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The To *NOT* Do List

October 16, 2011

EurekaEvery once in a while an idea comes along that is so fantastic, so life-alteringly brilliant, it makes you want to slap your palm solidly against your forehead and cry out “Now why didn’t I think of that?”  I came across just such an idea last week, and I simply have to share it with you.

It was a tiny article – only a couple of inches high and an inch or so wide – and I can’t recall exactly which magazine it was in (since I saw it while waiting at the lab to get some blood work done), or whose original idea it was, but the concept (“Write an Ignore List”) was absolutely awe-inspiring!

We all know about ‘To Do’ lists – itemized records of tasks and chores that you intend to accomplish on any given day (week, month, lifetime).  They are considered to be a key time management / goal setting / motivational tool (and, truth be told, something I used to teach as a ‘success strategy’ to first year College Business students). 

To Do ListThe problem with ‘to do’ lists lies not in the concept – it’s certainly sound (write down what you plan ‘to do’, check each item off when it’s done, repeat) – it’s more that many of us never quite get to all the things we put on them.  The result is that instead of the goals-achieved euphoria we’re supposed to feel when we’ve accomplished (most of) what we set out to do, we end up awash with guilt over the one or two things we neglected to get done. And then we take those unfinished tasks and we put them right back on the next list (and the next, and the next, and the next).  Rather than feeling motivated by our ‘to do’ lists, we become fearful or resentful of them – because we know that no matter how much we really, really want to complete everything listed there, there’s going to be at least one thing (and probably more) that just never gets done! 

The idea of the ‘Ignore List’ (which I have decided to rename the ‘To *NOT* Do List’) is to move all those tasks you didn’t get done (and let’s face it, most of those are things you really didn’t want to do in the first place) from your ‘To Do’ list to a ‘To *NOT* Do’ list – and then follow up by NOT doing them.  Think how good it will feel at the end of the day (week, month, lifetime) when you can check off EVERY SINGLE ITEM on that list – you will have accomplished exactly what you set out to (not) do! Congratulations!

Now, I’m not suggesting we eliminate ‘to do’ lists altogether – there are things most of us need to write down (particularly as we age) in order to ensure they don’t get forgotten in the busyness of our lives (‘Call Dentist’, ‘Buy Cat Food’, ‘Return Library Books’), but having the ability to move those dreaded ‘I don’t want to and you can’t make me’ chores over to a ‘to *not* do’ list can quickly eliminate the guilt – and actually make you feel better about your goal setting and time management skills (and increase your motivation to get the rest done!)  How great is that?!?!?!?

To Not Do ListHere’s my ‘To *NOT* Do’ list for this week: 

  • wash and wax the kitchen floor
  • clean the oven
  • polish the silver
  • alphabetize my (ever-growing) library
  • ‘houseclean’ my hard drive
  • sort the kitchen ‘junk’ drawer
  • check how my mutual funds are doing

NOTE: each of these things needs to get done eventually – but not this week, honey!  And it feels so good knowing that next weekend I’ll be able to check every single one of them off as ‘mission accomplished’. Woo Hoo!

I also think it could be productive (and kind of fun) to expand the ‘To *NOT* Do’ list to your life goals – a sort of ‘anti-bucket list’ of things you plan never to do in your lifetime (someone had a post about this ‘Freshly Pressed’ not too long ago).  Here’s a short list of some of the things I plan to *NOT* do before I die. 

  • Grizzly BearRun a marathon (in fact, unless southern Ontario is invaded by rogue grizzly bears, you won’t find me running any where, any time, for any reason).
  • Climb a mountain (see above).
  • Eat lima beans or brussel sprouts (sorry, Mom!)
  • Visit Antarctica or the Arctic Circle (I think penguins and polar bears are wonderful creatures, but I’ll just settle for observing them at the zoo).
  • Jump out of an airplane (I don’t like heights, I don’t like the sense of falling, I’m sure a parachute pack would just make me look fat!)
  • Wear a mini skirt, hip-hugging bell bottoms, or a tube top ever again (I have photos that clearly show why they weren’t even such a good idea back in the 60s!)
  • Watch Jersey Shore (or, for that matter, Survivor, The Amazing Race, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Swamp People, Ice Road Truckers, Consumed / Hoarders, Big Brother, The Bachelor / Bachelorette, Project Runway / Whereever’s Next Top Model / Toddlers and Tiaras, Housewives from Anywhere, ‘reality’ Cooking, Renovation, Weight Loss, Wedding Planning, Wife-Swapping shows, elimination-type Singing / Dancing / Ice Skating competitions, anything to do with The Kardashians, Tori and Dean Spelling, Kate Gosselin, Paris Hilton … well, you get the picture).
  • Consider plastic surgery, liposuction, Botox treatments, or any other ‘invasive’ or medical procedure in an attempt to ‘reverse the aging process’ (my vanity ends with Miss Clairol and a really good SPF moisturizer!)
  • Buy another ‘sensible’ car (since you no longer have to give up sporty styling and horsepower in order to get good fuel economy!)
  • Grow old gracefully … I plan to slow down only moderately, be occasionally inept, inelegant, awkward, and even embarrassing (mostly to my children, I imagine), keep my sense of humour, follow my dreams, live life to the fullest, and enjoy every moment of every day that I still have coming to me on … the other side of 55.
Driving Past 55

Catch me if you can!!!!!

  1. October 20, 2011 4:32 pm

    All excellent To Not Do lists. I believe I can NOT MAKE my lists just by borrowing yours! My husband has a unique way of making a To Do List. He does the item first, then puts it on his list and crosses it off. That way his To Do list is always done!

    • October 20, 2011 5:41 pm

      I love your husband’s method – it’s 100% guaranteed to make you look and feel successful!


  2. cathy permalink
    October 16, 2011 11:45 pm

    Great idea Margo! I can feel the weight lessening from my shoulders already! Why do we do that to ourselves – making lists which invariably make us feel guilty? Granted, eventually things have to get done, but I really like your to ‘not’ do list! I think I might try writing one for myself.

  3. October 16, 2011 6:01 pm

    haha…Ditto on the lima beans.

    • October 16, 2011 10:30 pm

      When we were little, my sister used to say “Lima beans are catching”. When I think back on it, it doesn’t make much sense but I think she meant they were like a disease. I never did get a taste for them.


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