Better Than a To-Do List

The other night I had a dream.

But it was not a good one.

Perhaps it was my restless legs and weary body from the hours of exercise video filming I had done earlier in the day that brought upon this devilish dream.

In the dream I was giving a seminar. It wasn’t a very big seminar as there were maybe one hundred people in the room, and all of the attendees were there to learn about building their business.

As I finished my presentation, the group discussion turned to heated debate on politics, and suddenly a fight broke out amongst the audience members. The dream flashed forward to a colleague informing me that a video of the seminar brawl had been posted on Youtube and that I now had a PR nightmare on my hands.

And that was it. Like I said, pretty strange, even for my weird dreams.

The morning after this dream I woke up and started thinking. In our Early to Rise business, we had been in talks to participate in a seminar in March of next year. Suddenly I realized there was no good reason for us to participate in the event. Not only did I not have a good reason to speak at the event, I quickly found five good reasons NOT to do the seminar.

And so later that day after discussing this with Matt Smith and our Chief Operations Officer, Jeff Schneider, we decided to cancel our involvement. Thank goodness that my subconscious brought this to my attention.

This decision to cancel the seminar has taken a large load of stress off my shoulders. I didn’t need an unnecessary seminar adding to the workload – and trust me, if you’ve ever tried to fill, film, and deliver a seminar, you know that they take an extraordinary amount of work.

So I’ve added that to my NOT To-Do List.

That’s something that you should have, too.

After all, chances are that you are like me, driven and ambitious, wanting to grab the world by its tail to meet your greatest potential. But that attitude can get us into a bit of trouble sometimes. We bite off more than we can chew, as the old saying goes, and we end up more stressful than successful.

But it doesn’t need to be like that. From big commitments to every day time wasters, our lives can become a lot more efficient and productive when we follow the rules on our Not To-Do List as strictly as our To-Do List.

Let’s start your list by eliminating time wasters that you must cut out from your daily schedule. Here the activities that have made my Not To-Do List.

First, I don’t check email before lunch. Not only does this help me get more done during my morning “magic time” hours (the period of the day when I’m most productive), but it also prevents me from having my day ruined.

When I was younger and much more addicted to email, I would often start the day by checking my email – sometimes before I even rolled out of bed. Most days the email news would be good, but on the odd occasion there would be trouble. Perhaps someone hadn’t liked an article of mine, and had written in with some negative feedback.

Listen, no matter how strong your mental make-up, it’s hard not to get riled up by criticism – particularly email criticism, because upset people can really fire off some nasty comments.

Reading that email would ruin my day. I’d be forever fuming and constantly thinking of smug replies and witty retorts (that I would never send, of course) and my brain would be taken down a rabbit hole of wasted energy and unproductive hours.

One of our Virtual Mastermind Members, Dr. Kevin, found this out the hard way recently, and posted this to the forum:

“I just realized WHY you should NOT check email first thing in the morning. Yes, part of it has to do with being productive, but there’s a much bigger reason. I made this discovery after checking my email one morning and getting a not-so-nice email. This email messed up my mental state for the rest of the morning. It was very hard to snap out of it, leaving me unproductive. You live and learn – now I know why (checking your email in the morning should be on your NOT To-Do List).”

Be very careful with what you let into your mind in the mornings. You might need to add “Checking the News,” “Answering Voice Mail,” or “Having Meetings” to your morning Not To-Do List and move those all to a later point in the day after you’ve finished a big task.

Now I understand that won’t work for everyone, but you simply must control what you can. In addition to checking email, other behaviors on my daily Not To-Do List include:

  • Getting into online confrontations
  • Sleeping in
  • Skipping workouts
  • Mindlessly surfing the Internet
  • Gossiping

All of these are unacceptable behaviors and they are not to be done at any time. Since formally adding them to my Not To-Do List, I’ve managed to be much more successful at avoiding them.

Just important as the daily Not To-Do List are the long-term Not To-Dos. For me, these include:

  • Entering into unprofitable, time-consuming projects and relationships
  • Scheduling unnecessary travel
  • Getting involved in the technological work on my websites
  • Hanging around negative, gossiping people

Once you make yourself aware of what you want to avoid, it becomes much easier to do so. Unfortunately, most people make the mistake of filling their day with wrong activities. It’s almost like an addiction. Perhaps that’s why Dan Kennedy once said, “People’s problems are their hobbies.”

But if you want to be productive and successful, you can’t let your worst behaviors become your habits. If you find yourself in a rut, doing the same wrong things over and over again, then you must take on the task of spending a good deal of time in introspection.

An hour or two of self-reflection on how you spend your time can save you months of frustration. And it often starts with building a Not To-Do List.

While you don’t have to write down a Not To-Do List every day, it sure helps to have one in your mind. That’s also why creating the “Rules for Your Life” is so important.

You need a personal philosophy to keep you on track.

By having a well thought out, clear and concise Not To-Do List, you’ll have a better chance of sticking to the right things on your To-Do list and thus making the exponential progress you are capable of.

Choose your work wisely.

[Ed Note: Craig Ballantyne is the editor of Early to Rise (Join him on Facebook here) and the author of Financial Independence Monthly, a complete blueprint to helping you take control of your financial future with a web-based business that you can operate from anywhere in the world – including a coffee shop, your kitchen table, or anywhere around the world where there is Internet access. Discover how you can achieve the American Dream and your financial independence here. You’ve never seen anything like this before.]
  • 121
  • Very interesting concept. I like your list of “not do’s” as a place to start. I’m going to give this idea some deeper thought, some development and implement it.

    Thanks for the idea.

    Dan Garner

  • Mary Ann

    I hope the March seminar you are referring to is NOT the Fitness Business Summit with Bedros 🙁 in any case, great reminder. The only emails I do read in the morning are ones that bring me motivation and drive… This includes yours, Bedros’ and the other odd few. Off to get productive. Have a great wk!

  • Jimmy Le

    Thank you Craig for your article “Not To-Do List” and also other previous articles.
    Reading today’s article, I’ve learned that Not To-Do List is nearly as important as To-Do List. It might be like HABIT that has both good and bad side and that bad habits should be put on the Not To-Do List.
    My first one on the Not To-Do List is criticism. It can pick out quickly someone’s bad aspects and try to criticize and the result is stressful in most cases, particularly to smarter, higher educated and more experienced persons. Criticism is like to destroy (most of the times) that is much easier than to build.
    I’ve learned a lot by reading your articles and would like to thank you very much.
    Jimmy Le.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Happy to help, Jimmy.

  • Rebecca Tabbert

    Very timely reminder. Thank you again for all your writing. You are one of the predominant voices in my head some days (in a good way). The “voice” is just the lessons I’ve learned from you, reminders that are necessary for all of us at times. You’re an awesome coach, even from a distance! 🙂 Hope all is well with you and Bailey (sp?) and mom too of course!

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Thank you, Rebecca, and thank you for the book!

  • Steve Stanfield

    This is exactly what I needed to hear today. I’ve been having issues with being affected by negative (criticism) emails in the morning and it just ruining my whole morning. It brings me down to their level, just makes me angry and lose focus on the tasks at hand, while I carefully craft the perfect choice email to fire back at them, ultimately deleting them, and yet feeling unsatisfied for not replying, as if I’m letting them win.

    So from now on, Outlook isn’t permanently running on my desktop, and it only gets opened when I get back from lunch. Excellent article and idea!

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Great work, Steve. Thank you!