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Want to be more productive? Create a NOT To-Do list!

Last Sunday evening, I was all pumped for the first week of being in complete control of my day.  Over the weekend I had compiled a list of topics for the next 3 months, had my color coded to-do list done and had all the books I wanted to read arranged on my reading shelf.

I imagined how my work day was going to be -

44.7% of the more than 10,000 people polled cited web surfing as their #1 distraction at work. Total salary cost to companies : $759 billion. Source : SFGate

  1. Get up at 6 in the morning
  2. Pray, exercise and eat breakfast
  3. Cook a healthy lunch
  4. Start working at 9
  5. Research and write for 3 hours
  6. Have lunch at 12
  7. Work on freelancing tasks from 1-3
  8. Write for another 3 hours
  9. Go for a walk
  10. Come back, take a shower, plan the next day, shut off the computer, read a book and write until I slept.

Sounded perfect to me. If I had this much time to write, I could drastically improve my writing. Great plan!

But that is not what really happened. My day went like this -

There are more than 800 million Internet users on Facebook. 200 million joined in 2011. Source : Business Insider

  1. Got up not-so-refreshed at 8.
  2. Didn’t have time to cook so asked my husband to eat out.
  3. Checked email.
  4. Checked my Facebook, Twitter and my reader.
  5. The time was 12. Tried to cook something quickly.
  6. Decided to watch one episode of NCIS re-runs, just while I was having my lunch.
  7. One more episode wouldn’t hurt right?
  8. The time was 3. Looked at the to do list, freaked out seeing the list of tasks spanning 3 pages, promised to concentrate and write at least one introduction.
  9. Even on a great day, I don’t get words pouring out of me, add in anxiety, all I had was a title, which now that I thought about it, didn’t even make sense. What was I thinking? Well, the day was a “wash”, I decided to at least get some admin work done.
  10. Went back to email.
  11. Someone asked for tech help in the forums. Answered that and while I was there checked other threads. Thought, “Oh I have not read this person’s blog in a week, let me see what they are up to”. Read the post and the comments. “That was an interesting comment, let me check the commentor’s blog. Ohh he just did a round up!” Down the rabbit hole I went…
  12. The time was 2 in the morning!

As someone who spent pretty much 16-18 hrs in front of the computer, what did I get done? Nothing. How many of the tasks in my to do list got checked off? Nada. Zilch.

What just happened?

Why was I wasting my time when I was charged and dreaming about changing the world?

To figure this out I allowed myself to waste a day.

  • I tracked every single site I visited and the time I spent on them. Tip : I used RescueTime plugin for Chrome to accomplish this.
  • I went over each one of them to remind me of why I went there and what I accomplished.
Site Start time End time Purpose of the visit Task accomplished
Gmail 9:03 10:15 Answer emails Ummm
Twitter 11:13 12:10 Re-tweet interesting tweets, find new information for future articles Re-tweeted a few articles. But no new information.

What a goldmine of information!  Turned out I was more emotionally unstable than I thought.

  • Email provided me with a feeling of self-importance, starting from the third day of my self-employment!
  • Answering someone’s question in the forums satisfied my need to be needed. Their “thanks” gave me the instant gratification I needed.
  • Constantly checking out the news/Twitter feeds gave me an illusion of not missing out and not being alone.

Now that I know what emotional needs I was fulfilling with my timesuckers, I came up with some alternate habits to give me the same satisfaction.

There are 3.146 billion email accounts around the world. 71% of worldwide email traffic was spam. Source : Business Insider

  1. First, being aware of my distractions and the reason I am spending so much time on them itself was enough to steer me on the right track. As I have already thought about the “fake” euphoria of self-importance from getting a forward, it didn’t give me that feeling anymore.
  2. I changed my location of work. Instead of working at home, I took my work to the library.
  3. I set myself some rewards. If I successfully accomplish what I wanted to get done that day, I allowed myself to watch up to two episodes of my favorite shows.
  4. Create a list of 3 most important things I want to accomplish that contributes the most to my goal.
  5. Finally, have a NOT to do list. Nothing proved more effective than this.

