To-don’t do

Since this site is largely about simple living, it seems a lot of the readers and listeners are fairly goal-oriented. The idea of ‘simple living’ is more of a journey than a destination, so this pretty much makes sense.

This journey type of mindset implies goal setting, which I’m all about, of course—but the problem with a continual focus on goals is that we unintentionally orient our day to day living with tasks. We become task-oriented people instead of relationship-oriented, and we end up equating a “good day” with whether we get a lot done.

I like to-do lists, and I like checking things off (and of course I’ve added something after I’ve done it just so I can check it off). But the issue arises when we focus all our energy, all our efforts towards these “to-do” tasks, because you know as well as me that we rarely cross off an entire day’s list.

And does an unfinished to-do list make a bad day? Of course not. In fact, you could adjust your sails and scribble out a list of things you don’t plan on doing—and cross those things off when you succeed in not doing them.

A to-don’t list.

Maybe your not doing them could equal a productive, thoughtful day.

Want to stop and smell the roses? Make a to-don't list.

I’ve decided that it’s a good idea to do this more often in my life—to notice what I’m intentionally not doing just as much as what I’m getting done. I’m going to make a to-don’t list more often.

Here’s part of my current to-don’t list:

• Don’t tackle larger house projects right now
• Don’t think about spring gardening
• Don’t set aside money for next Christmas
• Don’t be on a Whole 30
• Don’t stay up too late
• Don’t wake up too early
• Don’t sign up for a local farm co-op
• Don’t get involved in a homeschool co-op
• Don’t sign up the kids for spring sports
• Don’t empty my email inbox
• Don’t say yes to the thousand (well-meaning) requests sitting in my inbox
• Don’t try to understand the latest social media trend
• Don’t plan one thing for Valentine’s Day
• Don’t work all hours of the day
• Don’t do everything I could possibly do to promote my books
• Don’t keep Facebook or Twitter open when I write
• Don’t feel guilty about our daughter not having a birthday party this year
• Don’t volunteer at church
• Don’t get involved in a book club

And here’s the funny thing with writing this—my knee-jerk reaction is to justify a few of these to you. I want to explain to you why we’re not doing a farm co-op right now, or that we DO do some of these things sometimes. I want to make sure you know I do stuff. Which is completely ridiculous.

We get so wrapped up about Getting Stuff Done, or about defining our value in our accomplishments, our busyness. But is that really what life’s all about? Crossing off a to-do list isn’t a bad thing, but this isn’t the core of our life’s meaning, what really makes up the sum purpose of our days.

pooh sticks on the bridge

So notice what you don’t want to accomplish, just as much as you do. And if it’s hard for you to even think of what you don’t want to do, ask yourself if you’re trying to do too much—or, at least feel like you’re supposed to do more than what you are.

Because it’s perfectly okay—no, it’s AWESOMELY okay—that you don’t do stuff. Really.

Slow down and smell the roses, and if you’re too busy to get a whiff, it’s time to make a to-don’t list.

Have a good day,
again and again.

If you feel in your bones the need to simplify so you can live the life you're meant to live...

↓ This is for you.

47 Comments

  1. Rheagan

    We only do birthday parties for the kids every other year, so I love the years when I don’t worry about planning a birthday party for one of my kids! On the off years, we do something special as a family, and on the party years, we have a larger party than we would normally do. It’s great!

    • Claire @ Lemon Jelly Cake

      I got a birthday party when I was 6, 10, and 14, same as my sisters. After that, I could have as many birthday parties as I wanted but I was responsible for planning them. 🙂 Family parties are actually more memorable and special to me than the parties where I got to invite lots of friends over.

  2. brittnie

    Love this idea and perspective. I also instinctually feel the need to justify to others why I might say no to something or not sign up for x, y and z. So silly!

    • Tsh

      Right?

  3. Prerna

    Oh, I have a LONG to-don’t list as well.. Don’t multitask. Don’t skip breakfast. Don’t get sucked into pointless arguments. Don’t say “yes” to every.single.thing. Don’t keep Facebook open {Hah!}when writing or working on projects.

    My challenge, however, is sticking to the “not-do” list. I feel guilty and like you, find I have to justify what I can no longer put on the “to-do” list:)

  4. Emily

    Tsh-
    Such a great thought. I love the idea of being intentional about our “don’t dos.” Too often, I find myself carrying around some low level guilt about what I’m not doing. This framework is helpful. Thanks for sharing!

    • Teri

      I completely agree with your comment! This post and the one Tsh recently wrote about interruptions to my day really resonated with me. Such good stuff.

  5. Claire @ Lemon Jelly Cake

    I have never formally written out my “To Don’t” list, but I love the concept. I was very open about my decision to NOT do anything with the garden for a year after my daughter was born. I struggle much more with seeing my husband say no to things . . . good, worthwhile things that I know part of him is itching to say yes to.

