Tea with the Queen

Setting boundaries with a “to don’t” list



If you’re drowning in a busy schedule, it’s time to hit pause and start setting boundaries with the mighty to-don’t list.

Instead of adding more tasks to our already overflowing plates, a to-don’t list focuses on what not to do. It might seem counterintuitive at first but stick with me and I’ll show you what a powerful tool it can be for setting boundaries.

The to-don’t list identifies activities that waste your time, create distractions, or don’t align with your priorities. Setting boundaries around these tasks frees up time and brain power so you can focus on what really matters to you. 

Here are five tips for how to create a to-don’t list and use it to its full potential. 

1.  Identifying Timewasters: Take a look at your daily schedule and identify activities that are distractions or are only wasting time. Some examples are excessive social media browsing, unnecessary meetings, or ineffective multitasking. Once you know what tasks aren’t helpful to you, you can actively avoid them.

2.  Setting Boundaries: For your to-don’t list to be effective, you need to establish clear parameters for yourself. For me, this means only checking my email twice a day and having a strict no-work policy during family time so I can focus on them.

3.  Communicating Your Boundaries: Simply setting boundaries isn’t enough. It’s essential to communicate your boundaries with others to ensure they understand and respect your choices. 

4.   Hacking Yourself: Reinforce your to-don’t list by establishing consequences or rewards for yourself. By linking positive incentives to avoiding certain tasks, you can stay motivated and committed to your boundaries.

5.   Review and Adjust: Your to-don’t list should not be static. Regularly review and adjust it to ensure it remains relevant to your goals. This also gives you time to reinforce those goals and habits which is necessary for long-term success.

Creating a to-don’t list isn’t just about simplifying our schedules—it’s a profound act of self-care and intentionality. Our boundaries aren’t restrictive; they are liberating, and help us find greater focus, productivity, and well-being.  So, if this episode has inspired you to make your own to-don’t list remember to be kind to yourself, celebrate your victories, and stay committed to the habits that serve you best.



For a copy of Emma’s book, ‘Go-getter: Raise your mojo, shift your mindset and thrive’ – https://www.emmamcqueen.com.au/book/

