The Anti-ToDo-List

Sep 11, 2019 00:00 · 866 words · 5 minute read self-improvement productivity

ToDo-Lists are a great tool to keep track of what we want or have to do in order to accomplish something. From grocery-shopping to project management they proved to be useful more than once.

But what about the things we shouldn’t do? Tasks that may seem important at the first glance? They make it into our list, but turn out to be inefficient or even useless in hindsight? Is there a way to recognise such Tasks before they start to eat our time?

This is where the Anti-ToDo-List enters the stage. It can help us to recognise Tasks that won’t bring us closer to our goals and to develop better habits.

The ToDo-List

But let’s lay the groundwork first: What is a normal ToDo-List and what do I use it for?

Every Task should be a means to an end: It should bring me closer to my goals. This sounds a bit like project management, doesn’t it? But the way I see my life is that it is composed of multiple projects which have an end goal I want to reach. To reach those goals I have to break them down into tasks and execute them.

My ToDo-List organises those tasks. But why the effort of writing them down?

  1. There are many Tasks
  2. I need a plan that tells me what I have to do and when it has to be done
  3. I want to track the progress

Long story short:

A ToDo-List holds tasks and the completion of these Tasks bring me closer to my goals

The Anti-Todo-List

With that definition at hand, we can now create a definition for our Anti-ToDo-List

The Anti-ToDo-List holds tasks, which do not help us to reach our goals

Note that this definition is an alternative to most articles you’ll find on the internet. A quick search on google leads you to several excellent articles on how to use an Anti-ToDo-List as a sort of tracking tool for completed tasks. However, with the definition we developed above for the ToDo-List our Anti does not refer to the state of a task (done or not done) but questions the ability of every task to contribute to our goals.

But there is an objection that’s coming up here: Isn’t this work kind of redundant? Thinking about what contributes to reach our goals implicitly discards every task that does not, doesn’t it?

Let’s have a look behind the Anti-ToDo-List-Curtain:

It frees up brain capacity

Brain capacity is precious and should therefor not be used for administrative tasks. An Anti-ToDo-List helps us getting rid of the burden to always have to think about the things we should avoid in order to reach our goals.

Getting Better at prioritising Tasks

ToDo-Lists can help us prioritise our tasks. For example, sorting our Tasks by priority in descending order gets important tasks to the top. However, some tasks may creep around at the bottom of the list forever. We see them regularly which produces the impression that we are not making any progress. Moving these Tasks to the Anti-ToDo-List puts them into the right context and literally throws useless Tasks at us.

Developing better intuition

Integrating the Anti-ToDo-List into our planing process helps us to develop a better intuition for what is important and what not. After several weeks we start to recognise patterns which help us to efficiently categorise Tasks, ultimately saving time. Deciding which Tasks to work on and which to avoid now happens at a glance.

What’s on my Anti-ToDo-List

After getting into why the Anti-ToDo-List is a good thing to have, let’s see what Tasks can go into it.

The following examples are all drawn from my personal experience. Since we defined that Tasks should bring us closer to our individual goals, there is no silver-rule, no formula that can be applied in order to find things that waste our time.

I’m a fan of the Pareto-Principle. That means that even Tasks that bring me closer to my goals are checked against their Return-On-Investment. Tasks that demand a huge effort, but have only limited impact make their way into my Anti-ToDo-List. (Remember the point we made when discussing how Anti-ToDo-Lists help us prioritising. Theses are Tasks that would remain on the bottom of a prioritised ToDo-List simply because there will always be that one other Task that will have a bigger impact). This approach helps me to free up cognitive load. I don’t have go through the thinking process every time this Low-ROI-Tasks come up. I already know what their value ist.

For my part, I would not hesitate to even put obvious things on my Anti-ToDo-List, like binge watching, checking my Emails or refreshing the Facebook timeline every 3 seconds. Everyone knows that these activities are progress killer. Yet, they still creep in and are part of our daily routine. Maybe, the Anti-ToDo-List can help us create better habits by associating these activities with negative impact.


Explicitly marking Tasks as unproductive activities helps us to focus our energy and maybe even to create better habits.


  1. Hollins, Peter. Mental Models: 30 Thinking Tools that Separate the Average From the Exceptional. Improved Decision-Making, Logical Analysis, and Problem-Solving. PH Learning Inc. Kindle-Version.

If you want to get in touch with me, send me an email