How writing a to-NOT-do list revolutionised my life

To-do lists. We all have them. Whether it’s in your head, written down or stored in an app – you’ll have things listed that need doing.

But what if someone told you that everything you think you need to do, you probably don’t? And that in actual fact, a list of things you shouldn’t be doing would be more beneficial?

Well, I recently learned that the only way to be truly productive, and to get stuff done, is to do just that. To write a list of things that I’d need to stop doing in order to get the important tasks completed. But before I explain what I’m talking about, let me give you some background by telling you who I am and what I do.

I’m Kim Palmer, 38-years-old, and I work in a senior marketing role in London four days a week. I live with my husband and our three-year-old son, Louis. I’m pregnant with another baby boy, due in April. And lastly, in November, I launched an app called Clementine.

Kim Palmer

My app is for women who have low in confidence, aren’t sleeping well and feel stressed out. Through hypnotherapy sessions, Clementine guides women to a calmer, happier place. It has cured insomnia, major stress issues and enabled women to face their fear of public speaking.

The idea came about because I went through my own period of acute anxiety and crippling low self-esteem, when I was pregnant with Louis. I had a panic attack in an important meeting, and this led to a fear of presentations. I thought I’d feel better when I went on maternity leave, only it got worse.

Soon, I was having daily panic attacks, distancing myself from friends and I was too embarrassed to even tell my husband. I’d avoid social situations because I was petrified that all eyes would turn to me and I wouldn’t be able to cope with the attention.

I tried talking therapies but they didn’t work, so then I signed up for some hypnotherapy sessions. This really did work. It completely changed my life. I was back to feeling confident, able and happy – so I decided to use my experience to help others.

Starting a business is hugely exciting but when you’re also working nearly full time, commuting, have a relationship and young child to consider, a pregnancy, friends, extended family… well, it can all feel quite overwhelming. But I didn’t want to go back to that dark, anxiety-ridden place, so I started looking at healthy ways to work.

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For most of us, ‘getting organised’ starts with writing a list of tasks that need to be done, so I did that. But when I looked at it, I realised so few revolved around my new business. They were mostly household chores. But right now (after family), work is my priority – so I decided the housework could wait.

With this in mind, I started listing the things that I didn’t need to do. The things that didn’t deserve to be prioritised. In fact, some of this stuff could just be forgotten about forever – it really wasn’t important. I called this my NOT to-do list.

Here’s what I put on it:

  • No more ironing things that don’t need to be ironed… sheets, pillowcases
  • No more aimless pottering around the house, tidying up every day – clean and tidy once a week only
  • No more regular trips to the dry-cleaners – wear clothes that can be washed at home
  • Less time fussing over my nails (I used to do a weekly manicure in front of the TV)
  • Less time bringing my day job home

Once I’d committed to not cleaning my house – except once a week on a Saturday – I felt calm about working from home on Fridays, surrounded by toys and laundry. We have a choice as to how we respond to mess: we can let it grate, or we can mentally brush it to one side. I chose the latter.

But it also freed up so much time. Where once I’d start my work-from-home day cleaning up, now I can sit at my desk, log on to my computer and get on with the tasks that I know will help to grow my business.

And so that’s how I came up with the idea of a NOT to-do list. By taking stock and recognising that most of the stress in my life stems from thinking I need to do things; to tick them off the list, when in actual fact, they don’t matter. I feel utterly liberated and I’m getting a lot more done – and I’m confident that if you give it a try, it could revolutionise your life too.

Words by Kim Palmer