Creating a NOT to do list to improve productivity

There are 225 million active Twitter accounts and 250 million Tweets per day. 100 million of them are actively used. And 18.1 million of those Twitter accounts are following Lady Gaga. Source : Business Insider

This lists consisted of my time suckers and tasks that didn’t contribute to my overall goal. Here is a sample of my NOT to-do list -

  • Not take calls from unknown number. Tip :  I have set up Google Voice to transcribe all the voicemails and send it via email.
  • Not check my email first thing in the morning. It spoils my plan for the day, I kept shifting my priorities as I heard back from different folks. Check off at least one planned prioritized task before checking email.
  • Not check certain sites in the morning. I have a list of sites that I get easily sucked into and spend hours at a time. I installed apps to block the sites during my work hours. Tip : If you are using Firefox, leechblock is an excellent add-on to block site during specific times. For Chrome, StayFocusd or Nanny for Chrome works well.
  • Not check social media sites at times other than when I have specifically set aside time for them.
  • Not watch any TV in the morning. Sometimes I feel like taking a 10 minute break and when I go get myself some tea, I feel like watching one of my favorite episodes of NCIS. But the problem is I can’t stop, 10 minutes becomes one full episode, which leads to the next episode and before I know it, it would be evening.
  • Not check accounting everyday. When I was bringing in more money, it used to be my motivator. Now, due to some recent events, even my freelancing income took a nose dive. It is easy to get suckered into looking at the empty income section in Mint and feeling self-pity or getting discouraged.

This has been working beautifully for me. Have I become a productivity queen? Nope. Far from it, but I feel great to have failed and started on the right track the first week instead of not getting anything done for months at a time.

Being mindful of my time lets me concentrate on accomplishing things that are important to shape my life the way I want it to be.

“It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?” – Henry David Thoreau.

Here is an interesting infographics I came across showing what importance we give for our actual works vs everything else.Social media distractions

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Daisy

That’s an interesting way to look at it!I usually force myself to go to the gym in order to be productive. That usually helps me get into gear.

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Kurt @ Money Counselor

I think the ‘not list’ is becoming more and more important as society evolves. Our technology offers so many enticing opportunities for distraction. It’s fun! But these distractions don’t always contribute to progress toward the goals we make for ourselves.

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First Gen American

I spend every day in my college library doing homework. It was the only place I could do work without interruptions from my mom. I work from a home office and some other colleagues of mine go to Panera in 2 hour chunks.

The social interaction bit is important though. Maybe lunch dates will satisfy some of your need to read and tweet?

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Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter

I love this concept. Not only could you make a long list of things to not do but you would feel motivated at how much time you can save. I am definitely going to have to try this. Thanks.

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Frugal Portland

GREAT way to think about it. Today I will NOT: x,y,z, which is super helpful.

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Young Professional Finances

I love this! I installed RescueTime as I was reading your article – can’t wait to see how many hours I waste away. I definitely need a “not to-do list”.

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Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager

Great thought process. I have a Will Not Settle List (for work and play) it’s like a Bucket List, but better.

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retirebyforty

I had exactly the same problem when I took some time off to try being a SAHD. Even on the days that baby went to daycare, I barely got anything done. It will take me sometime to adjust to making my own schedule. I can’t jump into it right away. I think you are doing a very nice job with the various productivity tricks.

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Emily @ evolvingPF

Great post as always, Suba! The not to do list is a great idea. I never thought of that for time management but I’ve used it in some other ways. I think it would work well for me so I’ll think of how I should implement it.

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jefferson

I like this post, Suba.. but it hits pretty close to home.
I have seen ambitious to-do lists crumble into a day of zero productivity on a regular basis.

The not-to-do list is a great idea..
I have a few items on mine, trying to break bad habits… “don’t check email more than twice an hour”.. “don’t stare at my cell phone when I’m walking around”…

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John@MoneyPrinciple

Hmm. So the solution is —- get rid of the toys! Without a computer, how would you work? At least the TV can go – that is passive one-way distraction.

Well we’ve all tried that but are still here, commenting and searching, nipping into that forum, this blog and then ‘relaxing’ after a ‘hard’ days surfing in front of the box. 24 hour news, the race to know everything so as to be the smartarse on the block. It is toxic.

Maintaining a time diary of what you do and when you do it is probably the first step to being more productive.

But don’t beat yourself up! These toys are there to help us, right? And they can be very useful. Or not.

There is always the off switch.

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Julie @ Freedom 48

I should try this.
I’m always making “to do” lists… that are way too ambitious. I manage to get some stuff done – but then feel like a failure because I haven’t been able to cross everything off of my list for that day.
I also have daily lists… weekly lists… and ongoing lists.
It’s ridiculous!

