The Not To-Do List

Instead of a to-do list, a friend of mine suggests a not to-do list.  I’m at a conference all day teaching about writing personal mission statements, and I present the idea of a not to-do list, as in “what I am not going to do today in order to do what’s best and more aligned with my life purpose.”  People who aren’t taking notes suddenly start writing. 

It’s revolutionary for me:   I will write a list of all the things I will not do today.  I will make some space somewhere.

Two different people ask me how I handle the guilt I feel about that.  “Won’t I feel so guilty?  Won’t I disappoint so many people?”

Yes, you will.  You will disappoint people your whole life.  And those people need to be disappointed every once in a while because you can’t meet all their needs.  You weren’t designed to.

And the whole world will not fall apart if you say “no.”  

As I leave the conference, I’m so tired that I literally cannot speak.  I need to rest.  So I walk in the door, and I make my mental not to-do list.  I will not do a load of laundry.  I will not grade one single paper.  I will not call this person back. 

I collapse with my daughters in their bed.  I start reading aloud from the Children’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos.  It’s taken us several weeks to get through the book of Genesis, and now, we are nearly finished with Exodus.  As I read the 10 Commandments, my oldest daughter asks me why our family isn’t resting more on the Sabbath.  She lays her head back on the pillow and wonders:  “Does God mean no raking leaves?  No homework?  No dishes?  What does Sabbath mean?”

Right now, it means having a not to-do list so I make space for the best thing.   

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11 thoughts on “The Not To-Do List

  1. A “not to do list”~~I think that is one of the best ideas I have heard in years!!

    It will give me more time for me and the things that I know are important — instead of the things other people think are important.

    Great post!!

  2. Great meeting you on Saturday, Heather. I enjoyed the panel discussion and I hope your sessions went well. (I think I forgot to ask.)

    Keep up the great work at not trying to do everything, though I'm glad Faith for Thought didn't make the list. 🙂

  3. I don't write them down but I sometimes consciously choose to Not Do things when I feel myself getting too tired or too stressed. It is like a mini-vacation, and I always return with more energy. Good post.

  4. Wow, thank you so much for posting this. I really needed to hear it right now, particularly the part about feeling guilty over disappointing people in your life, as I have recently had to say “no” to some family members to maintain my own sense of balance and sanity.

    I have many 'To Do' lists going on simultaneously, but I think now I will also make sure I have my daily 'Not To-Do' list. Cheers!

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