Get All Access for $5/mo

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.

By Joe De Sena Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Liderina | Getty Images

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.

Joe De Sena

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Founder & CEO, Spartan Race, Inc.

Joseph De Sena has been an entrepreneur since his pre-teens. From selling fireworks at age eight, to starting a t-shirt business in high school, to building a multimillion-dollar pool business in college, to creating a Wall Street trading firm, De Sena is a living definition of the word “entrepreneur.” 

A full-time resident of Pittsfield, Vt., he knows what it feels like to succeed outside the office – and that’s the feeling he seeks to bring to the world’s athletes with Spartan Race. He’s competed in any extreme sports adventure he could find, testing his mental and physical endurance against nature.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Growing a Business

How a Local Greek Restaurant Seized Opportunities and Won a New Food Network Competition

After starting as a food truck in 2014, Think Greek has evolved into an award-winning restaurant by creating innovative menu items and taking advantage of opportunities that extend its audience reach.

Business News

How to Be a Billionaire By 25, According to a College Dropout Turned CEO Worth $1.6 Billion

Austin Russell became the world's youngest self-made billionaire in 2020 at age 25.

Growing a Business

3 Branding Strategies That Will Make Any Brand Stand Out

Here's how to differentiate your brand in three essential steps — understanding your unique selling proposition, leveraging storytelling, and valuing feedback.


How to Spot the Perfect Executive for Your Company

Hiring senior talent to run a team is a crucial moment in the story and trajectory of a company. Whether you need to hire senior talent now or are looking to gather insights for the future, it's important to be prepared for a gap in a crucial leadership position.

Science & Technology

There's No Margin for Error in Cybersecurity — Here's How to Build a Strong Online Defense through Everyday Habits

Learn how everyday habits and practices can enhance your organization's security posture.