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?


Every Minute Is a Choice

June 17, 2011

On impulse, I began reading an interesting book this morning after watching this short video (I was able to download it electronically from my libary system—how cool is that?!): 

 The book, 168 Hours, by Laura Vanderkam, explains that everyone is given the same amount of time per week: 168 hours. What we do with that is up to us. I’m only a couple of chapters in, but already I’ve had my thinking about time shaken up a bit. The point of the book: “You can choose how to spend your 168 hours, and you have more time than you think.”

I have to admit I was initially a bit resistant. Was this another attempt to get me to pack more into my days? And didn’t sleep matter? I mean, I need seven to eight hours a night and that only leaves me with about 119 hours a week… (Can you hear me starting to make excuses?)

Vanderkam states that for various reasons we overestimate the amount of time we spend working and doing chores. She recommends keeping a time log for a week to see where your time goes (you can download and print your own time log here). I absolutely know I squander a lot of time fooling around on the Internet (while calling it research…) and I watch more TV than I should, but mostly when I have the TV on, I’m doing something else at the same time—like cleaning the kitchen, making dinner or folding laundry. I also suspect that I do certain things than don’t actually need doing, or maybe, don’t need doing by me. I feel like I’m packing my days full with activities…and I am. But am I packing them full of things that are meaningful and important, and that I can do better than others? As one of Vanderkam’s interview subjects said, “Every minute I spend is my choice.”

One of my “Twelve Commandments” is There is time enough. I’m hopeful that 168 Hours will help me remember that, and use my time in a more meaningful fashion.

I’ll continue to read 168 Hours this weekend and I’m excited to learn more. I may find that the nuts and bolts of her approach don't suit my personality, or that her suggestions aren't practical--but even if I don't agree with her 100%, I'm sure I'll learn something.

How will you spend your time this weekend?


“To Take Delight”

May 06, 2011

I finished a large (for me) writing project late on Wednesday, and when I shared that information with a friend the next day, she said in an email, “That must feel good to have those articles done and delivered! Hope you're taking time to savor that feeling.”

Uh, not really.

What I did instead was rush right into the next things on my to-do list. Because other areas of my life had been neglected while I concentrated on my deadline, instead of taking the time to feel good about what I’d just done, I felt I had to leap into action and get those areas back in line. Instead of focusing on what I'd done, I focused on what was left undone. It wasn't until after I read and thought about what my friend wrote that I began to allow myself to savor a feeling of accomplishment.

To savor is to take delight in something. Accomplishing something you set out to do, like meeting a challenging deadline, is something to savor. I write frequently about slowing down and appreciating what we have—probably because these are lessons I’m still learning. These concepts are important to me. Perhaps through reading and writing about them, I’ll finally learn the lessons for good. Or maybe those lessons don’t get learned “for good”—rather, each time I revisit them, I explore some new nuance or facet of the concept. I think I do a pretty decent job of appreciating the good things in my life...maybe it's now time for me to learn to take delight in my own accomplishments.

Maybe you can help me with this process. How do you savor your accomplishments and the good things in your life? Whatever you do, I hope you have much to savor this weekend.

Something to savor