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Work Smarter: The Not To Do List [Making Ideas Happen]

My name is Lauren Rains, and I’m a chronic TO DO list builder. There! I said it. In the past, I started project after project after project, but rarely finished them. In the past, I’d let myself brainstorm on projects time and time again, without moving forward onto prototyping or testing or researching.

Does this ever sound like you? If so, read on.

The thing is, if you want to make ideas happen – if you want to put your projects, ideas, writing, art, etc out into the world – you have to get disciplined, you have to get focused, and you have to be able to SAY NO to yourself.  You have to learn how to WORK SMARTER.

I recently wrote about the 2/3 rule on how say yes or no to new projects and the 3 categories of all projects needed to stay organized. Today, I’m exploring the concept of creating a Not-To-Do List and why it’s such a genius ritual every Creative needs to incorporate into their organization.

What is a Not-To-Do-List?

A Not-To-Do List is a compilation of all the projects, ideas, activities you are going to put on the back-burner and commit to keeping there.

Sounds painful, right? It’s not as bad as you think. In fact, it’s kind of nice.

Initially, the thought of limiting myself to not doing whatever it is my curiosity is peeking at originally sounded like death to me. But after practicing this for about a week, I found it to be freeing.

You have to say no to the projects that are not necessary or smart if you’re ever going to really, truly ship the projects that will build upon the foundation of your body of work.

How to create your own Not-To-Do-List

1.) Create a dump list of at least 20 projects and ideas you’ve found yourself thinking about or working on

2.) Determine what your Primary Aim is at the current moment in your life. (It may be writing and publishing your first or next book, getting involved in your local community through MeetUps, launching your eCommerce site with X amount of inventory, expanding your art store on Etsy etc). You should know what your main priority for a certain period of life is. It will affect what should go on your Not To Do List.

3.) Next to each project, ask yourself if each one will contribute or support your Primary Aim.  If your answer is YES, cross it off.

4.) You will now be left over with your Not-To-Do Candidates. Nicely done!

5.) Last but not least, go through the list once more, and re-write your left-over bullet points on a big piece of paper and tape it somewhere you’ll see it.


Here’s the beginnings of my Not To Do List. This list is based on my primary aims over the next 6 months. Some of these were extremely difficult for me to write on this list, but I know they’ll be waiting for me to re-look at in due time. Keeping them on this list gives me permission to say no to them for now, while simultaneously giving me the comfort that it’s not goodbye forever.

We aren’t breaking up. We’re just taking a little break. ;o)

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  • Edit Wild World Creative website – (Branding is already strong enough for now.)
  • Start another wood working project – (Finish the Lake Atitlan Landscape first.)
  • Make design/layout changes to The Mad to Live – (Focusing solely on content generation until New Year)


  • Outdoor Minded Mag – (Taking a hiatus from this passion project to get realigned with it.)
  • New SaaS Business – (Going to hold off on this until next year.)
  • NaNoWriMo – AKA National Novel Writing Month (Love this annual challenge, but now’s not the time.)
  • More than 1 Microadventure this winter – (So hard to say no, but have to put this passion on backburner)


  • Reread my sent emails after I press send (I have a HUGE habit of this. Just a waste of time.)


Like I said, this goes back to working smarter and being more effective. Make this a priority in your life. Shift your mindset into believing your are someone that does actually cross items off your list. Furthermore, shift your mindset into believing that just because you’re a creative, doesn’t mean you have to create in chaos. Work Smarter. Work Smarter. Work Smarter. Not Harder. Not Faster. WORK SMARTER.



Below are other resources that have helped me incorporate the Not-To-Do List into my project workflow.

Michael Hyatt has a great real-world-example on his post here,  Tim Ferris has a great daily ritual not-to-do-list here, and INC.com columnist writes about the not-right-now-list here.


About Lauren Rains

Hi my name is Lauren Rains. I write about the human experience. Through thick and thin, I’m dedicated to growth, adventure, integrity, and love. The Mad To Live is based on my pursuits, experiments, research, and lessons of challenge and triumph in all areas of life, including being entrepreneur, a writer, a philosopher, a traveler, a teacher, a student, a creative, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a significant other, a stranger and the list goes on. At the end of the day, I believe human beings are here for two reasons: 1.) to love one another with total acceptance, and 2.) to see what we’re made of as we create the possibilities for an abundant life for ourselves and for others. No more bullshit, let's just enjoy our lives.

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  • What a brilliant idea, I have so many to do lists, and often feel I have failed! Going to try this