Productivity Is Really About What You Don’t Do

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The best productivity tip I ever got was the idea of a “stop-doing list” from Jim Collins. In this Age of Distraction, we’re all dodging and weaving between so much incoming information that what you don’t do on a daily basis has become as important—if not more—as what you do execute on.


Here’s a list of the things I don’t do while working:

I don’t schedule meetings in the morning.

I don’t listen to music or radio that has words.

I don’t look at my email until I’ve done 90 mins of deep-attention work.

I don’t treat emails from people I don’t know as urgent.

I don’t look at social media until the afternoon, and then only on breaks.

I don’t tweet live. (I schedule almost everything in advance.)

I don’t over-program my daily schedule so that there is no downtime.

I don’t work more than 3 hours without a break.

I don’t answer my phone or texts in the morning.

I don’t use Slack.

I don’t read the news.

I don’t eat at my desk.

I don’t work past 6pm.

And here’s a list of things I make sure to do:

I do make my to-do list for tomorrow the night before.

I do focus on deep-attention before hyper-attention work.

I do regularly identify and update my goals for the next 6 months, and the actions I need to take to meet them.

I do always have a variety of projects on my slate so I can shift tasks based on my mood and energy level, while still getting important stuff done.

I do meet (or catch up with) one interesting person a week.

Now you might be thinking: Well, I can’t not do all of those things! Like you can’t avoid morning meetings or your team requires you to be on Slack all day. Or maybe you think that not reading the news is just plain crazy. (Most people do.)

I would first ask you to question whether that’s really true. As in: Could you get to work early and have an hour or two where you don’t have to be on Slack? Or could you block off the first 90 minutes of your day as “Busy” on your calendar so people don’t book meetings then?

Generally speaking, the wisdom of the crowd does not pertain to your productivity. So you have to get creative about finding out how to NOT engage in practices that are standard for your colleagues but perhaps counter-productive for you.

As you are creating your own to-don’t list, try to focus on the little picture—be as granular and detailed as possible. You want to sift away all the small stuff that drags on your productivity. Then, when you’re creating your to-do list, try to focus as much as possible on the big picture—the long-term goals and projects that really matter to you. Once you’re clear on where you want to be in 6 months, it’s easy to break out the small, daily tasks that will make the most impact.

Get more tips on how to activate your creativity and do the work that matters:

Hi, I'm Jocelyn. I help people find more creativity and meaning in their daily work.


I have a new book out about how to tame your inbox and reclaim your focus. And starting this Fall, I’ll be hosting Hurry Slowly, a new podcast about how you can be more productive by slowing down.

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