Why You Need a To-Don't List

Don't just track to-do items. Track what you won't do.

“What you decide not to do is probably more important than what you decide to do.” — Tom Peters

Why does your To Do list keep getting sidetracked?

Take a close look, and you’ll find other things taking precedence. Those “things” are the dark matter of productivity, and they delight in stealing away your attention. They leave you feeling frustrated and defeated, day after day.

Before going another day with an unfinished To Do list, try a To Don’t list.

A To Don’t list brings the things you will NOT do that day front and center. You cross each one off after successfully resisting its attempt at distraction. According to management guru Tom Peters, such a list “is critically important for personal and organizational success.”

First take a look at your To Do list and ask yourself which items are the highest priority. Quickly move them to the top and either defer the remaining items to another day or mark them as optional.

Now that your To Do list is in order, think about the things that commonly derail your productivity. If you find this difficult, take a few days to make note of them as they occur.

Here are some examples of good To Don’t list material:

  • Doomscroll social media.

  • Check email more than twice a day.

  • Chase after shiny objects on the web.

Don’t succumb to cluttering your To Don’t list with things that occasionally derail you. That is a form of procrastination seeking to hide what really matters. Focus on the most common culprits.

Harness the power of NO today. Swat away all of that pesky dark matter of procrastination by shining a light on it. The feeling you get from crossing off each item you successfully DID NOT DO will provide little bursts of motivation.

Reflect that motivation back onto your To Do list and finish the day like a champ.


Take some time over the next few days to observe candidate To Don’t list items. Are you surprised by how many things distract you throughout the day? I certainly was!

Please share your favorites when you have a moment.