Why The To-NOT-Do List Is The Most Underrated Tool For Creativity

the to-NOT-Do List

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” -Hans Hoffman

How many articles have you read that over-promise on productivity hacks and make grandiose claims that if ONLY you download this app or resort to list-making you’ll be 937372x more efficient?

Or what about if you implement only theseeee 3 habits, you’ll transform your work life?

There are way too many articles, books, podcast and videos that tell you what to do but very few that help you see what to eliminate.

I’m going to encourage you to change the paradigm of your thinking. Just a smidge. After all, growth occurs OUTSIDE your comfort zone 😉

This is not the eulogy of the to-do list. We will not be bidding adieu to your brand-smackin’ new annual Moleskine planner. You won’t have to part from Google Cal. However, let me introduce you to you….

The To-NOT-DO list.

For those of you who are like me and get giddy when buying new school supplies (c’mon, I know you’re out there, there’s no shame) a To-NOT DO list may come as a surprise.

We constantly want to add more to our day, like a kid at 7 Eleven who keeps taking a sip and then coming back to pull the lever for their slurpee, taking a sip and pulling the lever, taking a sip and pulling the lever.

Have you ever heard yourself say:

“If only there were more hours in a day, I could get to the things I really want.”

“There’s just not enough time.”

“Where did the day go?”

Let’s change the conversation.

My challenge to you is to consider what you can strategically eliminate in your life that isn’t currently serving your well-being, moving you towards your highest goals or is barricading you from becoming your best self.

When I began assessing my habits, I wanted to first understand what my biggest time wasters were.

1. DO NOT check email until I get to my place of work. This includes my personal account. And when I get to work from home? Only check email at 12PM and 4PM.

To be completely honest, until I started working at American Express during a full-time summer position, I didn’t understand what everyone was fussing about when it came to email. How could anyone possibly be spending the majority of their day in their inbox, compulsively refreshing the page every 10 minutes for new updates?

Well, that all changed when I stuck my feet into corporate–it’s the culture! And It’s not just corporate but startups, nonprofits, NGOs, the government. Okay, I take that back about the government. We all know how slow that bureaucracy runs..whoops, did i just say that? O:-)

Co-workers, clients, prospects and partners all expect an instantaneous response.

I remember there was this one time when I worked for an incredibly difficult and tyrannical boss (small start-up), and if I didn’t return an email in an hour, he’d text me to check up on me cause he thought something was wrong. God forbid I take an hour to focus on the task at hand without the distractions of email. (I’m serious!)

The constant distraction of email (and social media and news feeds) does NOT enhance your creativity, efficiency or productivity.

How come?

Focus “expert” and online businessman Shawn Blanc explains that freeing up your mind from information overload creates a “margin for creativity”.

Essentially, this margin is blank space in your mind for creative and mental energy.

Think about a blank canvas or an empty chalk board or fresh page in a journal. There are no extraneous notes in the corner or permanent etchings you must draw over. You’re free to create however you like!

How can we expect ourselves to deliver our best creative work, if we’re choosing to consume and fill our minds up with an overload of information?


2. DO NOT check social media without a timer.

I’m serious! While this may sound super Type-A (and I identify as a healthy B+ 😉 ) I have to time my social media consumption or else I’ll get sucked in and before you know it, I’m looking at pictures of cute ass pups (like this), impressive and awe-inspiring baby gymnast videos (like this), and somehow I always find myself surreptitiously scrolling through some eye candy.


ryan gosling

     Who doesn’t appreciate a Gosling meme?

One of my new fav. and very tongue-in-cheek insta handles @hotdudeswhoread

     One of my new fav. and very tongue-in-cheek insta handles @hotdudsereading

Social media is a tool. It can be a powerful way to connect with loved ones or it can be a dark hole of shared Buzzfeed articles, personality tests (which 90’s babe is your style icon?) and rage-fueled status updates from friends you can’t even remember accepting.


So, what can you do to make social media a joyful part of your day as opposed to an energy drain?


Before signing on to favorites like Insta and Snapchat, take care of yourself however it is that you do it. A nice cup of warm coffee, snuggles with your boo (or cat), your favorite music to dance to or even journaling (pro points for morning meditation. I definitely haven’t gotten there yet, but it’s what I’m striving for).

And when you do log on to social media?

Remember: put a timer (I like 5-15 minutes and use my phone. If you want to get fancy, the Pomodoro is a cute one) and ADD value! Comment on people’s statuses, share a post, message a friend you’ve been meaning to reconnect with. Be strategic and enjoy it 🙂

3. DO NOT start the morning or end the night scrolling through the news. I PROMISE that you aren’t missing anything (coming from a recovering FOMO patient.)

I used to think it was important to be an informed citizen. When I was in high school, I read the newspaper for 30 minutes everyday before heading to school (back in the day when a paper was delivered to your doorstep!). And on Sundays? Yep, 3 hours snuggled up with the good ole NYT.

And now? I don’t consume any of it. None. Zilch. I can already hear people lambasting me for creating a veil of ignorance..but I’d like to kindly disagree.

Ever hear of the clever acronym constant negative news (CNN)?


Back in the day, there legit used to be morning and nightly news.


Networks hype up stories and report on the “urgent” (even when there aren’t any updates) just to fill up airtime!

I challenge you to go on a 5 day information diet. No watching the news, reading headlines or even opening your email from the Skimm.


Cause I bet the amount of time you spend consuming the news, you can’t even remember what the hell you read 2 hours later.

And if you did, ask yourself:

Did it REALLY impact my life in a significant way?

Did it help me craft a new skill? Or move you closer to accomplishing my dreams?

I bet not.

Trust me. You aren’t missing out.

When something REALLY big happens, I guarantee you’ll hear about it. And if you’re curious to know more, then do your research about it.

I’m not saying to completely stop reading the news FOREVER but give it a go. I’ll even go as far to say that it will change your life if you substitute your “morning paper” with a book that teaches you new business skills, a delicious piece of literature that heightens your imagination,  an uplifting memoir or a spiritual text that provides solace.

Trust me. What’s 5 days? Just see what happens ;-}

Anyway, these are items on my to-DO NOT lists and I’m simply sharing them.They’ve been on my list for the last 2 years and have been a complete game-changer.

Yours might look different.

Maybe you declare:

Thou shall not press snooze on work days.


Do not watch more than 1 episode on Netflix at a time.


Never eat lunch in front of my computer.

The purpose of the To-NOT-Do list is to make us aware of the things that no longer serve us.

Think about the areas you’re struggling with and build a framework of “to-do not’s” that will make the process easier. If you think about it, it’s sometimes easier to cut out a “bad habit” as opposed to adding a new one.

Cut the excess and make room for what’s meaningful to you!

Now tell me, what are you putting on your to-DO NOT list? I’d love to hear from ya :-}

Here’s to freeing up space,

Alex Signature

Alex Santiago

About Alex Santiago

The other curly haired Co-Founder of Renaissance Swag ;-} An ENFP who is always open to the next fun adventure, loves to snuggle up with a new book and connecting with others. Life is a choice and how you see it. Choose wisely!

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