‘Not-To-Do’ Is The New ‘To-Do’: 5 Things To Put On Your Work List

The ‘80s were so cute. The office attire was on point, Valium was #trending and although everyone was busy busting their bits in office cubicles, those crazy kids/our parents had a certain ‘work hard, play hard’ outlook regarding their careers. Work-life balance – adorable, right?

Now the whole world’s in the middle of a mass nervous breakdown when it comes to work and life (‘balance’ is redundant at this point). So what do you do when you’re in the office for so long everyday that your brain shuts down and you become useless desk meat? Or when you have to maintain a hilarious slash hot personal brand via social media but inside you feel like a fraudulent shitshow? How will you fit it all in, busy young professional?

As the supernaturally smart computer in hit ‘80s film War Games puts it, “The only winning move is to not play.” You can’t have it all: that’s a dumb idea and we were dumb for suggesting it. Instead, decide what activities mean most to you and schedule time to do those things by eliminating all the other stuff. Throw out your ‘To-Do’ list and write a new list. Let’s call it ‘Not-To-Do’.

Poignant life-related metaphors from computers? Back in the ’80s.

What you don’t do determines what you can do. Think about it; you can’t control time. You’re time’s plaything. Instead, you have to say ‘no’ to some stuff to have more time. Work smarter, not harder.

Don’t know where to start? Here’s a ‘Not-To-Do’ list we prepared earlier. May it inspire you to stop attempting to win an unwinnable game.


#1 Trying to do it all


Trying to do it all = this face.

In her book Overwhelmed, Brigid Schulte speaks about ‘the overwhelm’ as the result of an insidious cult of busy-ness that effects pretty much everyone. So the first and perhaps most crucial point on your Not-To-Do list is stop trying to do everything. Including wishing you were the kind of person that could do everything.

If you get nothing out of sport, don’t do any sport. And don’t feel bad about it. As author Elizabeth Gilbert once said, “the biggest, trickiest lesson is learning how to say no to things you do want to do,” making it way easier to focus on a few things you really, really want to do.

#2 Playing with your damn phone

If you’re one of those people that answers unknown numbers with no good reason, returns missed calls, reads work emails before going to bed and reads them again first thing in the morning and checks their social media accounts more than once every couple of hours, sit down please. We need to have a talk about boundaries, because you’re not respecting your own. Try checking all phone-related stuff in batches, at certain times of the day. Three times max. And for the love of Steve Jobs’ ghost, turn off your notifications.

#3 Putting off big things

We’ve all been there. Something really important needs to be done but the sheer weight of it relegates it to the ‘too hard: CBF’ pile in the dated filing system that is your frightened and overworked mind. But if you’re not saving up for that trip to Berlin/Tokyo/Parkes in favour of getting wasted every Friday night to forget about a job you hate, are you not just paving more bricks on your own personal road to hell? Say no to avoidance strategies.

#4 Being busy for busy’s sake

busy 2 unsplash

Everybody, everywhere, trying to do everything. 

If it seems like a waste of time, it probably is. If you’re stuck back at work because you have to re-order the stationary cupboard, or you’re spending all Saturday cleaning the house instead of hanging out with friends, ask yourself why.

As Helen Lewis writes on Schulte’s prescription for busy bodies, “decide whether you love the bragging rights of being busy enough to live in a debilitating whirlwind of activity. If you don’t, perhaps leave the clarinet unmolested and the Boxercise class undone. As for housework… be a slattern.” And if you’re doing any deskwork that could be done by a colleague or junior – delegate. You can only do so much.

#5 Trying to please everyone

You can’t change things outside of your control by worrying about them. Nor can you force your boss to like you by showing up first in the morning and leaving last at night. The sad thing about being the ‘first and last’ guy is that no one else is around to be impressed by you, you masochist dummy! Similarly, spending 80% of your time on things you know aren’t even in the top 20% of crazy-important things you have to do – just because other people are giving you stuff to do – is insanity.

Same goes for habits like agreeing to meetings for the sake of meetings (warning: if there’s no agenda, run), letting people ramble at you when you’re terrifyingly busy, and over-apologising at the beginning, middle and end of every sentence. Goddess knows that’s an especially gendered one, so remember ladies, you’re sorry #notsorry.

Jerico Mandybur is a Sydney-based freelance writer and editor, interested in pop culture, feminism, fashion, social justice and radical ideas. Especially when they intersect. In her spare time, she produces community radio and hugs other people’s dogs.

Lead image: Stocksy