Have you ever walked into a situation that was such a big mess that you didn't know where to start? Or what about a project that started small, but kept growing and growing? Or maybe you have a staff member who is not operating at full effectiveness because they are spreading themselves too thinly. These are all good places to have a Not To Do List, i.e. a list of things you have decided not to do.
I wish I could say that the idea was mine, but all you have to do is search the web to see all kinds of people using this idea. While it may appear obvious, when actually done, it really helps focus the mind. The following situations are real. The names aren't.
Julia faced a big project when she replaced a Controller who had gone on long term disability months before. The place was a mess. The year end audit was only a month away and nothing had been done. The bank account had not been reconciled in 12 months. The intercompany accounts were way off. Basic calculations, like depreciation, had not been performed. Meanwhile, people were clamouring for financial analysis, the next year's budget, and staff reviews. New questions seemed to pop up daily. Julia used a Not To Do List to demonstrate to people that she knew the work needed to be done, but that there just wasn't time until after the audit.
In another company, the payroll system hadn't been touched in years. When a new subsidiary was acquired, payroll needed to be updated to handle the new requirements. Once it was known that the payroll system was being changed, a lot of requests emerged. The development staff kept telling people that it was possible to make the changes they wanted, but didn't realize that the users were interpreting those discussions as promises to make the changes. The manager decided to regain control of the situation by limiting the project to the original plan, but keeping all the ideas in a Not To Do list.
In a charity, the accounting and fund development offices both felt that the donor database was "theirs". They both made changes to it and entered data. Their needs were different. The situation deteriorated when they started undoing each other's changes in one particular area. The resolution was a meeting between the managers to determine what each department would do and, just as importantly, what each would NOT do.
Finally, we all have things we need to let go of. For example, an accounting clerk was promoted to a supervisory role. As often happens, he had a hard time giving up the work he used to do, saying it was faster for him to do it himself than to give it to someone else. He ended working long hours as he struggled to get everything done. Meanwhile, his staff actually had time on their hands. To help him balance his priorities, the accounting manager helped him develop a personal Not To Do List.
If you think this idea would work for you, please add some examples in the comments section.