A Good Way to Get More Things Off Your To-Do List Is Adding More to Your Not-to-Do List

Stop confusing being busy with being productive.
A Good Way to Get More Things Off Your To-Do List Is Adding More to Your Not-to-Do List
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Founder & CEO, Spartan Race, Inc.
5 min read
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You can accomplish more by doing less.

This -- says real estate investor, trainer and infomercial pioneer Dean Graziosi -- is one of the biggest secrets to success and happiness. I spoke to him recently about life, work and the need to eliminate tasks that waste our time. (More on that and my "Spartan Up!" podcasts later.)

Graziosi was born and raised in Marlboro, in upstate New York. Life wasn’t easy. His parents divorced and remarried over and over, and he'd moved more than 20 times by age 19. His first business: chopping and selling firewood. He moved on to buying wrecked cars, fixing them up and selling them. Then he bought a run-down house, fixed it up and rented it out -- all before age 20 and without a college education.

Graziosi's early story parallels my own. When I was eight, I sold illegal fireworks to kids at school. Later, I started a pool-cleaning business that made $250,000 per year. I eventually launched a business on Wall Street and made a bunch of money there. Now I’ve got Spartan. I didn’t found or run any of those businesses the traditional way. I didn't learn about the industry in a classroom and then work my way up someone else's corporate ladder before going out on my own.

I consider Graziosi a kindred spirit when it comes to business. Perseverance (plus trial and error) has worked for us both.

Related: 7 Steps to Achieving Our Higher-Level Goals

Selling on TV.

You might know Graziosi through his infomercials. He started in 1999 with a course on making money with cars but switched his focus to real estate. He’s been on television virtually every day ever since. Over the years, he not only found financial success but created new ways to promote products and services on TV.

“I was the first one to buy time and do a live interview on TV,” he says. “A couple of times during the interview, I would hold up my real-estate book and tell people they could buy it. I sold a million copies of that book through that infomercial.”

Related: Direct Response TV Advertising

Finding a true north.

Graziosi's latest book, "Millionaire Success Habits," is about success in general. When we met up, we initially talked about knowing your true north: whatever drives you to do what you do. Successful people always know where they’re going and why. They know their true north, and they set their GPS to get them there.

Knowing your destination doesn't magically remove the roadblocks and other setbacks. This is as true with my business as it is with ultrarunning and obstacle-course racing. The trick for me is knowing which barriers I must deal with and which I should avoid or otherwise ignore. I like the way Graziosi puts it: “Everybody has a to-do list,” he says, “but we’re all scraping for time, which is why we need to make a not-to-do list.”

He suggests that you make a list of everything you do during your day. Keep it up for a week. Then, look at your list and find the stuff you don’t need to be doing. Make notes next to the things you should quit, the things you should automate and the things you should delegate. You'll find space opening up to make room for other tasks that actually connect to your purpose and vision.

Related: 3 Questions That Helped Me Find My True Purpose

When Graziosi creates a not-to-do list, he generally looks at return on investment. “Even if I have to pay somebody $100 an hour, if I can make more than that by focusing on something else, then I get a return on the investment by outsourcing it," he says.

I couldn’t agree more. My business is much better off when I delegate the tasks that might sidetrack me so I can focus on the bigger picture of reaching my true north.

Asking two questions.

This philosophy applies equally to business decisions and everyday life. I put my energy into higher-level business functions, my health and my family. Dry cleaning, grocery shopping and the mundane (but still important) aspects of running my business almost always can be delegated. And plenty of other things can be crossed off my list entirely. If something doesn’t make my life or my business better, it goes.

That said, I can tell you from experience that the hardest word in the English language is "no." Before I agree to lend help or my name to a venture, I step back. I look at my life and business and ask two crucial questions: 

  1. Can I see a lot of value in doing this?
  2. Do I have time to do this fully and completely?

If I can’t answer yes to both questions, the answer must be no -- even when I feel bad about my response.

Related: How to Say 'No' at Work

Every successful person has learned how to effectively say no, even if they don’t have a formal no-to-do list. They innately know they have to eliminate unnecessary distractions and impediments, automate necessary but time-consuming repetitive tasks and outsource or delegate when they’re better off spending their time and energy elsewhere. It’s a different way of thinking, but it inevitably clears the path for success.

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