What Tim Ferriss and Jim Collins, taught me about using a Not-To-Do List.


Over the last 12 months, I've been trying to simplify my life and create more space for the things that are important and meaningful to me.

I found that I had too much shit going on, so I started to systematically cut unnecessary things out of my life.

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."
- Albert Einstein

Enter the Not-To-Do List

One way to simplify your life so you can focus on achieving your goals is by creating a Not-To-Do List.

I was first introduced to this concept in a Tim Ferriss blog post.

“Not-to-do” lists are often more effective than to-do lists for upgrading performance. The reason is simple: what you don’t do determines what you can do."
- Tim Ferriss

An Not To Do List helps you drill down on the essential things that really matter and discard (or minimize) the non-essential.

Unfortunately, so many people are busy jumping from one reactive task to the next. As a result, they become less intentional in their lives and lose sight of what's important.

'What would you stop doing?'

As a graduate student, Jim Collins, author of Good to Great was asked how his behavior would change if he received two life-changing phone calls:

1. Phone Call 1 - He'd learn that he'd inherited $20million
1. Phone Call 2 - Due to a rare and incurable disease, he had only 10 years left to live.

In this situation, what would you stop doing?

Focus on the essential

The phone call thought experiment gets you to focus on what really matters in your life.

It helps you focus on the essential things that give your life colour, flavour and perspective.

By cutting out the inessential, you can place more emphasis on the essential.

Start with No.

Keeping things simple and focusing on what really matters, starts with saying 'No'. One of the hardest two-letter words in the English language.

To achieve high performance, saying 'No' is a critical skill. It allows you to focus on the things that are most important to you.

Saying 'No' also helps you start your Not-To-Do List.

7 Habits you MUST include on your Not-To-Do List

The reason for starting a Not-To-Do List is simple: what you don't do determines what you can do.

With that in mind, here are 7 habits that entrepreneurs and professionals should strive to eliminate out of their day:

1. Looking at your phone first thing in the morning

This causes you to start your day on the back foot and places you under stress shortly after waking up and puts you in reactive mode for the rest of the day. Not a good way to start.

2. Answering calls from unknown numbers

Unless your calls have been pre-scheduled, let calls go to voicemail. If necessary, call back during the time you've allotted in your day for dealing with admin.

3. Constantly checking emails and social media

Set up an autoresponder and check your emails in batches at a set time every day. Allocate set time blocks in your day to spend on social media.

4. Agreeing to useless meetings

Unless meetings have a predefined start and end time, with a clear agenda, don't agree to them. Encourage asynchronous communication instead - send an email.

5. Drinking coffee late in the afternoon

The half-life of coffee is about 5 hours and drinking coffee later than 2/3pm in the afternoon will seriously impact the quality of your sleep.

6. Going to bed later than intended

Don't sit up mindlessly at night to squeeze in another Netflix episode. Stick to a regular bedtime and routine so your mind and body get enough rest to recharge.

7. Pleasing everyone

Use Opportunity Management to start saying 'No'. Break the habit of saying yes all the time so that you can focus on your goals.

How To start your own Not-To-Do List

Step 1: Track all of your tasks for one week

Tracking helps you understand what you spend your time on and how effective you are with it.

Utilize time tracking apps like Toggl Track, Harvest, or Forest to keep an accurate record of how you spend your time.

Step 2: Review those tasks + mark out of 10

Spend time reviewing and scoring the results out of 10 at the end of the week.

Schedule time in your calendar for the review and stick to it. Find a quiet spot where you can focus and jump in.

Step 3: Use the XDS Method

Once you have your scores, use the XDS Method to eliminate, delegate and systemize tasks:

  • Scores 1-3 = Eliminate these tasks.
  • Scores 4-7 = Delegate or systemize these tasks.
  • Scores 8-10 = These are the tasks you should be focusing on every day. Block out time every week to work on them, and stick to it.

These scores form the basis of your Not-To-Do List.

By default, you will have simplified your life and started the transition to focusing on what's important for you to achieve your goals.