I’ve Nailed My To Do’s. It’s Time for Some To Don’ts

Business consultant Jeffrey P. Hunt recently delivered a talk I attended on simplifying your work and life. Among other things, he spoke about the idea of developing “to don’t” lists. I don’t know if this concept originated with Jeffrey but this was the first time I had heard it. The idea intrigues me.

He asked us to think about what we are doing that is not moving us forward toward our work or personal goals.

We all know about the importance of focusing our time and attention on our A priorities, the two or three things that really matter in terms of what we want personally or what we have committed to performance wise. The flip side of this, of course, is spending precious time and attention on what distracts us from our goals. Gosh, but doesn’t email come to mind? And what about those less than necessary meetings we convene or attend?

As I think about this, “to don’ts” for me are really less important tasks that I am habitually prone to do. Once completed, I get a quick shot of pleasure seeing the check marks in my planner, all the while knowing in my heart of hearts that I am no closer to what I most need to do on a given day.

For example, morning is when my brain is freshest and best able to tackle the heavier mental work of writing, or reviewing the design of an off-site management retreat for a client, or perhaps developing a new workshop or speech. What do I find myself all too often doing first?

  • Answering emails that can wait.
  • Reading RSS feeds to which I subscribe about the field of management and leadership.
  • Organizing papers and files on my desk.
  • Seeing who has recently looked at my LinkedIn profile.
  • Checking out that social media website someone recommended.

It’s a couple of hours into the day and I’m saying to myself, “Boy do I feel great. I’m on a roll. I can feel the momentum. In fact, I’ve been so busy, I think I deserve a break.” Back from break, I realize that I have been so busy that I haven’t opened my planner yet to see what I had set up to accomplish today. So, I open it up, take a look at my daily to-do list–aka the important stuff–and what do I see? Nothing checked off.

Starting fresh this September I will remain aware of and honor my “To Don’ts”…they are off limits until the afternoon.


Focus by Daniel Goleman What I’m Reading

Immunity to Change: How to Overcome it and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization by Robert Kegan & Lisa Laskow Laheyl

Actually, I’m re-reading this book. It’s that good and that significant. I am working increasingly in the field of leadership development that links effectiveness to stages of adult development. The more complex your mental “operating system,” the more complexity and adaptive change you can handle, especially as a leader.

But how do leaders keep growing their own ability to respond effectively to the complex environment in which their organization operates? The authors lay out a process that leaders, and those who coach leaders, can follow.

Our “immunity” to personal change and growth is caused by a standoff between the behaviors we want (yea, even commit) to adopt and our current, actual behaviors and responses. The way we currently operate is locked in place by equally strong, usually unawares commitments to beliefs and assumptions that are intended, supposedly, to keep us safe and free from anxiety.

This book is right there at the cutting edge of leadership development.