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The “To Don’t List”

Time management experts (including me) stress the importance of having a “To Do” list and you can’t move these days without being assailed by the plethora of options available.  This list, updated and prioritized daily will help you identify and execute the most urgent things but it will not help you identify the things that you should eliminate from your day.

While a To Do List is essential, it is a purely tactical tool. Strategic Time Management requires a different approach, and at the heart of the time edge is the “To Don’t List”. This is an important concept that flows directly from Unbundling  Identification From Action and Controlling the Tyranny of the Urgent, and it involves creating a list of all the things that you identify that are candidates for elimination.

Note that I said “candidates”. This doesn’t mean that you have committed, or even decided, to get rid of them. Rather it is a fearless inventory of all the things that don’t belong in your day. It is the equivalent of allowing yourself to dream. The collection process has nothing to do with how you’re going to get rid of the items you put on the list, which becomes an inventory for detailed analysis that will come later in the process.

The To Don’t List is a formal, written list that you produce regularly. Unlike the To Do List, you do nothing to execute at the time you add an item to the list, and this makes it a very liberating process. Normally, when we add things to our To Do List they eat up time. By stark contrast, the things we add to our To Don’t List create immediate potential payback in our mind.

The object of the exercise is to capture tasks that you don’t want to do and get them in one place where you can categorize, sort and use them to develop action plans at a later date. You will either be delegating, outsourcing or eliminating through process changes, but however they are to be eliminated doesn’t matter at this point.

Once you adopt the concept of separating identification from action, the next move is controlling of the tyranny of the urgent and finding the best ways to collect the data.

The following sections will analyze different techniques that you can use to identify activities for potential elimination. Before getting there, there are three concepts that need to be considered:

  • Working Below Your Pay Grade
  • Urgent and Important Activity Analysis
  • Separating activities from results
 

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Time Management Tips

  • When somebody interrupts you when you are busy, don't let them interrupt your train of thought. Ask them to come back and see you at a specific time – you may be surprised that they actually figure out the answer and don't come back to ask you.

  • Everybody has about three hours during the day when they are at their best. Figure out what your "Prime Time" is and then plan your day around it. Make sure that you dedicate that time to focus without interruptions on the activities that are of most value to you.

  • It is all too easy to waste time on phone calls. Keep an egg timer next to the phone to keep track of exactly how long you are talking. It will keep the time you are spending in the forefront of your mind and will help you handle the call more efficiently.

  • Never go to the bank to deposit checks, it is a Time Bandit way below your pay grade, and claiming it is therapeutic and gets you out of the office is deluding yourself. Send somebody else!  Better still, get a check scanning machine...and make sure the bank pays!

  • Organize your office so the door isn't in your immediate line of vision. The big payoff is that people can't appear at your door, hover, catch your eye and distract you. If you make it harder to interrupt you, people may figure out answers themselves rather than asking you.

  • When you have to give out an e-mail address to somebody who's going to send you things you don't want in your inbox, give them a special "junk" e-mail address. Then set up a rule so that everything to that address goes to a folder you review on your timetable.

  • When somebody interrupts you to ask you a question always reply with a question back. Ask them how they would deal with it, and make them think proactively rather than just relying on you. A good technique is to ask: "If I wasn't available today, what would you do?"

  • If your key customers expect you to answer the phone at all times, get an Internet phone line and give them a "VIP" phone number to call. Set it up with a unique ring on your system and you'll know that calls on that line are from your most important customers.

  • Most people have a “To Do” list to record the tasks they need to "Get Done", but it doesn't help identify what you shouldn't do yourself. For that you need a “To Don’t” list. Identify the culprits, put them on the list and defend your time by assigning them elsewhere. 

  • E-mails have overtaken the phone now as the most dangerously effective of all Time Bandits. Turn off your e mail alert and check your e-mail only four times a day....do it on your schedule not the schedule of the people who are interrupting your more productive work.

  • E-mails have overtaken the phone as the most dangerously effective of all time wasters. The worst thing is the e mail alert that pops up on your computer screen. Don't let other people interrupt you in this way and take back control of your time by turning the alert off

  • When somebody interrupts you while sitting at your desk, stand up. It changes the pace of the interaction and sends a message to the interrupter that they have invaded your time. The more you can send this message, the more effective you will become at protecting your time.

  • When somebody comes to you with an issue they should figure out themselves, don't allow yourself to relieve them of the burden and take it on yourself. Instead of saying "leave it with me" when this happens, say "never delegate upwards" and ask them for their solution.

  • Entrepreneurs wear so many of the hats in their business that many of the tasks they carry out are at a level way below the real value of their time. Are you working below your pay grade by not handing off menial tasks that should be done by others?

  • When you are hiring new employees, ask candidates about their time management abilities. The best employees are those that can prioritize their work and handle interruptions, so be sure to ask relevant questions to probe in those areas so that you hire somebody who has those skills.

  • Email has become a huge time-waster and taking control of your Inbox is becoming more critical than ever. The ideal state is only to have things in your Inbox that are important, urgent or time sensitive, and to put everything else automatically into folders using Rules governing what happens when they come in. I’ve been using Outlook Rules for a number of years to sort specific topics, but I recently came across a new rule that makes a dramatic difference.


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Did you know ?

Everybody has about three hours during the day when they are at their best. Figure out what your "Prime Time" is and then plan your day around it. Make sure that you dedicate that time to focus without interruptions on the activities that are of most value to you.