the future. Plus, I’m a writer who’s always in her head. Whenever I write something, I think about the future impact of it. This can be a vicious cycle.
It pains me to admit this, but sometimes I get sucked into gossip. Ugh! I know better (who doesn’t?). But when you’re passionate about something, you can get sucked into a conversation. I’ve become better at spotting the ‘warning signs’ of gossipy conversations and can get away. But sometimes I slip up and get sucked into a conversation. No one is perfect, right?
Like J.J., I need to stop trying to impress the wrong people. I’ve listened to many Joel Osteen podcasts where he says, “Stop trying to impress the wrong people. If these people won’t give you the time of day, why are you trying to impress them?” He’s right.
I have to curb my tendency to wanting to be perfect all of the time. My father served in the U.S. Army and used to say, “If it’s not perfect, it’s not right.” Yes, I’m an adult. But some of our childhood memes go deep within us. Un-rooting them could take months or even years. I’m working on getting over the need to be perfect. But then again, is it wrong that you want to be perfect? Perhaps, it’s better to say, “I want to be the BEST I can.” Then again, being your best can turn into wanting to be perfect. It’s another vicious cycle.
I have more journaling and soul searching to do .
Have a great day!
Laura G. Jones says
Great list. All true and very useful. If you only remove one thing from our lives that’s featured in this list, you could have a much better life.
What I would add…
– stop comparing yourself to others. This is your journey. The race is only against yourself. Commit to being a better person every day, and stop looking around to make yourself feel better or worse.
– stop blaming others. No one can hurt you without your consent. You can make the decision to change your perspective and not allow this situation (or what someone else said) hurt you. You can control your reaction to and interpretation of anything that happens. What you can’t control is what happened, or what they did. So why focus on that? Focus on what you have control over.
Akshay Nanavati says
As always, love the insight that I get here and don’t find anywhere else on the web. I especially needed to hear number 7, filling every waking moment with activity. I do number 7 a lot and this was just what I needed to hear when I needed to hear it! Thank you Marc.
Another thing that I do as a result of too much activity is sleep real late and wake up early, so I am more often than not sleep deprived. That’s something I intend to stop doing!
This is great advice, but I think that some people misinterpret “yes”-“no” answers as thinking only about themselves… and it is what changed our society to be a bit too selfish at times. It’s all about balance – saying “yes” to people when you’re truly able.
I still give more time to others than I should, however I am reasonable in what I can, and I have a rule that if I am not sure that I can do it, I don’t promise … but still will try to do something for someone else if I can.
Don’t assume anything.
Don’t judge anybody.
Don’t envy anybody.
Don’t worry about TV Shows and serials or celebrities – that will save your time and even money sometimes.
Appreciate and enjoy what you have .
Help those you can because if not you – who else?
Lorrie Jones says
What a great article! I have a habit of allowing my “to do” list dictate my day – over and over again. I am inspired to create a “to don’t do” list for today…just for today…and start there. I especially appreciated the reminder to allow time in between work – to not pack my day back to back. This feels like such a relief to me as I am in the habit of keeping at tasks day and evening. Thank you so much for this post and for all the helpful and inspirational posts you offer.
Nijaz Muratovi? says
Yeah…TO DON’T list…I call it the “N0P Project”.
There is lots of TO-DO-NOT stuff in Quran.
Just open the Quran PDF & search for words: “do not”, “don’t”, “avoid”…
There are always 2 ways to do good things:
1) Do good things (POSITIVE part of my project)
2) Don’t do bad things (NEGATIVE part of my project)
1) How to heat home in winter?
a) Stop wasting heat thorough doors, windows, walls. Place heat-insulating material.
b) Start heating using energy. Electrical, Chemical…
Bla, bla, bla….. there are millions of examples!
When you stop chasing the wrong people/stuff, then you’ll give the right people/stuff a chance to catch you. (This your “stuff”.)
Kim Stephens says
Thank you! I’m learning, slowly, to say no. As a public figure, there’s a good amount of guilt and second guessing that comes with that. Also, I’m learning not to worry what others think of me. Again, thank you for the reminder! Peace.
Florence Moyer says
#7 really resonates with me. It’s been almost a year since I left a teaching job characterized by 12 years of barely any downtime. I expected that I’d go full steam ahead with my coaching practice almost immediately, my body and psyche told me, loud and clear, to rest first.
Happy to say that I’m recovered to the point that I’m doing work I love and making doing-nothing time part of every day now.
