Many people create a daily task or ‘to do’ list; however, few use another essential tool which I call a Stop List. In many ways, this can be considered a ‘NOT to do’ list. Yet, unlike a task list, you do not need to recreate this document on a daily basis as it focuses on focuses on two kinds of personal behaviors: bad habits and major time wasters.
Major time wasters are easy to pinpoint. These are low-value or no value activities which absorb more of your time than they should. My favorite example is excess TV watching; however, other examples include continuing bad or empty relationships or active participation within a cluborganization that gives you little satisfaction or worthwhile outcomes.
Many of our daily activities are based on habits. For example, we do not need to write down an action plan for our morning routine of taking a shower, getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing our teeth, etc. In fact, this is normally a good thing as many habits save time, thought, and energy. Habits are established patterns that can make one very efficient. However, those habits that have a negative impact on our life should be removed. Some common examples can including excessive gambling, smoking cigarettes, eating the wrong foods andor in the wrong amounts, or interrupting others during conversations. There are many, many more bad habits.
Instructions to Create a Stop List
- Take 20 minutes to write down all your bad habits and time wasters. Be honest as no one but you will ever see this list.
- Take 5 minutes to rank this list so that the first item is the one which you would most like to remove from your life as you realize it is a major constraint on your productivity, success, or happiness.
- Unlike a list of Projects or Tasks, a Stop List should be very short. Learning to un-do or replace habits is a challenge and a large list is counterproductive. Par down your active stop list so it only has the top three items from the overall list you created in step one.
- For the next 28 days (or 84 days, depending on how disciplined you are and how powerful this habit is), focus on removing the first item on your list and ONLY the first item on your list. If you relapse into the activity, start over. Experts agree that the learning process to remove a habit takes at minimum 21 days, but sometimes as long as three months. I suggest taking at least a full four weeks to eliminate the habit. Alternatively, choose a full calendar month as the time span.
- Once you have eliminated the first item from your life, it is time to move to the second item on the list. After a full 28 days (or 84 days) of successfully not engaging with that time waster or bad habit, you can move on the third item on the list.
- After all three have been overcome, you may begin at step one to re-create a new Stop List. Life is like any other garden. This means that noxious weeds have a tendency to grow in one area while we are cultivating another. While perfection is neither possible nor the goal, a Stop List is a powerful tool and great way to insure that a new bad habits do not anchor themselves in our lives.