Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 1, Issue 52;   December 26, 2001: Keep a Not-To-Do List

Keep a Not-To-Do List

by

Unless you execute all your action items immediately, they probably end up on your To-Do list. Since they're a source of stress, you'll feel better if you can find a way to avoid acquiring them. Having a Not-To-Do list reminds you that some things are really not your problem.

Unless you execute all your action items immediately, they probably end up on your To-Do list — until you do them, until you forget them, or until the people who gave them to you forget them. Since To-Do list items are sources of stress, if not workload, it pays to find a way to avoid adding them to your To-Do list. One approach is to provide another place for them to go — the Not-To-Do list.

A checklistIf you're typical, people sometimes ask you to do things that are actually their responsibility, not yours. In "Stay in Your Own Hula Hoop," Point Lookout for June 27, 2001, I related a hula-hoop metaphor, due to Jean McLendon, that illustrates how we can sometimes fool ourselves into taking on burdens that actually belong to others.

In the metaphor, we're all hula-hooping as best we can. That's difficult enough, but we really get into trouble when we try to hula somebody else's hoop too. To "stay in your own hula-hoop" is to look after your own responsibilities, and to let others look after theirs.

For example, if you're a project manager, and Marketing asks you to compile some project data that's readily available for everyone on your Intranet, you would be stepping into their hula-hoop if you actually retrieved the data for them. A more appropriate response would be to remind them that the data is on the Intranet.

Having a Not-To-Do list
reminds you that some
things are really not your
problem, and you can decline
to accept responsibility
for them
My colleague Peter Hayward has suggested a way of using the hula-hoop metaphor with his day planner. Each day's page has two columns — "My Hula Hoop" and "Their Hula-Hoop." When someone lobs an action item in his direction, he decides where it would belong. If the item is in "My Hula-Hoop," he accepts it. If it belongs in "Their Hula-Hoop," he declines, if he can. If he can't decline, he adds the item to "Their Hula Hoop." In effect, he has a To-Do list and a Not-To-Do list.

A Not-To-Do list helps you in several ways.

  • Having a Not-To-Do list reminds you that some things are really not your problem, and you can decline to accept responsibility for them.
  • A Not-To-Do list helps you notice patterns. You can be more alert when you're working with people who tend to shift their responsibilities to you — if you know who they are.
  • You can keep the items on your Not-To-Do list at a lower priority than the items that really are your responsibility.
  • You can focus more easily on items that really are yours. See "The Zebra Effect," Point Lookout for January 31, 2001.
  • Unlike items on your To-Do list, items on your Not-To-Do list tend to age gracefully. When you leave them alone, the people who really are responsible for them tend to see that they get them done somehow.

Here's a possible item for your To-Do list: check it for items that don't really belong to you. Think about moving them to your Not-To-Do list. Go to top Top  Next issue: Think Before You PowerPoint  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

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