I tried making a ‘to-don’t list’ instead of a to-do list. Here’s what I learned

The fog of the pandemic has made it difficult to get stuff done. After a certain point, our usual modes of time management no longer feel efficient. The classic to-do list may feel less like a motivational tool and more like a hanging obligation—and an overly familiar one, at that.

During the course of this remote-work experiment, I’ve noticed in myself a waning of energy. Slowly but surely the afternoon may descend into moments of low motivation and sluggishness, if I don’t seek out some “wake-up” activity, such as doing 50 jumping jacks or (more commonly) glugging down a mug of coffee. In recent weeks, I’ve been trying out various productivity methods like the Pomodoro Technique and time-blocking, but I decided to test-drive another technique.

For the last two weeks, I’ve been using “to-don’t” list, which sounds like an inverse to a to-do list, but is a bit more exacting. In essence, the list is a curated collection of activities that can derail your energy and motivation. They’re often alluring but end up creating a distracting spiral, sapping you of your most productive hours.

When creating a “to-don’t list,” look at what works for you and tailor it. Practicing self-awareness is a place to start, says Elizabeth Grace Saunders, a time management coach and regular Fast Company contributor.

She recommends beginning the exercise with an end-of-the-day review, at least when you first start: “You can reflect back on your day during a daily wrap-up. In this time, you can look at what you accomplished and what didn’t get completed. And you can also evaluate the activities that you did that weren’t part of your plan. You can ask yourself: Was that worth it? Did I enjoy it? Did I feel frustrated or derailed? By keeping track of your own feelings about the choices you made, you can start to discover what is or isn’t healthy for you.”

This is what I took away from my two-week experiment:


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