How To Produce An Inactivity List (What Are You Going To Stop Doing In The Future?)

As I transitioned from my day job six years ago to begin the life of an entrepreneur, a very wise mentor and friend told me the hardest decisions I would face would not be which opportunities to say “Yes,” but rather to which ones I would say “No.”

He was correct! My apologies to Elton John, but for me, sorry is not my hardest word, it is “no.”

To function at our best, we must decide what we are going to stop doing in the future.

Making an activity list is easy, making an inactivity list is much harder.

Here are a few ways to produce an inactivity list.

1.) Assess the past month(s) by looking at your calendar, and identify the activities that you should not have done. They drained you emotionally, wasted your time, frustrated you, or monopolized your life with little or no return. Add them to your list.

Me: I print the calendar, circle in red the “wasters” and add as many of them as possible to my inactivity list in my journal.

2.) Evaluate stressful meetings or people that cost a disproportionate emotional toll. Add as many of these to the list as possible.

Me: I constantly conduct what I call an “empathy stress test.” During meetings, I check myself to see that I do not become physically tense, (i.e. my shoulders tight, eyes scrunched, etc), and I evaluate the meeting afterwards and I jot down an emotional toll from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest). I try to add any person or meeting topic that costs an 8 or higher to my inactivity list.

3.) Do a yearly planning meeting and list all the things you do and their ROI (return on investment). Make a pie graph for a visual wake-up call, and add to the inactivity list any jobs that require too much time with little or no reward. Note: Many times some of our pet projects are the ones that must be added to the list.

Me: When I first started my own publishing company with global distribution, I had the grand idea of publishing other authors. When the pie graph was created that following year, it was painfully obvious there was very little money earned and yet an inordinate amount of time expended. I reluctantly but faithfully added it to the inactivity list.

4.) Add hobbies that cost you emotionally to your inactivity list.

Me: After the sale of a successful business a few years ago, I celebrated by fulfilling a lifelong dream. I joined a prestigious golf club. After a few short months, I realized that my competitive nature combined with the time cost combined with the clubhouse atmosphere produced a less than desired effect. Instead of the refreshment of an enjoyable 18 holes, I would come home stressed and emotionally distraught. I added it to my inactivity list, started painting watercolors and the rest, as they say, is history.

What one item should you add to an inactivity list?

What one thing should you quit doing in the future?

44 Responses to “How To Produce An Inactivity List (What Are You Going To Stop Doing In The Future?)”

  1. Great post Randy. I created “five words” for 2011 to keep me focused and to ensure I didn’t allow time wasters into my vision. If it doesn’t meet one of my five words, I don’t do it. Thanks for the post and the continual sharpening of my saw!

  2. This is great advise! I have recently made a conscientious decision to enter into a transitional period in my professional life. I will embark into an enterprise fueled by passion and desire to make a better life for my family…I have a big “to do” list, prioritized and all, with deadlines (dates) and all the good stuff that goes with it. However, I had never thought about creating an “Inactivity List”. I will get to work on that TODAY! Thanks,

  3. I haven’t used a tool like this before! Very interesting. Inactivity a nice yang to the yin of focused activity. It’s obvious that we need to deactivate things that will distract and deflate.

    So, what one item goes on my “Inactivity List” in March? Research (for two major projects). I’ve done enough. It’s become a time waster. It’s time to finish and ship the two projects.

    Thanks for the tool!

    • @Keith Jennings, Thanks, Keith. “It’s obvious that we need to deactivate things that will distract and deflate.” I do think it is obvious for some of us, but others seem to have a difficult time getting this ‘yang’ thing right. :)

  4. Great thoughts. Many of our most important activities may require long stretches of perceived inactivity as we subconsciously ponder and put together our thoughts on paper or canvas. To be afforded these long stretches of time, we must be diligent in creating them. This will often involve getting rid of many pet activities. Television is often a good place to start, followed closely by unfocused time on the internet.

    If you’ve never read Richard Koch’s The 80/20 Principle, I highly recommend it. He advises that we find our most productive 20% of our time and work towards doubling it.

  5. I really have never thought of creating an ‘inactivity list,’ however after reading your post it is a task I will add to my ‘activity list.’ Thanks Randy.

  6. Randy, I just knew this post would be life-altering for me — thank you so much for being a re-shaping force in my life. I have become drained way more times than I can count from activities/events/encounters/commitments that really should never have been on my to-do list. I’m clearing the rest of my morning to complete my inactivity list — I’m sure that my list will be cringe-worthy, somewhat humorous and definitely a wake-up call to stop drifting from activity to activity, stop pleasing/appeasing and start functioning in my areas of giftedness, passion and strength. One thing that will immediately go on the inactivity list is “giving piano lessons.”

