Want to Increase Your Leadership Impact? You Need a ‘To Don’t’ List.

Stacey Ashley Blog

Want to Increase Your Leadership Impact? You Need a ‘To Don’t’ List.

I think if I hear one more executive tell me that they’re really, really busy right now, I’m going to scream ‘you’re giving your power away!’ What I find once I’ve started asking a few questions of them is that their busy-ness is actually a choice they’re making. They’re giving themselves permission to be busy instead of giving themselves permission to have impact.

When you’re a leader, you must invest yourself wisely. You’re a limited resource and you can only go so far. It is very important to make sure that when you invest your time and your energy, your focus, your attention, your experience, and your effort, that you’re focusing on the things that will make the biggest difference rather than ticking off a massive to-do list of little bits and pieces that really don’t move the dial.

I know it’s hard. We’re in various stages of lockdown and restrictions and yes, the world has changed, but the requirement for you to lead and make the biggest difference you can in a reasonable way that’s balanced and sustainable is more important than ever.

Today I’m sharing some ideas to help you make better decisions about how you invest yourself. To give yourself permission to focus on the right things so you can increase your impact, rather than simply being busy.

The first thing is to consider how you determine what you focus on. Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix is a great framework to help you assess what are the most important things that you need to focus on.

The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes.

Tony Blair

The most important things are not defined by urgency alone. You also need to consider the impact they have, the value that they add. As you can see in the framework, there are four potential quadrants of activity. Those below the horizontal line have low impact. Those above the horizontal line have high-impact. Some are more urgent than others, quadrant one. Some are less urgent, more planful. That’s quadrant two. And quadrant two is where you want to be spending most of your time. This is where you are going to make the biggest difference.

Time Management Matrix

Most people spend much of their time in Quadrant three, low impact and high urgency activity. If this is the case for you, the challenge is to consider the question ‘what makes this important enough for me to spend my time on it?’

Quadrant three is often made up of what you believe is your To-Do list. It’s also the adrenaline quadrant, you get a buzz from operating in here, and when you tick something off your to-do list you get that little burst of dopamine…. And that’s addictive.

But while you are busy all day ticking off those little items on your To-Do list that are possible and achievable, and you know how to do them easily, you may find you get to the end of the day or the end of the week and realise that actually, you haven’t made progress on any of the significant, game-changing, things. The things that in six months’ time are going to make a bigger difference.

So, consider not only thinking about what is on your to-do list, the things that are in quadrant two, that you plan and complete and make a big difference, and the things that are in quadrant one that are more reactive, but also make a big difference. Consider creating a To-Don’t list, the things that you are not going to do. The meetings you are not going to attend. The emails that you are not going to respond to or not perhaps even receive any more. The work that others in your team should be doing. (You need to build capability and accountability in your people so you don’t get dragged down into the weeds and the micro detail.) You need a To-Don’t list.

What you don’t do determines what you can do.

Tim Ferriss

Some of the things on my To-Don’t list include editing this newsletter and getting it set up to send out. My job is to create the content, but that’s where it ends. I have a great team who can do the rest of the process for me.

Other things on my To-Don’t list are basically the entire back office of my business because there are people who can do a far better job of that than me. And that’s not my job. My job is to think, it’s to create, it’s to facilitate great programs, it’s to coach, it’s to speak. I need to stay in my zone of genius, where I can make the biggest impact. And you need to stay in your zone of genius, where you can make the biggest impact.

This is your challenge. Begin to think about not only what is on your To-Do list, but what is on your To-Don’t list. When you know what is on your To-Don’t list, then you can comfortably say no. You can make more constructive choices.

When you say YES to everything it’s like being on the flurry line…you’re not creating the future by saying ‘no’ to the busy things, and yes to the value-adding things.


Remember, during times of emergency, turbulence, change and transformation, great leaders focus specifically and only on the important, which is their To-Do list from quadrants two and one. And they know what is on their To-Don’t list and they don’t go there. Give yourself permission to have impact rather than be busy.

So set up your To-Do list and your To-Don’t list. Create clarity for yourself about where you’re going to focus yourself and your energy and make the biggest impact.

I’d love to know your thoughts.

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