Just (Don't) Do It

September 14, 2012

Despite the love/hate relationship I have with lists, I’m creating a new one: The Do Not Do List.

The Do Not Do List has been on my mind for quite a while. I’ve been jotting down things I won’t do anymore (see below) and I keep stumbling on articles that talk about the concept, which I think is a rather important one. Yes, it is important to know what you want to do. It is just as important to know what you will not do.

There are several reasons why something would land on a Do Not Do List. I’m not talking about the obvious illegal or immoral things, but things that, for whatever reason, you choose not to do. Maybe it’s a chore like washing windows, or a social obligation you decide no longer fits with your life. Do Not Dos can be as simple as “Do not check email before breakfast” or they can involve more weighty items related to work, parenting, volunteering, social or family issues. Each person’s list will be different.

Things for the Do Not Do list fall into a couple of categories: things you don’t want to do or dislike doing, and things you’d like to do, but currently don’t have the time or resources for. Think about that first type for a minute. We’re adults with (hopefully) mature minds of our own. Surely there are a number of things we do out of habit that we do not need to do. When we stop doing them, we free up time for more important and enjoyable activities.

The second category, things you’d like to do, can be placed temporarily on the Do Not Do List, to allow you to concentrate on a few priorities. You might develop a “Do Later” subcategory on the Do Not Do List. This is the type of thing I put on the Six-Year Calendar of Happiness.

The Do Not Do List helps you get rid of activities that are not adding to the sum of your happiness and productivity, but it also helps you focus on your most rewarding current priorities by streamlining your To Do List. Once something lands on the Do Not Do List, you don’t have to think about it anymore. You should feel a psychic burden lifted from your shoulders.

The Do Not Do List doesn’t have to be set in stone. Some things might stay on it for a week, a few months, a few years. Possibly some things will stay on it forever. Reevaluate occasionally to make sure it’s still working for you.

Here are a few examples of things I currently Do Not Do:

Take clothes to consignment stores. Too much work for not a big enough return. If I have unwanted clothes, I donate them to Goodwill Industries.

Read every article in a magazine. It might sound crazy, but I used to think I needed to read every single piece in a magazine, especially if I bought it instead of checking it out from the library. I would read articles that I was not particularly interested in because I was afraid of missing something I really needed to read, or the one paragraph or sentence that would spark a brilliant idea. I’ve come to realize that if there’s an idea or important concept out there for me, it will find me. I’ve also learned to stop reading books that I really don’t like.

Go on diets. Sure, I could stand to lose a few pounds. I have several strategies I use when the number on the scale (or the waistband on the pants) tells me my weight has crept up, but I do not cut out any food groups, restrict my calories to a very low level or follow someone else’s eating plan. I know those methods do not work for me. I become instantly rebellious, hyper focused on food and generally make things worse for myself. My way is excruciatingly slow (try five pounds in 10 weeks), but I do not usually feel deprived, and each time I have to make adjustments to keep my weight under control, I try to make lifetime habit changes. I also try to do it from a position of love for my body and what it does for me, instead of trying to punish it. Easier said than done, but I’m working on it.

Wear shoes, no matter how cute, that hurt my feet, legs or back. I’m constantly on the lookout for comfortable, cute shoes and I’m willing to pay a bit more for them. So far I’ve had limited success. (Suggestions welcomed!)

We live in a complicated world in which the ability to say no to the extraneous and focus on the essential has become a vital skill. We cannot possibly focus quality attention on as many things as demand that attention. We have to pick and choose, no matter how difficult that might be (and I find it difficult). Even if we feel guilty for giving up unpleasant tasks, it’s still easier to dispose of things we don’t like doing, and much harder to streamline our enjoyable interests.  What are we willing to give up in order to accomplish something significant in an area of highest priority? Putting those things on a Do Not Do List, or even a Do Later List, can help simplify and clarify our lives.

What is on your Do Not Do List?

You Might Also Like


  1. The biggie on my Do Not Do List is

    I do not say Never. I have learned that one of the surest ways to make something happen is to say "never." Most of the them don't matter too much--but there have been two things in my life that I said "I will never...." And I did. And it mattered.

  2. That is a great principle. I feel like I'm tempting fate if I say Never.

  3. I would like to put going to 2-year-olds' birthday parties on my Do No Do list, but I'm going.

    Hmmm, I'm going to have to think about this for a bit!

  4. A 2-year-old's birthday party?! Well, it should be...interesting. You'll have to reach down to your inner child and ask her to come out to play!

  5. You'll have to let me know if you think of anything interesting to put on a Do Not Do List!

  6. I like your "To-Don'ts" idea! Mind would be don't watch mindless TV just because it's on; don't read the entire magazine, just pull out the articles you want and toss the rest; don't wear a hairstyle that takes more than 10 minutes in the morning; and don't eat anything that you'll feel worse for later.

  7. I like yours, Krista, especially the one about the 10-minute hairstyle!