  6. Robin from Frugal Family Times

    We are in one of our busiest times – renovating my mom’s old townhouse to sell – on my don’t-do list: don’t pressure myself to do anything that isn’t essential for my family and my work – for now. This massive job should be finished this weekend. The end is in sight!

  7. Sarah Rudell Beach

    Oh, I am such a list maker I haven’t even thought about the idea of a not-to-do list. I guess at the top of that list would be “don’t join every committee.” I’ve overcommitted to so many things at work and it’s stressing me out. I’m actually proud of myself that I was offered a leadership opportunity on one of them and I turned it down because I knew it would be too much. Thanks for sharing this and making us think about our lists from a different perspective!

  8. Jenn @ A Simple Haven

    So good! I hear you on the temptation to justify our “nos” to others. I am in the midst of a more full season of life where I’ve had to say no more often than usual. I’m prone to people-please, so sometimes I get a little stressed about meeting others’ expectations.

    Thankfully, others have been really gracious with me. But this season has also been a good reminder that I don’t need to worry about doing it all and I’m not responsible for meeting everyone’s expectations anyway.

    And yes, I’ve totally written something down that I already did, just to cross it off 😉

  9. Maggie

    What an awesome idea! I’m making a to don’t list!

  10. Jessica

    I’m an avid list writer and love the idea of a ‘to-don’t’ list! I think my top two will be… Don’t have the laptop on when baby is awake and don’t re-schedule date nights!

    • Tsh

      Jennifer, that’s absolutely awesome! Love, love, love it. 🙂

  11. Moira

    I needed to read this today! Our family is getting ready to move this summer…but we’re still waiting to find out where. We’re used to moving, and forcing ourselves to limit our commitments as we get ready but because so much is up in the air this time we are not saying “no” enough. I need to remind myself that it’s ok if my 5 year old doesn’t play soccer this season (especially because he doesn’t really care either way) and I love the idea of writing all these things down in a “to-don’t” list!

  12. Faigie

    I belong to a group that meets once a month on character development. Our leader has us making to do lists with ONLY stuff we absolutely think we can accomplish. We are learning to have patience with ourselves and not pile on more that we would really be able to do

  13. Sandy Cooper

    I am a huge believer in To-Don’t Lists. I think the more we know how to do added to all that we have opportunity to do added to everything people ask us to do equals TOO MUCH.

    If you don’t deliberately cut somewhere, you will just shrivel up and die. And by you, I mean me.

    I had to chuckle when you said you felt the need to justify not being in a farm co-op right now. Most people don’t do farm co-ops and probably don’t know what that even is. I just think it’s so telling how we project external pressure onto ourselves sometimes, just because of what we THINK others with think of us.

    Great post. 🙂

    • Sandy Cooper

      oops, forgot to say that I am so with you on wanting to have an unorthodox Christmas next year. 🙂

    • Tsh

      Exactly. Crazy, right?

  14. Mallory

    Haha, don’t try to understand Google +.

    I’ve had a mental To Don’t list for awhile now. I love the idea of writing it down.

  15. Savannah

    This post inspired me to write a short free verse poem of my To Don’t Do list. This is a beautiful thought, thank you sharing your Don’t Do list with us.

    • Tsh

      Beautiful, Savannah!

  16. Shelly

    Since winter seems to suck the life out of me, I’ve decided to skip ladies bible study and Awana for the kids until it’s warmer out. There’s only about a four hour break between church and these activities, and it can be really stressful to eat lunch, straighten up, make and eat supper, search for Awana vests and books, and oversee/help ten kids get ready and out the door in that short amount of time. It’s a break I REALLY need.

  17. Carly

    I needed this today.

  18. Angela

    My daughter turned 9 this year and she didnt have a birthday party either. No guilt. Enjoy the family travel.

  19. Robin Dance

    A “to-don’t list”?

    Brilliant.

    • Tsh

      You’re here! 😉

  20. sonja

    the “collective unconscious” continues to amaze me….at the moment I’m listless…

  21. Breanne

    Oh the justifying of things to others, I totally get this. I tend to worry what people will think when I say no or don’t say anything but really, most people are very gracious and get it themselves.
    We’re in a busy season with a possible move this summer/fall so there’s a lot I’m not doing and I’m learning to be okay with that.
    Thanks for the breath of fresh air!

  22. Marina

    I don’t make “don’t do lists”, but lists for later! This year I decided to focus on just a few things, but my mind is constantly being bombarded by new ideas, projects and so on. And here comes my list for later; I put down all the things that I would like to do in the future, when time is right, so I don’t forget.
    In this way I can concentrate on the moment (daily lists, monthly lists and even a yearly list!).

