The Quest for a Life Less Stressed

The Idle Life

For Your To-Do List: Create a To-Don't List

Posted on May 12, 2010 by Beau

Image courtesy of Carissa

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that at some point, everybody makes to-do lists. Maybe they’re trying to be more productive, maybe they’re trying to be less stressed, maybe they just feel like they should because everyone else does.

I’m going to propose an idea that can simultaneously help you be less stressed and more productive: create a to-don’t list. Honestly, I can’t believe I haven’t thought of this before.

It’s a really simple idea: a to-don’t list is just a reminder list of all the things you don’t want to do that day, but need reminding of. You can post it at your desk, or on your bathroom mirror, or wherever you want to have reminders of all the crap you want to avoid, that day or every day. These reminders can help keep negative stuff out of your life, and at the same time keep you focused on what’s really important, making you more productive.

Depending on what you struggle with, some ideas might be:

  • Don’t get so angry with other drivers.
  • Don’t stress out about stuff that doesn’t matter in the big picture.
  • Don’t put work ahead of family.
  • Don’t check email every 5 minutes.
  • Don’t let the Man get you down. :)

The list could go on and on, but the basic point is: Reminding yourself, as often as necessary, to cut out the crap in your life that’s holding you back or making you unhappy.

That’s it! Give it a try- every time you think of something you’re doing now that you wish you weren’t, add it to your to-don’t list. See what happens, and report back to me! I’m really interested to see if this idea helps people avoid the things in their lives that make them miserable.

By the way, here’s a short list of my to-don’ts that I came up with off the top of my head (in addition to the ones above, which all apply to me):

  • Don’t watch TV for hours instead of doing things that are meaningful.
  • Don’t worry about getting distracted, if it means learning about wonderful new things.
  • Don’t let all your free time get filled up. Leave some space.
  • Don’t forget to tell people around you how important and valuable they are.
  • Don’t think too much about the future.
  • Don’t take on too many projects at once.

I’m sure I’ll think of a million more, but those are a good start. What about you? Please share your to-don’ts in the comments!


6 to “For Your To-Do List: Create a To-Don't List”

  1. Greg L says:

    Good points Beau.

    My totally useless and immature contribution:

    Don’t sweat the petty stuff….and don’t pet the sweaty stuff!

  2. I like the concept but I’m not sure my rebellious little inner child would respond well to being told not to do so many things on a regular basis. I might instead just tell myself about all the wonderful alternatives I have that I can choose to do instead of the bad habits.

    • Beau says:


      I hear where you’re coming from, but my hope is that the To Don’t list will actually give you more freedom, not less. For me, it’s about breaking annoying constraints and freeing up time for the important stuff, like doing nothing much at all :)

  3. I read this post just as I was about to create my own to-do list for the day! Haven’t made one in awhile actually and I have some deadlines looming, so I thought I better get somewhat organized!

    I love “don’t worry about getting distracted” as I usually do find out about wonderful things when distracted, like this blog post.

    And I also love the “don’t take on too many projects at once.” I find it hard to say no to others, but I end up not getting “my” things done as a result. But sometimes new projects are very interesting and hard to resist.

    Maybe I’ll try a to-don’t list instead for once. It will be fun. Here’s my first:

    - Don’t put off the really important deadline oriented projects any longer

    • Beau says:


      Thanks for the response! Two things for you:

      First, check out my previous post about saying no to people more often. It might help :)

      Second, check out this Lifehacker post from yesterday that ties in perfectly to your To Don’t item:

      Good luck with your projects! And I’m glad you got distracted enough to stop by.

  4. Carissa says:

    I love your To-Don’t LIST! :)

    And what I would give to have play on my list too!
    Glad you liked my daughter’s to do list! :)

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