What’s on Your “Not-to-Do” List?

Have you ever felt overwhelmed when a well-meaning person offered advice that adds to your already busy, stressful life? – start an exercise regime, start a blog, read a book, upgrade your strategy, invest more time in your important relationships. You want to do it, but you don’t see how you can add one more “to do” to your day. The incessant tick, ticking of the clock hounds you.

When Jim Collins, author and business consultant, was young, he received an assignment that he considered a turning point in his life. While taking a business course on creativity and innovation, Rochelle Myers told him, “Instead of leading a disciplined life, you lead a busy life.” Then she gave him the 20-10 assignment, which follows:

Suppose you woke up tomorrow and received two phone calls. The first caller tells you that you have inherited $20 million, no strings attached. The second tells you that you have an incurable, terminal disease, and you have no more than ten years to live.

What would you do differently, and, in particular, what would you stop doing?

This stirs some constructive thinking, doesn’t it? If you don’t have a personal mission statement or know your strengths and how to align them to your life mission, then that’s a good place to start. What motivates you? Love alters who we are and what we do, harnesses our talents and resources, shapes our priorities, and lifts our gaze to see how our own story relates to the greater story of God’s purpose for mankind. What would you do to make an impact that lasts for generations? As D.L. Moody said, “If God is your partner, make your plans big.”

I use Evernote to organize my life, and my Writing & Ministry notebook includes a note that I modify frequently labeled: “Todo Today”. Along with a few tedious things I have to get done, I always try to align my week to my strengths, life mission, and relationships.

Conversely, most of us would benefit from a not-to-do list to eliminate habits that drain the life out of us. Our days should begin with and be built around that which makes us flourish and contribute our best to others. Therefore, perhaps our not-to-do list should include attitudes to avoid that sap our strength, creativity, and productivity.

With that in mind, try these steps.

Step 1: Make a list of things that nurture your spirit and fill you with delight. (Here are a few of mine)

meditation on Scripture


coffee dates

getting out in nature

working out/dance

art & poetry

helping others succeed

connecting with people who understand and appreciate my life, perspective, and strengths

Step 2: Write down the activities or attitudes you need to avoid. Think of things that impact your spirit negatively.

Your “not-to-do” list may include time-wasters and requests for your time that take you off track from your mission and priorities. Learn to say no.

Your list also may include areas where you’ve compromised. Here’s a good “not-to-do” list straight from the Bible that, if followed, would keep people out of trouble.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3: 5-10)

Lastly, your list may include attitudes to avoid that work as an undercurrent draining the life out of you no matter how many life-giving pursuits are on your list.

Avoid condemnation

Condemnation continually points out your failures, and how badly you’ve messed up. It shows you the problem, but avoids the solution. If Christ is the center, we are forgiven and can live free from condemning thoughts. We can also live free from guilt and the emotional cloud of shame that makes us feel unworthy. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1)

Avoid anxiety

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:6-7)

Avoid fear

When I searched “Do not be afraid” in the Bible, 42 references popped up. While we walk through dark times and encounter many foes, we overcome because God is with us. “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you . . . “ (1 Chronicles 28:20)

Avoid perfectionism

You will fail and fall short of perfection. Your contribution matters, regardless. To err is human, plus it’s an endearing human quality that makes you relatable to the rest of the human race who are always growing and learning. “Revision is one of the exquisite pleasures of writing.” – Bernard Malamud. Every field has its own version of this.

Avoid co-dependence

Give up trying to fix people. You can’t. You can love, encourage, and guide them, but sometimes they have to suffer the consequences of their actions.

Avoid emotional quagmires

Recently I helped a young person who had a setback. She didn’t sign up for a course that was very important to her future career goals and subsequently was shut out of the program for a year. I couldn’t console her, but then I decided to help her be proactive. She found out that she had one more day to change her schedule and enter the course of study she wanted to pursue. In addition, she met with an advisor who affirmed her passions and pursuits. If she had allowed her emotions to take over, she would not have looked at options that were available to her. My greatest joy that day was helping her move forward and succeed.

Do you recognize any of these patterns that should be on your not-to-do list?

Let’s travel light and change the world together. Cheers.


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