The power of the Not-To-Do-List | Rundle Safety Management

Everyone knows the advice on creating a To-Do list. Chances are anyone reading this has one of those lists nearby, just waiting to have one item after another checked off as the day rolls along.

A To-Do list certainly can help a day run smoother. On the other hand, that little list can prove daunting. Some days it seems far, far too long.

There’s a solution to that. It falls directly into the area of process improvement and Six Sigma strategies.

The idea? Create a Not-To-Do list.

Ah, the Not-To-Do list. A procrastinator’s dream. Not quite. Why?

It can save time. It can make a person more efficient in their day-to-day work, creating more free time to handle more valuable projects. It can also cut down drastically on the depressing length of the To-Do list.

As it turns out, less can be more.

Time As A Commodity

Understanding the power of a Not-To-Do list starts with the realization that time is a commodity. Just like money and energy, there is only so much time in a day. And like land, they are not making any more of it – 24 hours is what you get, no matter what.

How a person spends their time is often not entirely under their control. But better management of time in the areas where they do have control can prove liberating.

It also can help a person better plan a day. Working in bursts and then taking time for rest and renewal has been shown to be a more effective approach. A study by NASA, for example, showed that pilots on long flights performed better when allowed to take a 40-minute nap.

Those who didn’t nap had slower reaction times, according to the Harvard Business Review.

Working straight through for so many hours can lead to a decreased level of performance. It’s called diminishing returns.

Running around all day from task to task following an overly long To-Do list creates the exact same scenario as what happened to the pilots. That’s not what you want.

Creating a Not-To-Do List

Making change is hard. That’s why Six Sigma is applied in so many industries. It’s a proven process improvement methodology that gives people the tools to push themselves into making changes.

Here are some steps to consider when creating your Not-To-Do list.

Remember that by the time the process is done, the only thing left on your To-Do list should be a realistic number of tasks that help move you forward on attaining daily goals.

Nothing is too small. Any low-value task that interrupts focus on important work ultimately costs you time. It takes 23 full minutes, on average, to recover focus after being interrupted, no matter the nature of the interruption, according to research from the University of California.

Set A Goal

Every positive change starts here. Read a book by a successful entrepreneur or watch them speak in a video online. The details of everyone’s journey is different, but there is one universal constant: Each individual developed a firm idea of where they wanted to go and then focused their time on achieving that goal.

You have to know what you want before you can move forward. Don’t rush into creating a Not-To-Do list without thinking this first step through. Imagine life in a year or two, or even five or 10. How do you want your life to look at those points? What is it that you really want?

Collect Data

As with all things in process improvement, it’s important to know where you are before you get to where you are going. Take a week to write down everything you do, every day. That means everything, both on the job and in your personal life. Keep this list handy. It’s going to provide the information needed to make improvements.

Analyze The Data

After a week, go back through everything you did. Where was time wasted on low-value tasks? Some items should leap out immediately as the kind that can be delegated to someone else. Others may require more thought.

It’s important to keep the eight wastes identified by Lean Six Sigma in mind when eliminating tasks from your day. They are defects, overproduction, waiting, inventory, transportation, motion, extra processing and unused talent.

Some ideas for potential areas that can go on the Not-To-Do list, as seen through these Lean Six Sigma areas of waste, include some of the following.

Eliminating Low-Value Tasks

Each individual must decide what works best for their Not-To-Do list. But there’s a high chance some of these low-value tasks will make the list.


Endless meetings on a project are time wasters. Decide what meetings are actually needed to move a project forward and eliminate the rest.

Email and Texts

Checking email and texts every 30 minutes (or, let’s face it, every five minutes) is not a good idea. That’s allowing someone or something else to take over your time. Set aside certain points in the day to check emails and texts, and stick to it. This one step can free up a lot of your time.

Endless Reports

Watch the movie “Office Space” for inspiration on this one, particularly the scene on TPS reports. This movie was made before the innovations in technology that make long reports on historical data obsolete in many cases.

These represent some of the areas that should be considered for the Not-To-Do list. Do yourself a favor and cut out the low-value work.  You will thank yourself later.

You know, when you have more time.

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