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maria@moneyprinciple

Getting started on the ‘not to do’ list immediately. The amount of time I waste on digital distraction! Shameful.

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Dr. Dean

I’m with Maria. The digital distractions are shameful. I do best if I have a list and the times. Not how long as much as, when. That way I move along. If I ever get off track, it’s easier to stop the madness and get back to work. I like the not to do list. That’s pretty good. My would have the same things on it everyday.

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Robert @ The College Investor

I still check my accounting almost every day. I find it motivating even if there is less coming in. It makes me really work for it!

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Cherleen @ Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance

There are indeed a lot of distractions when you go online. The first thing on my not-to-do list is checking Facebook and blogs first thing in the morning. It should be the last thing I would do when online. I also log out of Skype and other chat rooms so as not to be disturbed while working. It works so far.

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Jai Catalano

No need to check social media in the morning. The news I like to catch weather and stuff and have to turn it off when I see violence. That usually happens every morning. :)

I like the not to do list.

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Kellen

I work in an industry where we have to bill all of our time to client work, and have to meet certain billing goals each year. It makes you SO aware of those times that you’re just wasting away the day on the internet.
I will definitely try out your “not do” list sometime.
I sometimes think about trying the “pomodoro” method where you set a timer for 50 minutes or so, and make yourself work on one task that whole time, before you can do ANYTHING else.

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Christa

I definitely can get sucked into the TV. I used to watch a talk show midday at lunch, but now I’ve stopped. “The Talk” often turned into a distraction. Even if I was able to turn the TV off after the show, the mindset of not working was enough to make me do other non-productive tasks. So, yes, watching TV during the day is on my “Not-to-do” list now!

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Jen @ Master the Art of Saving

Most of my days sound like yours was, hours upon hours in front of the computer and nothing really to show for it. I’ve been planning to not even turn on my computer in the morning until I accomplish the most important non-computer stuff first. So far, I’ve put it off until the next day for about a month or so. :-)

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Funny about Money

Great post! We must have been separated at birth…your procrastination issues sound exactly like mine! Don’t watch TV (can’t afford cable) but do spend endless hours cruising the Web, especially reading news & science stories, and playing idiotic time-wasting online games. For the accomplished time-waster, the Internet is a kind of black hole.

Changing the locale for actual work to the library is a brilliant idea. One thought that crossed my mind just a few days ago is that working at home has built-in distractions. When you’re at an office, you attend to business. But when your office is actually a back bedroom in your house, you feel called upon to do the many chores around the house that await your attention — which themselves are work, but which interfere with your focus on the paying work.

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Barbara Friedberg

I was laughing out loud at your first day of working at home. BTW, love NCIS :) and like even more NCIS LA :)
As one who works 80% of the time not at a standard office, I really liked this article. It’s going in my roundup. One thing that helped me is mapping out a weekly plan of how much time I wanted to spend on each of my endeavors, including leisure, social networking and sleeping. That way when I get stuck in internet meltdown, I remember that I only allocated 20 minutes / day on forum participation and a leave.
This one’s going in my next round up.

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Squirrelers

You know, when I first saw your to-do list, I smiled. It’s how I approach things at work and on weekdays, with timeslots planned for different tasks and activities.

Thing is, it can get hard to truly accomplish all that we specifically set out to do within those timeframes we set up. I think you’re on to something here – it’s the things we shouldn’t do that creep in and divert our time into oblivion. Then we’re left wondering why our best plans don’t go exactly how we expected them to.

A time audit of how we spend our time, and aligning that with our goals, could really help. It’s kind of like tracking expenses, right? We can see what we’re really spending time/money on. Armed with knowledge, if we apply our wisdom with a strong dose of self-discipline, we could each probably ramp our productivity quite a bit.

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Dannielle @ Odd Cents

This is exactly what happened to me the last two weeks. I got distracted. But I like you idea. I’m going to give it a try tomorrow. And I also have to see how I waste time and how much time I waste.

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SB @ One Cent At A Time

Just today it was raining since morning, our plan to watch Ft. Lauderdale airshow went in vain, I decided to take full day blogging today much to the dismay of SMB. Now its 9PM and I wrote only a half article and didn’t even edited Monday’s article. What I did achieve today is a big fat 0. I don’t even know what I did. I didn’t watch TV either !!

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