  7. probably should add to the list of stop trying to please everybody :)

    But I am quickly learning the art of pruning.
    I guess really what has happened in the past is I had no clue what the future held and what direction I was headed in (and sometimes I still have no clue) and so I said yes to everything but quickly learned that I walked away more drained then energized.

    I am still working hard on stepping back and re-evaluate things. Taking the time to do that is the hardest.

  8. One thing I really loved about your article is that you quit the golf club. Obviously that was a big dream of yours, which you made come true with the sale of your business. Often when we “achieve” a life long dream, we stay with it because of all the build up leading up to it, even when it doesn’t feel right.

    • @Audra Krell, Thanks, Audra. Yes, it was a hard decision because there is a lot of prestige in our city with membership there and ample opportunity for important “connections.”

      It just wasn’t right for me.


    • @Audra Krell, I’ve got 14 things on my Inactivity List so far. I had to start an Activity List alongside for perspective. The things I love to do far outweigh the items on the Inactivity List. In comparison, I settle for the things on the Inactivity List – they are my default, my “security blanket” items that “don’t feel right” but they are what others want me to do, what I think I’m supposed to do, what I am competent at doing, etc. And I will say that teaching piano to your boys was a great joy – your sons are talented, respectful, fun and working with them made me believe I was in “the zone” with what I was supposed to be doing.

  9. Thanks Randy, I was just coaching on managing time and this will be a great article to pass along to my client. I too will benefit greatly as I am always trying to sharpen my focus. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Thanks for the article! Over the last year, I have made the transition from corporate worker to entrepreneur as well. I always considered myself well organized and disciplined, but the last 12 months have been the most chaotic and unstructured.

    I recently realized that I need to get myself better focused and stop saying “yes” to everything. Instinctively, I knew this, but just like when we are overweight, you know what has to be done, but it is harder to do.

    Getting me to think about an inactivity list, should help me get me on a better path to accomplish my objectives. Thanks!

  11. I should quit checking my email every 15-20 minutes.

  12. An inactivity list, that’s an interesting idea. Hmm.. so many for me, but here are some:

    1) Stop visiting forums every 10 mins to see if someone responded to my thread. (waste of time)
    2) Stop thinking everyone in the world is against me.
    3) Stop worrying about money, and focus more on the process.
    4) Stop procrastinating!

  13. Oh Randy, I always love your perspective on things..

    One thing I gave up was working on Saturdays…I worked an 8 hour day on Saturdays because of the pay differential…Figured it was a little more money to spend on my wants…I dreaded it, though…Saturday would come around and I was miserable at work and not even able to spend that extra money doing something fun, which it was intended for..Warped…So I quit working Saturdays and look forward to the weekend, again, doing whatever it is I wish…

    As for the money?…I don’t miss it…I now prioritize my needs and my wants and that’s probably what I will continue to do in the future…

    Another thing, which I won’t go into too deeply, is people…Some are toxic and you just need to let go and distance yourself from them…That, I think, is something that comes with age and a little more wisdom and discernment…

    Thanks for another great conversation….

  14. seems like very wise council.
    ummmm…. why do i think this list is going to my world upside down?

  15. Here is my question-what is the litmus test for finding the balance, because sometimes we have to do some tasks we don’t want to do, even tasks we aren’t good at, because we are in leadership positions. I can see some leaders (including me), who have deficiencies in some areas, leaning towards removing those things from our “to do” list. How do you improve in areas of leadership if you have an out to take them off the list?

    Thanks for this post. It is thought provoking.

    • @Kathleen, Your reply is equally if not more thought provoking.

      Yes, I am not advocating adding to our list the difficult but necessary jobs of a leader. They would indeed be the ones we tend to add to our list.

      Rather, it is the things that are time wasters, pet projects and other items which detract from our leadership—not add to it.

      There will always be difficult things on our lists that have to be done.

      That’s why the “buck stops with the leader!”

      Thanks, Kathleen!!

  16. Wow. This, plus my boundaries small group, is going to make for one heck of a freed up life. If I choose to apply it. Give me a week. I need to really sit down and think about this. And trim down my life.
    And learn to say no…

  17. I’ve downloaded an iPhone app called “memento” — it’s a daily diary sort of thing. But with more, and here’s just a bit of it:

    “ROI” is the tag I’m going to use to keep track of what needs to be placed on my “to-don’t” list. I’ve already discovered a few commitments that I dread, and that take up too much of my creative energy. sigh So I’ll work on my exit strategy.

    “TEARS” is the tag I’m using to help me discover the things that bring me inspiration. You’ve talked about the year you spent making that list for yourself. It’s never left my memory… I’m hoping these little tagged moments will shed light on what breathes life into my soul.

Created by Randy Elrod

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