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

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenUVOuIYWpueyImnUTner@ChaclIUKvkppmwCbKexMoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Don't start meetings on the hourMastering Meeting Madness
If you lead an organization, and people are mired in meeting madness, you can end it. Here are a few tips that can free everyone to finally get some work done.
The Boott Cotton Mills and Eastern CanalThere Is No Rumor Mill
Rumors about organizational intentions or expectations can depress productivity. Even when they're factually false, rumors can be so powerful that they sometimes produce the results they predict. How can we manage organizational rumors?
The three large pyramids at Giza, from left to right: Menkaure, Khafre, Khufu.Email Antics: II
Nearly everyone complains that email is a time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our own actions. Here's Part II of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.
The wreckage of the Silver Bridge across the Ohio RiverHyper-Super-Overwork
The prevalence of overwork has increased with the depth of the global recession, in part because employers are demanding more, and in part because many must now work longer hours to make ends a little closer to meeting. Overwork is dangerous. Here are some suggestions for dealing with it.
A rescue puppyYou Can't Control What Other People Think
Ever think that the world would be a much better place if you could control what other people think? Maybe it would be. And maybe not...

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Raquel Welch (left) and Gilda Radner (right) from a @Cite{Saturday Night Live rehearsal, April 24, 1976Coming December 20: Conceptual Mondegreens
When we disagree about abstractions, such as a problem solution, or a competitor's strategy, the cause can often be misunderstanding the abstraction. That misunderstanding can be a conceptual mondegreen. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
An engineer attending a meeting with 14 other engineersAnd on December 27: On Assigning Responsibility for Creating Trouble
When we assign responsibility for troubles that bedevil us, we often make mistakes. We can be misled by language, stereotypes, and the assumptions we make about others. Available here and by RSS on December 27.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenjUAQCfMHDudgvdKhner@ChacHhgALOFbOmcMuBfgoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Person-to-Person Communications: Models and Applications
When Person-to-Person Communications: Models and Applicationswe talk, listen, send or read emails, read or write memos, or when we leave or listen to voice mail messages, we're communicating person-to-person. And whenever we communicate person-to-person, we risk being misunderstood, offending others, feeling hurt, and being confused. There are so many ways for things to go wrong that we could never learn how to fix all the problems. A more effective approach avoids problems altogether, or at least minimizes their occurrence. In this very interactive program we'll explain — and show you how to use — a model of inter-personal communications that can help you stay out of the ditch. We'll place particular emphasis on a very tricky situation — expressing your personal power. In those moments of intense involvement, when we're most likely to slip, you'll have a new tool to use to keep things constructive. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Reader Comments About My Newsletter
A sampling:
  • Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
  • You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
  • I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
  • A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
  • …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.
  • More
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.