Creating A Not-To-Do List

by Ramona Creel

Reality Check

It's incredibly difficult for folks to admit that they can't do everything themselves. Well,  guess what — you can't! And I don't know that you'd want to, even if you had the time. Some activities are unpleasant, outside your range of expertise, or just not what you want to spend your time on. There's nothing wrong with bowing out, as long as you can find someone else to take care of it. The not-to-do list helps identify those chores, errands, and daily responsibilities that can (and should) be delegated. This is assuming that we're talking about a job that even needs to be done in the first place — if not, let it go and move on!

Unfortunately, most of us don't realize how close to the edge we are until it's too late and we're about to fall off the cliff. The key to creating a successful “not-to-do” list is awareness –paying attention to what you do, how long it takes, how often you doit, and whether or not you get some benefit from that particularactivity. However, we spend so much of our days on autopilot and in astate of overload, that simply trying to recall how you spent yesterdaymorning can be a real challenge!

Keep a notepad handy, and record your activities for a week. You don't have to log every second of your day (“8:00 — got up / 8:05 — used bathroom / 8:15 — had breakfast” isn't going to help you be more effective and efficient!) But if you can start tracking your work responsibilities (a paid job, housework, or whatever fills your day), travel time to and from activities, and any other external responsibilities (committee meetings, carpools, volunteering), you will begin to see places where you can trim and tighten your schedule through delegation. Make a note of what you are doing — such as “checking e-mails” or “cleaning oven” or “buying groceries.” Then, estimate how much time you have spent on that particular chore (don't forget travel and prep time). Later we'll look at whether this action needs to be done at all (!!) and whether it needs to be done by you. But for now, that's the start of your “not-to-do” list.

How Much Is Your Time Worth?

When you were a kid, you probably didn't think much about what it took to earn money — you just asked for what you wanted and somehow, mommy and daddy made it happen. You didn't worry about what stuff cost, and you didn't understand when someone told you it was too “expensive.” Then you got an after-school job or started working for your allowance — and I'll bet you became a lot more discriminating about what you did with hard-earned cash!

It's the same with time.  Very few people really know what their time is worth, in concrete financial terms. They just go through their day on autopilot, wondering where the hours go. Until you recognize that your time is intrinsically valuable, you will never be able to make informed decisions about where your effort is best spent.  Here's a general guide illustrating how much an hour of your time is worth, and how just one hour a day (spent poorly or wisely) adds up over a year's time:

YOUR
ANNUAL INCOME
WHAT ONE HOUR
IS WORTH
ONE HOUR PER DAY
FOR A YEAR
$25,000 $12.61 $3,125
$40,000 $20.49 $5,000
$50,000 $25.61 $6,205
$75,000 $38.42 $9,375
$100,000 $51.23 $12,500
$125,000 $65.10 $15,884
$150,000 $76.84 $18.750
$175,000 $89.65 $21,875
$200,000 $102.46 $25,000
$250,000 $128.07 $31,250
$300,000 $153.69 $37,500
** Based on 244 working days per year

You can always look at delegating in terms of the biggest financial payoff. When I hire someone to take care of an item on my not-to-do list — and I pay them $25 an hour while my hour is worth $60 — I'm coming out ahead. The same is true when I can hire someone to do a task in a half hour that would take me 3 hours to complete. I can be focusing on higher priorities — things that feed my soul or grow my business or let me know I'm alive — without worrying that the work isn't being done.

Look At Costs Versus Benefits

Have you ever caught yourself spending a lot of time on a very low-payoff activity? Low-payoff doesn't mean worthless. This task might actually need to be done — like addressing 1,500 envelopes for a business mailing or cleaning all of the window screens in your house. But it's not something that will immediately and drastically improve your quality of life. And it might be a hugely time-consuming activity, where the rewards you will reap don't even begin to compare to your investment of time and energy. Most of these low-payoff jobs really serve as maintenance — but if left undone, they can erode away at your home, your career, your health, your peace of mind and cause serious problems down the road. That makes these chores perfect candidates for your “not-to-do” list — items that really need to be completed, but not necessarily by YOU. Here are some of the most common suggestions I hear from my clients — see which resonate with you as being potentially delegable:

  • house cleaning
  • grocery shopping and meal preparation
  • paperwork (filing/mailings/organizing)
  • errand-running
  • yard work and landscaping
  • home maintenance and car maintenance
  • follow-up with clients (phone calls/e-mails)
  • travel, meeting, and event arrangements

Of course, you also have to ask if you really enjoy the work. Even though I could probably find someone else to maintain my website for me, I love the process of creating new pages, bringing ideas to life, and watching my baby blossom and grow. It is time-consuming, but I'm filled with renewed energy each time I sit down and add a new section to the site. So the payoff for me comes as a sense of satisfaction and a continued outlet for my creativity — and that is priceless, regardless of what my hour is worth. On the other hand, my sister loves gardening. She finds it incredibly relaxing to dig in the dirt and watch a tiny bud explode into color. Lawn care is pretty much my idea of hell — so I would probably hire someone else to take care of my shrubbery and flowers (if I had a yard!) It's all a matter of what energizes you, what fills your life with joy, and what you look forward to doing. If an activity fits this description, keep it for yourself and find other less-pleasurable chores to include on your not-to-do list.

Is This The Best Possible Use Of Your Time?

The final question I ask my clients when setting up their lists is, “What's the best possible use of your time at this exact moment?” Americans in particular tend to focus too much on the daily grind (paying bills, keeping the house clean, writing reports, etc.) and too little on our real priorities. Those many details may seem urgent at the time — but if you look at the bigger picture, that they really aren't all that pressing. And it's sad when we end up missing out on the important things in life (experiences and relationships) because we're so caught up in the minutiae. Do you really need to be organizing the garage, or spending time with your kids at the park? Is it a higher priority that you decide how to arrange the chairs at the upcoming sales meeting, or that you develop a strong agenda and provide guidance during the group discussion? Will you benefit more from zoning out in front of the television, or taking a walk around the neighborhood with your spouse? Ask yourself where you will get the biggest bang for your buck. That should be where you focus your attention, and let someone else handle the rest.

Once you've made a list of items that you would love to delegate — who do you hand them off to? You have so many options! Just remember, you aren't in it alone. You simply have to decide whatyou want to delegate and then be willing to ask for help. At home, you can get your family involved in the act (see my dear hubby doing dishes?) Kids and spouses are just as capable of handling those daily chores as you are! At the office, don't be afraid to ask a co-worker for some assistance — and offer to help out the next time he or she needs a little bit of a break. Also make use of your support staff (administrative clerks, assistants, and other assorted minions) — that's what they are there for. If you don't have these sorts of support networks to call upon, hire an independent contractor or freelancer to help with household and business tasks that you don't have time for. You might also think about developing a local co-op for sharing those time-consuming domestic (trading off on cooking, cleaning, errand-running, or child care) — or set up an informal swap with a neighbor.

© Ramona Creel, all rights reserved. Ramona Creel is a modern Renaissance woman and guru of simplicity -- traveling the country as a full-time RVer, sharing her story of radically downsizing, and inspiring others to regain control of their own lives. As a Professional Organizer and Accountability Coach, Ramona will help you create the time and space to focus on your true priorities -- clearing away the clutter other obstacles and standing in the way of that life you've always wanted to be living. As a Professional Photographer, Ramona captures powerful images of places and people as she travels. And as a travel writer, social commentator, and blogger, she shares her experiences and insights about the world as we know it. You can see all these sides of Ramona -- read her articles, browse through her photographs, and even hire her to help get your life in order -- at www.RamonaCreel.com. And be sure to follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.