The Not-to-do List

Everyone has a to-do list, but do you have a not-to-do list?

If you want to upgrade your daily experience of life, the not-to-do list just might be a more effective route to take. Why?

Simple: what you choose to not do gives you greater freedom to choose what you will do.

Here are ten items we all should have on our not-to-do list. They cover different aspects of life, and every one of them has the potential to free you from the things that hold you back from experiencing all that life truly has to offer.

1. DON’T WATCH TV WHEN YOU EAT

If you are in a relationship or have a family, the reason not to do this is obvious. Turning on the TV kills your conversation. It destroys one of the most ancient ways we connect socially with our family and loved ones.

But this isn’t just for families and married couples. Even if you are single, turning on the TV decreases your experience of eating. You are less likely to taste your food and more likely to overeat, and you rob yourself of a chance for peace, quiet, and reflection on your day. If nothing else, reading a book while eating is more enjoyable and enhances your experience at the dinner table.

2. DON’T REST ON CLICHÉS

Clichés are the most basic form of communication.

“How are you?”
“Living the dream!”
“What’s going on in your life?”
“A little of this, little of that.”

It’s not a conversation, it’s just filler.

You know all those passing conversations you have around the office, at the store, or with your neighbor? What if you refused to use clichés and tried to make those conversations a little more meaningful?

The not-to-do list gives you the freedom you need to really thrive.

Humans thrive on meaningful connections, and the quickest way to a meaningful connection is to go deeper than clichés.

3. DON’T LET THE GAS GAUGE DROP BELOW QUARTER TANK

I know, I sound like a dad. I am a dad.

Trust me, just fill the tank up early. It’ll make you feel better. You won’t be in danger of running out of gas. You will feel better because fill-ups will cost you less. You’ll never be in that awful situation where you have to get somewhere in a hurry but need to stop for gas.

Just do it.

4. DON’T WATCH LATE NIGHT TV SHOWS

I love Jimmy Fallon, and I’ve got nothing against him. But nothing changes your daily experience of life quite like getting a good night’s sleep.

Get to bed at a reasonable time so that you are refreshed and energized in the morning.

5. DON’T EAT THAT SECOND HELPING OF DESSERT

Eat the dessert, just don’t take a second helping.

There is so much to enjoy in life. It’s a great tragedy when we take a pleasure, overindulge, and turn it into a regret. Let one slice of pie be enough. You’ll be happier.

6. DON’T FORGET TO CALL YOUR GRANDMA

Or your grandpa . . . or your mom . . . or your dad . . . or your sister . . . or your brother . . .

Again, a cornerstone of human thriving is healthy relationships. No one will give you the pure love and support quite like your grandma. And you’ll miss her when she’s gone.

7. DON’T TURN IN YOUR FIRST DRAFT

Remember in high school when you had to turn in multiple drafts of a writing assignment? I always hated the work and then the re-work, but I think there is an important lesson there.

Whatever you are doing, there is always room for a second draft. You always have a better version in you. This doesn’t matter if it’s in the workplace, or in your home. Whatever you are doing, never settle for the first draft.

8. DON’T SAY YES TO EVERYTHING

What you say yes to is often determined by what you say no to. Don’t say yes to everything, just the most important things.

Saying no is a powerful tool to keep in your back pocket. I believe you absolutely cannot thrive in life without the ability to say no. Get comfortable with it. Get used to it. Heck, get good at it.

When you don’t say yes to everything or even some good things, you give yourself the freedom to say yes to the best things.

9. DON’T HAVE YOUR PHONE WITH YOU 24/7

Everyone should take a break from their phone at least one day each week. It’s just good for the soul.

What if you got in the practice of leaving your phone behind when going to important social outings. Going to dinner with friends? Leave the phone in your glove box. Same thing if you’re going to church. Or watching your son’s baseball game. Or going to an important meeting at work. You just don’t need it on you all the time.

10. DON’T FORGET TO SWEAT

Just like when you were a little kid and you never went home without grass stains on your knees, the adult you should never let your head hit the pillow if you haven’t sweated a little bit.

Go for a walk. Stretch vigorously first thing in the morning. Take the stairs. Exercise. Get out in the hot sun. Do something every day that makes your fat cry a little bit.


We get excited by trying new things. We get energized by “getting things done.” And nothing feels quite like crossing off an item on the to-do list. But it just might be that the not-to-do list gives you the freedom you need to really thrive.

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