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

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.

    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.

    How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 13 Bad Habits You Need to Quit Right Away 5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life 42 Practical Ways To Improve Yourself How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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