One of the things I love about this blog is the thoughtful responses of the people who post here. I am so inspired by Marc and Angel and also by the readers/commenters. I usually avoid reading the comments because it often happens that someone hiding behind their computer screen uses that space to be thoughtless and unkind, sparking a flame war. I love what the readers contribute here.
At the end of #7, I like the lines:
1 – “At least twice a day, while you’re awake” Doing NOT something on purpose in the waking state is so powerful a message to the Self. I smiled at the “while you’re awake” phrase – In my mind’s eye I saw me NOT asleep, but focused on not focusing. Hmmm.
2 – “withdraw yourself from the sources of stress that refuse to withdraw from you.” Again, what a beautiful turn of phrase. I am reminded about that person who told you not to write. How fortunate for you NOT to have listened. So yes. It is about taking back control over what threatens to take control from/of you.
Thank you Marc, for another great post. The originality and warmth that comes from you, Angel and your invited writers, is inspiring.
My “Don’ts” :
Don’t become chronically sleep-deprived.
Don’t operate out of fear.
Kanishk Singh says
Excellent Blog.. Real eye opener. We don’t realize how much time we spend on this list.. Thanks.
When I sat with my staff, we always used to ask what we could stop doing, start doing and continue doing in order to better our relationships.
Some of the issues listed here appeared consistently on the list
David Rapp says
Love the posts and commentary. Interesting how this plays against the positive.
Don’t ever use the word “should.”
Don’t forget you are not in control of everything.
Mike Martel says
Nice list! Seems almost to be a list of boundaries. I always keep in mind my boundaries and lines I don’t want to cross.
On my Do Not Do list is thinking negative thoughts.
Thanks for the post.
My to-don’t list has on it worrying about what others have, what others are doing, what others are thinking. Wastes of time. As long as I am doing what I need to be doing, all is right.
I love turning off the TV and turning to my 8 year old to play with him, cards, games, or just sitting and relaxing.
Perfect as usual 🙂
Can you help with a guide to starting over from scratch? I really need that more than anything right now. I mean… something like when nothing in your life is working anymore , trying to fix it is more draining than changing everything. I need a clean fresh start, away from everything I was but I can’t do that alone.
Martin Haworth says
4 & 5 definitely. 6, well, aspirational!
I find it hard to say “No” and sometimes I feel guilty, but I know its time to say it especially in regards to my work. Thanks for all of your inspirational words; I needed it today.
Marc and Angel, thank you for your wonderful posts. Have a great day everyone. 🙂
Yes, all of this is really true. For what you are doing today will be a memory tomorrow, so why not do good things…. And live with more peace within yourself.
Things we / I constantly have to work on. If I dont guard against it, back to almost square one it is. Gossip has been very difficult to stop, but has been uplifting through zipping my mouth just that litte bit more every day. Thank you guys. as usual you are spot on
Most important thing for me: STOP dwelling on the past, Everyday is a new story.
Like Dee, I enjoy reading the comments of other readers. I would add “Stop trying to control everything” or “Stop trying to be perfect.” Or to state it a little more positively, be more open and spontaneous and watch wonderful things happen on their own. Thanks for another great post, Marc.
Great post. I totally agree that when we fill all our time with activities (which may or may not be meaningful) we are just spinning our wheels and taking up time that could be used mor intentionally.
Also, I second Dorian’s statement “Hanging on to someone who misuses your efforts or is simply just not interested anymore.”
It is so hard to notice yourself doing this sometimes. It’s only afterwards when we think, “I was so clingy to someone who wasn’t at all interested.”
I am a huge fan of productivity and “to-do” lists, I love the idea of the “do don’t” list too!
From Time Wasters to Procrastination you have some great ones here.
My personal to-don’ts:
2. Letting distractions distract me
3. Over committing (Yup, this is a big one for me too)
5. Playing video games (leads to #1)
Excellent post, Marc!
Things that I need to stop doing (along with many on this list):
1. Feeling responsible or guilty for events of which I have no control over
2. Putting my own needs and interests after those of others.
Things to start doing:
“Above all else to thine own self be true” -Shakespeare
Love your blog <3
Loved #1 – Focus on ” the individuals whose absence would immediately make your life less fulfilling”. That is an excellent perspective and seriously dwindles the people I need to worry about down to a manageable number.
And #6 – I wish everyone believed that gossip was evil, but they do not. I know for a fact that false information is out there about me, but I am taking the high-road and not focusing on it. I truly believe that what comes around, goes around and I will not stoop to their level. Although it is not always possible, it is so freeing to be positive!
One thing everyone needs to stop doing is judging based on a few bad apples. If we could overlook differences we would see what we have in common is much bigger. One thing in common being this planet.
One thing you should START doing is meditating.