Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover
I love a good list.  I list things to do, errands to run, calls to make.  I even record things that I want other people to do for me.  These Do Lists and Delegate Lists are stellar organizational tools, especially when synced and stored in the cloud so that you can access them anywhere from any device.


But when the lists get long, as they inevitably do, another variety of list is required—The Kill List.  It is the more forceful cousin of the Not-To-Do List touted by productivity experts.  It is a catalog of time-sucking, energy-draining, useless activity that you no longer choose to engage in.

But here’s the hard part.  A Kill List also needs to detail the feel-good but low-impact stuff—things that we typically enjoy checking off our to-do lists. You know, the activities that satisfy in the moment but are inconsequential in the grand scheme of your life and calling.

Kill List vs. Not-To-Do List

Clunkiness aside, the term “Not-To-Do List” doesn’t work for me because it’s so matter-of-fact.  It sounds like we all simply do or don’t do things, but for many women (and people-pleasers of all stripes) deciding what not to do is an excruciating process.

We can’t achieve a zen-like state of “non-doing” because we don’t want to give anything up.  We worry about making the wrong choices. We can’t shake the belief that certain things (no matter how small) are our burdens alone to carry. Or, worse, we’re simply too polite to refuse anything the world throws at us.

But as grown women with limited time and energy, we’ve got to give a lot of busy work the boot.  For me, a Kill List captures the range of things I need to stop doing and compels me to demonize them.  I don’t want to “not do” this stuff.  I want to consciously reject, renounce, and if necessary revile it.

Even when we know something’s not a good use of our time, we often continue to do it because we forget how high the stakes are.  How many times have you uttered the words, “I’m never going to do this again,” only to turn around and do it again?  Lapses of memory, planning and resolve do us in.  But if you kill something, it’s not coming back, right?

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.”

– Brene Brown

Kill List Candidates

To-Do Lists are easy.  Most of us can tick off an endless stream of things that we should or need to do.  Delegate Lists are a bit more challenging because they require us to trust (and oftentimes pay) others to get the job done.  (See more about delegating here.)  Kill or Not-To-Do Lists are the hardest because they make us acknowledge the limits of our competence.

For many women, myself included, it’s unsettling to acknowledge our limits.  It’s traumatic to admit, “I just can’t do it.”  It makes us feel diminished despite abundant ambition and talent, or perhaps because of them.

So as an alternative, I suggest that we say, “I’m just not doing it.” It’s the difference between a sigh of defeat and the authority of decision.

Here are a couple of categories of things we should definitely slay:

  • Anything that can be easily and inexpensively delegated to a capable third party. More often than you think, it makes sense to pay with your dollars versus your time.  For as little as $25/month, task services like Fancy Hands can take items like airfare and gift research, meeting scheduling and appointment booking off your hands.
  • Anything that you’re doing only because someone asked you to.  Accepting unwanted invitations and obligations is a surefire way to bring negativity and resentfulness into your life.  Respect yourself and your time enough to say “no” when your heart’s not in something.

Real-Life Examples

I’m currently expanding my Kill List and looked to the web for inspiration.  Here are some real-life boundaries defined by some very productive guys.  What do you think?

From The Not-To-Do List: 9 Habits to Stop Now (via Tim Ferriss)

  • Do not answer calls from unrecognized numbers.
  • Do not e-mail first thing in the morning or last thing at night.
  • Do not agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time.
  • Do not over-communicate with low-profit, high-maintenance customers.

From Do You Have a Not To-Do List? (via Michael Hyatt)

  • Do not travel by car to other cities unless they are less than one hour a way.
  • Do not read unfiltered e-mail.
  • Do not respond to (or feel the need to respond to) unsolicited sales pitches or proposals of any kind.
  • Do not serve as a director on more than two outside boards.

And a not-to-do list called by another name…

From What I Won’t and Will Do for Free for You (via Bob Bly)

  • I won’t look at your web site and give you my comments or thoughts.
  • I won’t have lunch or coffee with you. (Amazing how many people expect me to give up over a thousand dollars worth of my billable time in exchange for buying me a grilled cheese sandwich.)
  • I won’t speak at or come to your club or organization’s meeting.
  • I am highly unlikely to promote you or your product to my list unless I know you or you were referred to me by someone I know and trust.

We’ve heard from the guys above.  But I really want to hear from you. What’s on your kill list?  How comfortable are you with killing the noise and the distractions in your life to aim for something more valuable?  Have you discovered any detailed not-to-do lists from women you admire?

Please scroll down and post some ideas in the comments section.  Thanks!