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The Not-Do List: 9 Things You Need To Stop Doing

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The Not-Do List: 9 Things You Need To Stop Doing

    We’ve all familiar with creating a to-do list to increase our productivity. Another list which can jumpstart our productivity is the not-do list – things we shouldn’t do. By being conscious of what to avoid, it’ll automatically channel our energy into things that we want to do. Doing both hand in hand will maximize our performance.

    If you want to take your productivity to the next level, here are 9 habits avoid:

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    1. Trying to do everything

    I mention 80/20 rule a lot in my articles because it’s true. And I’ll repeat again. Not all tasks are equal. Each task has its own importance. In fact by the 80/20 rule, 20% of the tasks on our to-do list account for 80% of the value. So cut ferociously at your to-do list and slice away the 80% low-value tasks. When you’ve streamlined it to the minimum essential, laser focus all your energy on those 20% high value ones. Do the same thing the next day. Rinse and repeat. Keep only the absolute important things and let go of the rest.

    Read Strategy #6 on 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity for more on the 80/20 rule.

    2. Answering all emails (or calls and messages for that matter)

    I used to think I have to reply to all emails until I noticed that not all my emails were replied to. In fact, many weren’t, even when they were follow-up replies to reader mails asking for help. Seemingly, all the effort that go into meticulously typing, wording and formatting my mails wasn’t really getting me anywhere. I would be stuck in email land the whole day long with no output to claim of my own except for an increase in mails in my sent box. So I began to selectively reply to higher priority emails , and the world didn’t stop. In fact, I now have more time to create more high value content and articles for readers, which is a big win for everyone.

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    3. Thinking you have to do everything immediately

    Apart from my to-do list and not-do list, I also have a do-later list. This is to collect the items that drop in mid-way through the day, usually administrative, nitty gritty tasks that don’t take much time but aren’t majorly important too. If I drop what I’m doing at the moment to work on them it can be disruptive, so instead I put them in my do-later list. Then at the end of the day, I batch and process everything at one go. It’s a lot more effective.

    Likewise for my emails, I have a “Reply by Tue/Thu/Sat” folder where I archived mails to deal with on the respective days.

    4. Putting important tasks off

    Procrastination is the mind killer. It may seem like a good idea to put off that task now, but that’s just setting yourself for a jam later on, and it’s not worth it. Get started on your most important projects now and stop putting them off. Out of all the people I’ve met in all my life, I’ve never come across anyone who gets authentic joy and happiness from procrastination. The ones who claim to be happy procrastinating are usually living in an illusion, alternating from “Oh I’m happy the way I am” to “I wish I don’t have to do this” to “Sigh I wish I started earlier” in a matter of seconds.

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    Don’t subject yourself to such a situation. It’s all about a matter of getting started. Once you start, it gets easier. I’ve written 11 simple, yet practical steps which can help you move out of the procrastination cycle.

    5. Trying to get things perfect the first time round

    Interesting, it’s the perfectionist in us that causes many of us to procrastinate (see #4). If the perfectionist side of you is hindering you from getting things done in the first place, that’s something you should look into. Get into the notion of ‘drafts’ – let yourself work on a 1st draft, where you work on the core content, then return for a 2nd or 3rd draft where you iron out the little details. Give yourself the permission to make mistakes which you can correct later on. It’s much easier this way than trying to get everything right in the 1st version. I do this when writing my articles and my books and my productivity is higher.

    6. Being hung up over details

    Being detail oriented is good. I’m a very detail oriented person myself. However, don’t be so obsessed with details that it holds you back. Does this matter a year from now? 3 years from now? 5 years? If not, then maybe it’s  not worth worrying so much about it now. Go for the bigger picture; that’s more important to you.

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    7. Not having clear goals

    Do you know your goals for this month? How about your goals for this year? And the next year? If you can answer these 3 questions with absolute certainty and conciseness, then you’re good to go. Otherwise, perhaps it’s good to spend some time to think over them. While it may take a bit of time in the beginning, after you work out your priorities, your days become very sharp and focused. I have clear monthly goals and targets which I work toward and review every week, and these help me to stay on track towards my long-term goals. This month, my biggest goal is to  finish and release my 2nd book. Being conscious of this goal has helped me to push away the unimportant tasks and prioritize the ones essential for the launch, so I can meet the launch timing. Right now everything is going on track and I’m excited to see the final outcome. Read Strategy #1 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity for more about setting your targets.

    8. Not taking breaks

    Humans are not robots. While robots can sustain constant output over a long period of time, we need to rest and recharge. So schedule a short break in between your work hours, say for 5 or 10 minutes, and take a breather. You’ll find your focus markedly higher when you return.

    9. Trying to please everyone

    I like this quote by Colin Powell, which says “Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity”. You’re never going to be able to control what others think, so don’t spend too much time sweating over it. Instead, work on the things you have control over – yourself, your emotions, your thoughts and your actions. Spend your energy in the creation process, and on people who do deserve your attention and love. Try it for a week – You’ll find it’s a lot more rewarding this way.

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    How about you?

    Which of the 9 items in the not-do list above apply to you? Do you have anything that will increase your productivity markedly once you stop doing them? Share in the comments area.

    Image © Shutterstock

    More by this author

    Celestine Chua

    Celestine is the Founder of Personal Excellence where she shares her best advice on how to boost productivity and achieve excellence in life.

    42 Practical Ways to Start Working on Self-Improvement 11 Reasons Why You Aren’t Getting Results on Your Goals How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity 5 Reasons Why Being a Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

    How To Be a Better Listener

    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

    1. Pay Attention

    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

    2. Use Positive Body Language

    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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    Be polite and wait your turn!

    4. Ask Questions

    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

    5. Just Listen

    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

    6. Remember and Follow Up

    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

    8. Maintain Eye Contact

    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

    Final Thoughts

    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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