Here’s why you need to make yourself a ‘To-Not-Do’ list

Given time is your most precious resource, I contend it is essential to give regular, disciplined thought to what you should stop doing. Maybe not every day, but at least once or twice a month.

Most of you reading this post have drawn up thousands of To-Do lists. Some scrawled by hand on the backs of tattered envelopes or napkins, others color-coded, numbered, and lined up shiny and straight in the latest electronic to-do software.

But how many of you have ever drawn up a “To-Not-Do” list?

Given time is your most precious resource, I contend it is essential to give regular, disciplined thought to what you should stop doing. Maybe not every day, but at least once or twice a month.

When I work with leaders, they often conclude they need more time for coaching, hiring, training, or motivating. Or they recognize that they’ve been eaten alive by urgent day-to-day tasks, neglecting critical strategy, planning, or innovation projects.

So at the start of our leadership programs, we dedicate some serious attention to pruning away less valuable activities.

Are you ready for the same challenge? “Making time” may just enable you to finally implement that game-changing process improvement or marketing strategy. Or to start training the two new team members who’ve been spinning their wheels. (And actually get home before 8 pm!)

Here are some questions to consider as you build your first “To-Not-Do” list:

1. What more can you delegate?

Be fierce. Too many managers feel guilty when transferring a task. But if delegating something frees up more of your time to coach, innovate, fix things, or identify new opportunities, your team will benefit (not suffer) due to your increased delegation. Besides, they’ll likely be stretched, developed, and possibly even flattered when given the new task(s), if you frame things well. Don’t sandbag your own delegation efforts by thinking: “it’ll take less time to do myself.” Yes, the first and second times you delegate this task, you’re probably right. But not the 3rd thru the 25th times.

2. What would you stop doing ASAP do if it were your own business?

If you were writing personal checks twice a month to cover key business investments and to pay your team – what uses of your own (and your team’s) time would you jettison immediately?

3. What are you doing by habit that has outlived its usefulness?

That report you write up each Thursday? A committee membership with long, drawn-out monthly meetings which you could probably resign from (citing long service) or delegate to someone else with fresher ideas?

4. What are you doing that feels urgent in the moment, but not nearly as important as other things waiting to get done?

Many leaders’ time is eroded by these squeaky wheel items that come “at them”. Empower others to handle situations OR simply draw a line on which conversations or problems you’ll get drawn into.

5. Are there activities you should put on a (time) budget?

Could you limit “pick your brain” conversations with career advice seekers or corporate colleagues whose work isn’t related to your own to, say, 1 hour a month? Could you trim email time by checking and handling email during only 3 or 4 predictable blocks each day? Could you develop kind & polite tactics to cut short interviews with candidates who you realize (5 min into the chat) are really not a fit?

Something’s gotta give. Too much comes at us. I challenge you to peer with a critical eye on your current to-do lists, calendars, or memories of recent days. Identify 3 lower value activities you should eliminate, delegate, or shrink. So that your genuinely important projects and leadership activities such as coaching or client care don’t get lost in that relentless to-do-list shuffle.

This article first appeared on Catalyze.

Kirstin Lynde|is the founder and principal at Catalyze Associates, a firm dedicated to intensive, immersive, and metrics-based leadership development and coaching programs