I wrote once about creating a “Don’t Do” List when reflecting and planning. Its purpose was to remind me of the things that I don’t want to do.
I’ve expanded on this idea a bit.
Now, when I sit down to reflect (which I do once a quarter), I create four boxes:
|Continuing To NOT Do||Continuing To Do|
1. Continue to NOT Do
Here I review the things I’ve decided NOT to do in the past and plan to continue NOT doing. Some samples from my most recent list:
- Don’t write a book
- Don’t start a podcast
- Don’t speak at events
- Don’t create a parent guide
This list is such a relief. I already made these decisions in the past! I just nod my head and copy them over to my new sheet. I’m continuing to NOT do them.
Noice that these are not bad things. Starting a podcast might be great – for someone else. And you might love it if I wrote a book! But I’ve decided not to spend my energy on that. Perhaps you really want me to speak at your conference. But I don’t think that’s the best use of my time right now.
I’m not putting obviously bad things on this list. I don’t need to write: I’ll continue NOT murdering, stealing cars, and robbing banks. Instead, I’m picking good-sounding things that just aren’t right for me. I’m choosing to NOT do things that might seem fun, interesting, rewarding, etc. in order to better focus my limited energy. This list helps me to fight the endless urge to start new things.
If you ever feel like you have too much going on or that you don’t have time to focus on what really matters, you should totally start a “things I’m NOT doing” list rather than the typical “to do” list.
As a teacher, this list would be packed with edu-trends. I’d write down all of those trendy topics that I’m choosing to say “no” to. I’m not starting genius hour; I’m not focusing on “grit”; I’m not creating a STEM-station. Those things aren’t bad, but I know that I can’t do everything. In fact, I can’t do very much at all! I have to be picky. I have to very cautious about how I use my energy.
I find that it actually takes a strange type of courage to NOT do things. Saying no is hard, even for adults.
Once something’s on the “Continuing to NOT Do” list, it’s a HUGE deal to move it off. In order to start a podcast, for example, I’d need a really good reason. Something else would probably need to end in order to free up the energy. I’d want to get the OK from my wife. Because of this, my “Continuing to NOT Do” list is easily the longest of the four.
I keep saying “no” to more and more things. And I love it.
2. Continuing To Do
Then I have a Continuing To Do list. These are the few things that I decided to focus on in the past. This list is small! And it will get whittled down over time. I used to (try to) do several dozen things. I did them all poorly. Now I do fewer things and I do them better.
My Continuing To Do looks like this:
- Sending Puzzlements mailers every Friday
- Keep adding lessons to Byrdseed.TV
- Sending Byrdseed mailers once a month.
That’s pretty much it! But each of those takes a lot of time and energy. It is HARD to maintain projects. I really don’t have room for more “Continuing To Do” items.
As a teacher, I might have included:
- Keep pre-assessing each math and grammar unit
- Keep running at least one group investigation lesson each month
- Continue after-lunch teacher read aloud
- Keep reserving the last ten minutes to calmly close the day
- Continue greeting students by name at the door each day
These are BIG things. I’m obviously not going to write obvious tasks like: keep eating food, make sure to breath, sleep at night. I want a handful of important things I’m purposefully choosing to pour my energy into.
These are the things I’ve decided I’m NOT doing anymore starting this quarter or year. This list is fun but, after a few years, it will get shorter and shorter as you stop doing more and more things. There’s simply less for me to stop doing as I focus on fewer things.
As a teacher, I should have written things like:
- Stop grading so many things
- Stop spending so much time building powerpoint slides
- Stop taking on new responsibilities at school
- Stop making new versions of old math projects
As you get started, you’ll find there’s a lot you might want to stop doing in order to free up energy to do the things that matter.
And now we get to the list that is typically empty for me. I want to be very careful about starting new things. It’s always so tempting to chase a shiny idea. I used to start new things without any thought and, surprise, I’d end up with lots of mediocre projects and irritating responsibilities which I regretted getting involved with.
It’s much easier to not start something than to try to get out of it later.
Rather than starting new things, my energy is much better spent improving something that I’m already doing. Sure, starting to write a new book would be tantalizing and exciting. But, I’d rather spend that energy making Byrdseed.TV even better. It already has a ton of momentum.
In my last reflection period, I actually wrote down three possible new things… and ended up crossing them all off. I’m not starting anything new this quarter. I literally sighed with relief as I looked at that blank box.
So, here are those four lists again:
- Continuing To NOT Do — This list will grow to have many items over the years.
- Continuing To Do – This list will shrink to just a few items.
- Stopping – This list may start long, but get smaller over time.
- Starting – This list will have hopefully zero or one items.
Think of these as four ways to purposefully plan and maintain your own use of energy.