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6 questions to consider when drafting a 'to-don’t’ list

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When it comes to making time for innovation, the urgent often gets in the way of the essential. I often get the question of “how do we make time for innovation when we have so much on our plates already?” 

With the pace of change getting faster and information flow being infinite, it is difficult not to mistake working hard with working on the right things. More important, it’s hard to generate a “mind space clearing” for thinking about the future in a productive and effective way. 

If that sounds like you, you’re not alone. We’ve heard this concern expressed over and over. And it becomes a really logical and believable excuse to put off innovation. 

Related: The real reason your big ideas go nowhere

One way out of this dilemma is to make your “to-don’t” list. Almost everyone has things they can put on this list. These could be things that are discreet tasks or, more likely, habits that take up a lot of time and mind space that are unconscious. And ridding yourself of these things feels like it does after you clean out your garage, a closet or a junk drawer.  

I’ve become very conscious of this in recent months and days because I set a goal for myself. In fact, as this is being written, I am in preparation to leave for a six-week sabbatical to reacquaint myself with what’s truly important before I take on a new and challenging assignment. And as a result of that, my “to-don’t” list was much easier to create and adhere to. 

What might be on your “to-don’t” list? First, deal with the discreet things that you and everyone else can actually see. To get at these, you should ask yourself the following questions: 

  1. What business activities have I been doing for more than a year where I am not sure what the impact to the business actually is? (Common things in this category include generating reports, updating old websites, standing meetings and conference calls, attending conferences, etc.) 

  2. What activities I am doing personally that can be delegated to someone else who is either up-and-coming in a similar role to mine or is better at the activity than I am? 

  3. If I had to make a list of the top three to five activities that make or break my success, what would they be? What would happen if I didn’t do the other things? What would happen if nobody did those things? 

Related: 3 more dos and don’ts for insurance innovation (part 2)

Beyond the obvious, let’s go to the less obvious. This is hard but potentially more impactful. The issue you need to address here is “what am I laboring over for too long and why?” To get at this part of your list, consider these things: 

  1. How do I decide which emails to answer and which ones to not answer?  

  2. How do you gracefully but swiftly say no to certain opportunities? (Swift no’s are better than slow maybes, both for you and for the other party)

  3. How do we get more efficient in meetings? Stop and think about how many times your team is in agreement yet continues to discuss the same issue. 

When it comes to making time for innovation, there’s a misconception that a longer list and more ideas is necessary. By making your “to-do” and “to-don’t” lists, you not only narrow the focus but also eliminate the risk of spending time and resources where they don’t belong. You’d be surprised how quickly you can make room on your plate for innovation when you do this. 

Take the chaos out of trying to check off every bullet point and allow yourself to regain control by getting rid of what won’t get done. It’s time for our “to-don’t” list to hang just as clearly next to our “to-do” list, creating the time and mind space necessary for cultivating innovation. 

I challenge you to try it out. Benchmark your successes by not doing things. Acknowledge what you have gained by what you didn’t do. Whether you are facing a new challenge or are simply stuck in the same routine, start making two lists for prioritization and stick to them both. 

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