Agile; Backlog; Time Management

What is on your NOT to do list?

2019 is off and racing. And so too are all our good intentions for the new year. Gyms are full of people working out, self control post Christmas is at an all-time high.

No doubt you have come up with your 2019 plan; things to do, things to learn, people to meet… but are you clear on what NOT to do?


When we work in an Agile way, this simple little word carries a magical power. Using ‘and’ can be the difference between shutting down a collaborative environment, or sparking new and exciting opportunities. The power of ‘and’ lies in its ability to suggest more. More options, more opportunities, and more integrated solutions.

Inspired by an issue of Tim Ferriss’s “5 Bullet Friday” (which I talk about here), I realised that this powerful little word had seduced me into always adding (always and-ing?). My attitude of ‘and’, means that I often say yes to projects, collaborations, and programs that I don’t have enough time for my passions (creating programs, writing books, collaborating with colleagues).

Like many of us, I end up with a long list of Things To Do.


I believe that the retrospective is the heart of agile, so naturally this is where I start when a new year rolls around. This year I incorporated Ferriss’s Past Year Review (PYR).

I found this process really interesting. As a huge fan of the Agile Retrospective, I see so much value in reflecting and learning from that reflection – magnifying the positive, and looking to eliminate/reduce the negative. (Does anyone else have ‘Accentuate the positive‘ song in their head now? Okay, just me then). The PYR dovetails beautifully with the retrospective process, and provides another angle for reflection.

What I love so much about this strategy is that it clearly identifies what things you loved & valued (and want more of) and what took up time that you could better have spent doing those things.


This is super simple, and can be layered with your existing planning/review process that you do annually. These steps have come from Tim Ferriss’s blog here;

  1. “Grab a notepad and create two columns: POSITIVE and NEGATIVE.
  2. Go through your calendar from the last year, looking at every week.
  3. For each week, jot down on the pad any people or activities or commitments that triggered peak positive or negative emotions for that month. Put them in their respective columns.
  4. Once you’ve gone through the past year, look at your notepad list and ask, “What 20% of each column produced the most reliable or powerful peaks?”
  5. Based on the answers, take your “positive” leaders and schedule more of them in the new year. Get them on the calendar now!

Book things with friends and prepay for activities/events/commitments that you know work. It’s not real until it’s in the calendar. That’s step one. Step two is to take your “negative” leaders, put “NOT-TO-DO LIST” at the top, and put them somewhere you can see them each morning for the first few weeks of 2019. These are the people and things you *know* make you miserable, so don’t put them on your calendar out of obligation, guilt, FOMO, or other nonsense.”


  • Having a clear and visible Not To Do list has helped given me the courage to say “no” to things. Even when I don’t have anything else booked! I know that means I WILL have space for something I am really excited about.
  • If I choose to do something that doesn’t usually lead to a “peak positive” moment, then I need to be really clear on the purpose of that. I also balance that in my calendar by structuring the week to include things I love, and/or rest.
  • I am more critically looking at the work I am doing this quarter and identifying what I probably should have said no to. In addition, I found that some client work that I had not thought about as negative became a negative because I realised it was preventing me from more peak positives.
  • My Not To Do list;
    • Anything I’m not jumping up and down about and saying ‘HELL YES’.
    • Anything that stars with the sentence ‘I guess I had better…’.


What are YOUR not-to-dos? I would love to hear from you. Please share on the Facebook Page so we can all get clear and create space for a peak positive 2019!



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About Emma Sharrock

Emma is the author of The Agile Project Manager: Thrive in Change with Agile. An experienced change leader, Emma is passionate about working with people to facilitate successful change. Emma utilises Agile techniques, coupled with the Agile mindset to coach leaders and teams to achieve their business goals.