Read The Full Transcript

Emma: [00:00:00] We all love a to do list, don't we? One of my strengths is Achiever. And that means I have a lot of capability and also a lot of stamina. And I love nothing more than a good to do list. I also like having a to do list for my shopping, for my groceries, for the things I need to do personally.
And I also like crossing off things.
Even when they're not on my to do list.
So I'll do something, put it on my to do list, and then cross it off. Is anyone with me? Or is anyone prepared to admit it? But a to do list can keep us busy. It can keep us super busy. With no real reason, except we should, we could, or we would. And I just don't think that's enough of a reason.
It's a bit of a waste of time. If you are anything like me, you have multiple priorities. You have a business to run or a leadership job to do. You have pets, which need walking and feeding. You have children, you have parents, relationships, partners. We have a lot of things to juggle in our life. And today I thought what I would talk about is your to don't list.
Do you have a to don't list? I know it sounds counterintuitive, but this list can be super helpful in understanding your own boundaries. And I've been thinking about what makes up my to don't list. And I actually thought I would share with you a couple of tips on how you can create your own to don't list.
strap in, listen to what I've got to say, and then you decide. Whether or not you want your own to-do list or you want your own to don't list. I reckon having both is super helpful in business and in personal life. So number one, what [00:02:00] do we do?
We need to look at those things that waste time and uh, distractions. This probably involves doing a little bit of an audit on your daily calendar, on your habits, and on your routines. If you want a great book on building habits and routines, Atomic Habits is awesome., it's by a gentleman by the name of James Clear.
He's awesome as well. He is a tall dude, six foot seven. I met him in Sydney and he talks about just the one percenters. How do you create a habit that sticks that's small enough that sticks? And then how do you stack more habits on top of that? And so what we really want to look at is the routines and the habits that are serving us well, and those that aren't serving us so well, those activities that consume a lot of time, but don't necessarily contribute to productivity.
or our well being. So they may include excessive social media browsing. you jump on to check something and then you drop down a social media rabbit hole for the next hour. It could be unnecessary meetings.
I know a lot of my clients have all these meetings and they just drive them insane. Do we have to have all of those meetings? Can we delegate them to someone else? Multitasking is a time robber. Absolutely. If you can just focus on one thing and getting that one thing done, then you can feel a sense of accomplishment and move on to the next thing.
When you're multitasking, you don't feel like you're doing anything particularly well and by understanding and pinpointing those activities. we can start to list the ones that you don't think are helpful or useful on your to-don't list so that we can actually consciously avoid them. All of this stuff starts with self awareness.
You've got to have some self awareness on what's actually going on. So your first task is to have a look at those things that are wasting your time or sucking your energy or habits, bad habits that you've gotten into. Um, need to. One, get out of or create new good habits, and then we need to set some clear boundaries, This could be setting specific times that you don't check your emails. Emails is on my to don't [00:04:00] list. I hate email with a passion. So I only check it twice a day. I think you've heard me say that in previous podcasts, you can decide not to engage in work related activities during family time for us.
Family time is somewhere around the 5 to 7:30 mark. in the evening and I put my phone down and put it on charge in that time so I can focus on my family. It's one of my goals for this year. And you can even turn down projects that actually don't align with your long term goals in your business or within your family.
What we need to do is make sure that the boundaries help to reinforce the habits that you're trying to create. or the habits you're trying to break. It's good enough that you have a to don't list, but communicating that and communicating your boundaries is super important. I have lots of clients who say to me, these are my boundaries someone else is not sticking to them.
I'm like, have you had a conversation with them about it? And they're like, So really we need to communicate what that actually looks like. So if you're going to skip meetings, you need to tell someone about that. If you're going to delegate tasks, you also need to tell someone about that. Communicating those boundaries really clearly helps your family.
It helps your business colleagues. And it actually helps them understand the reasons why. that you are making the choices to support yourself and your business. I reckon you need to hack yourself. My fourth tip is how do you hack yourself? How do you hack yourself with a reward or a consequence when you do the things that are on your to don't list.
So my to-don't list is pretty simple. I will not compromise on my health, my exercise or my diet. They're three things that I will not compromise on. So what that actually means in practical reality is if someone invites me out for an evening out, I need to work out whether or not I can sustain that the next day or whether that's going to impact my sleep, in which case we say no.
It's pretty simple. You can have a to don't list that drives you or a to do list that drives you. [00:06:00] Yeah. But you've got to hack yourself. So for instance, say you've got on your to don't list, , I'll check my emails twice a day and that's it.
And you've got a whole week with that. Great. How will you reward yourself? For me, it's by. putting on my sneakers and going for a walk in nature. It might be having a nice hot cup of tea guilt free on my couch before everyone gets home. How do you hack yourself and give yourself some rewards?
And then finally, we need to check that the to don't list is still relevant. One week we might have this to don't list and we're like, we need to nail these things and then they just become habitual. So they can actually drop off the to don't list, but we need to review and adjust., at least semi regularly so that you know that you're on track and you're doing the things that you need to do and you're not doing the things or you're doing the things on your to don't list.
Oh my goodness. It's very confusing Um, so with any productivity tool that we talk about, It should not be static. You should not go, yeah, that's a great idea, Emma. I'm just going to go home, have a cup of tea, write down my to don't list and put it in a drawer. Please don't do that. What is the point? We really need to look at our to don't list.
We need to create a to don't list that's going to work. And then we need to have it stack so that they become natural over time. I've been reading a lot of books lately about habit forming. And stacking habits and , an easy habit stack would be something like I have a, self care routine that I do. So I have a shower, I get out of my shower and then I put on my Jimmy jams and then I do my face routine. Then I, Brush my teeth. And then I have a drink of water. Those four things feel automatic to me, but they're habits stacked over time, which means it makes it super easy.
And habit is not formed in 21 days. In fact, the latest research says it's formed in 66 days. So you really have to stick to that habit. So what we want to do is we want to actually review and adjust our to don't list really regularly. So make sure it's in the diary that you adjust it and While you're doing your to do list, maybe you need to have a to don't list next to it, so that you know what your trade offs are, what you're [00:08:00] negotiating on, and what you will and what you won't do.
What you think? Does the to don't list feel like something you could do? Does it feel like it might free you up? Does it feel like it might give you better boundaries? Wouldn't that be amazing? Let me know how you go. We would love to hear about your to don't list. If you do want a further challenge and you're thinking, great, cool, what do we do next?
How about writing your to be list? Your to be list is a list of things. It's one post it note. It's how you want to show up to the world, to your family, in your business. How do you want to be? That's also for another podcast. Good luck with your to don't list. Please let me know how you go.