“To Do” lists are a staple tactic for everyone wanting to get better at managing their time. A tactic that is less common, but probably just as important, is the “To Not Do” list.
Imagine your daily tasks each have their own file that is stored in a filing cabinet beside your desk.
For most people, their filing cabinet is pretty full, highlighting that they have relatively little spare or discretionary time in their day.
Then your supervisor asks you to add two additional tasks to your schedule. You prepare the two files and try to squeeze them into your filing cabinet.
If there is no room in the cabinet, you only have two options. You can increase the space in your filing cabinet by working extra hours, or you can take an existing file out to make room.
Increasing the hours you work is often the easy option. It makes sense, is easy to implement and works well in the short term to clear a major project.
However, in the longer term, it is a trap because the number of additional files coming your way is only going to increase and you don’t have unlimited capacity to keep adding hours to your day.
Taking files out of the cabinet is the equivalent of creating a “To Not Do” list.
Which jobs in your current role are discretionary? Which ones are 'nice to do' rather than 'have to do' items?
Most people insist that everything is a 'must do' item and there is nothing that can be removed. This is rarely the case.
An open conversation with your supervisor will reveal three types of tasks – those that 'must' be done, those that 'should' be done and those that 'could' be done.
Having a list of the 'could' and 'should' items on a "To Not Do” list allows you to ask the question next time a new task arrives on your desk – how important is this task in relation to the 'could' and 'should' items currently in place?
The answer will help you prioritise the new item against all the existing demands.
One more small step in the next 24 hours
Pull out three sheets of paper. Write the words 'must', 'should' and 'could' on the top.
Over the next week, write the “big ticket” tasks that occupy most of your time on the relevant page. Then arrange a meeting with your supervisor to discuss your three lists and get their views on whether or not you have the items in the correct category.
The conversation will be revealing as you will gain clear feedback on your priorities and where you might have discretion when the inevitable new project arrives on your desk.
What impact could this action have on your leadership success?
How likely is it you could implement this action successfully?