What Will You Not Do Today?

Deciding what we won’t do is key to protecting our margins.

by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)
by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)

In 1914, Henry Ford changed the way we work. He reduced his employees’ hours to an eight-hour shift, five days a week. The following year, profits doubled. Although a forty-hour week seems perfectly normal today, it was a highly controversial move at the time.

But it wasn’t a new idea. Over a hundred years earlier, Welsh textile manufacturer Robert Owen was calling for a reduced workday: “Eight hours’ labor, eight hours’ recreation, eight hours’ sleep”.

Eight hours’ labor is something of a paradox. On one hand, that’s a lot of time and you can get a lot done. On the other hand, we all know the meetings and interruptions—social and technological—that creep into our time and steal away the hours we have to labor.

The problem is even worse if we’re working on our own time, where that eight hours competes with meals, family time, and showering. Eight hours can evaporate quickly!

Once you’ve decided what you’re going to do today—your Today list—everything else is automatically something you have decided not to do today. That’s a good thing.

When you decide not to do a task today, you aren’t saying it’s not important, or even necessarily that it’s not urgent. You’ll get to it, but there are other things you’re going to do today.

Not-today tasks still need to be captured properly in our trusted system. If they aren’t, our brains aren’t going to let go of them. They’ll run through our minds, constantly vying for our attention. They work their way into our margins and push on our boundaries until a perfectly manageable eight-hour day becomes a frenzied twelve-hour day. Pretty soon, we’re taking calls during our kid’s soccer game and wondering if our phone is water-resistant enough to check email in the shower.

What we have decided to do today goes on the Today List. There are a couple of places where we can put the tasks which we aren’t going to do today:

  • On a future day’s Today list
  • On our calendars
  • In a tickler file
  • On a someday/maybe list

If something pushes its way into your Today list (it happens), something else has to come off to make room. You don’t magically get more hours in the day to deal with it. Something else will need to take its place on a not-today list.

When you are going to do a not-today task is an important question to answer, but it’s not one you necessarily need to answer today. If the answer is clear, schedule it. If not, capture it and deal with it during a later review.

A not-to-do or not-today list is liberating. You acknowledge the task, project, goal, idea, but you give yourself explicit permission that you’re not going to work on it today. Let yourself focus on other stuff.

When you’ve worked through your list for today, don’t automatically start working on tomorrow’s list. Your Tomorrow Self will appreciate the head start, sure; your Tomorrow Self will also appreciate getting off to an energetic start because you protected today’s recreation and sleep.

There’s nothing wrong with putting off until tomorrow what should be done tomorrow. That’s how you do today what should be done today.

Question: What are you not going to do today? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.