    • Tsh

      I like that plan! 🙂

  23. Jessica

    I needed to hear this today. I have in my head all of these things I think I SHOULD be doing (or what I think I should be doing compared to everyone else in the world) but having a to-don’t list is a great place to put all these things and free up my life for what I really want to do.

    One of my to-don’t’s is to not feel guilty about having a messy home in this season of my life. I have three kids 4 and under. Messy is a fact of life right now!

    • Tsh

      Yep, I know what you mean. Messy is okay right now.

  24. Elizabeth Anne @seasonswithsoul

    Oh, this resonates. Right now, some of my don’t dos: Don’t fret and fuss so much. Don’t expect to get anything done on yet another snow day with three kids at home. Don’t feel guilty for cutting back on blog posting. Don’t make God so small. Don’t apologize for chasing ridiculous dreams. Don’t get peeved when your life coach takes things off your to-do list. Don’t multi-task so much…. Oh, I could do this all day!

    • Tsh

      “Don’t make God so small.” <-- I need to remember this, too.

    • Claire

      So true! I really need to remember these things as well! “Don’t make God so small”, I love that. 🙂

  25. Sarah Blinco

    I needed to read this today, thank you! My to do list is always extensive (like everyone here), and I used to judge my days by whether I achieved it all or not. Lately though, I’ve tried to cut myself a little slack and if it’s just not happening, I go with it. I really like the concept of a ‘to don’t do’ list though 🙂

  26. Sarah

    Don’t clean the house before we move out this Saturday. That’s on my To-Don’t list, and I’m trying not to hate it. Both my husband and I are having health issues right now, and I am having to put aside the mantra ingrained into my brain “always leave things better than when you found them”. I also don’t get to indulge my people pleasing gene, and am trying not to imagine the statements that the home owner will probably say (“They didn’t even vacuum the carpet!”)
    Also on the To-Don’t list: Don’t fret.

  27. Claire

    Wow, what a wonderful idea! I get so caught up in what I want to accomplish that I often either get overwhelmed by it and do nothing or end up missing the moments that really matter, like my prayer time or greeting my husband when he comes home from work.
    Thank you for this beautiful reminder.
    Claire

  28. Becky

    YES! Nail on the head here. Thank you, so much Tsh.

  29. Emily

    What a refreshing post, thanks Tsh! You know, a book I’ve been reading recently (called “18 Minutes” by Peter Bregman) has a chapter about this, he calls it our “ignore list”. For me, one of the hardest things to NOT do, is to not read EVERY blog post online, or news, etc. Everything seems inspiring and useful, and it’s hard to not have the mindset that reading just “one more thing” will be the answer to a better life……information travels at such lightning speed these days and so accessible! Bregman writes “but our success actually hinges on the opposite: on our willingness to risk missing some information. Because trying to focus on it all is a risk in itself.” Yikes!

  30. Mary

    We have implemented guideline for saying no for Saturday activities. Our reason is we believe our neighbors are out most important ministry, and we’ve learned that Saturdays are the best day to be available to share life with them. The problem is being involved in a few different groups gets us invited to lots of showers and parties…on Saturday of course. So we say no to non-neighbor Saturday invites. Well, mostly. We have created guidelines for when we should break our self-imposed rules, because there are some relationships we give priority to. Or course, I still feel guilt at times for declining invitations, but we as a family love not spending our Saturdays running from event to event.

  31. Christine

    I am so thankful I’m not the only person in the planet who can add “Don’t feel guilty about our daughter not having a birthday party…” to her list. Because I do love her everyday despite the don’t list;) Thank you!

    Best wishes tomorrow!

  32. Stephanie

    Wonderful concept. I’m getting better about saying yes to my gifts + passions…and delegating some of the other things (or letting them go completely).

  33. dianne

    I am not busy. When I tell people they don’t really believe me, but it is true, and by design. I was a stay at home homeschooling mom. Now, I am an at home wife. No job- but we learned long ago to live without and I don’t need one. I don’t volunteer. I have. But it seems they can do without me. I don’t make plans with people I don’t care for- and who furthermore don’t care for me. Sadly, I live far from family so that is not too difficult. If, however, you are my friend I am loyal to you, and will do whatever it takes when I am needed. I will listen to your troubles and give advice when I am asked. I do read. I garden. I walk. I make simple meals and keep a simple house. I am happily married. It is not a bad life. ps, my kids did fine without bday parties, phones, and all the toys and distractions. we traveled, went to museums, read gobs of books, and talked all night long. They just want your time and attention. I suppose we were unschooling, but they are functioning adults. It is about being content, and it takes a long, long time to learn.

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