If you are in a job, and if you get one big thing done in a year, you’ve had a hell of a good year.

— Tom Peters

Do you have time to write a book?

Here are two answers to this question, both true:

  1. No way.
  2. Sure!

In one sense, no one who works 40 hours a week has time to write a book. In another sense, everyone does.

Productivity is just as much about not doing things as it is about doing things. As we talked about a couple weeks ago, very successful people don’t have more time than the rest of us. They’re not smarter, either. What they are is extremely good at ignoring the background noise in their lives and focusing their attention on what they consider wildly important.

If this is something you’d like to work on, here’s a tool you might find helpful: the to don’t list.

The To Don’t List

Tom Peters writes about the idea of a to-don’t list, but not as a list of bad habits to avoid (e.g. don’t assume the worst of others, don’t eat too many Mallomars).

He thinks of it as a list of good-but-not-great ideas that can distract you from the most important things you’re working on. Stuff you could easily justify spending your time on, like spending most of a Wednesday answering email instead of working on a bold redesign of your department. Or spending Saturday trimming your hedges instead of writing your book.

If you want to do anything on a huge scale, you’ll have to make sacrifices. Better to decide ahead of time. I like to think of it this way:

Productive people choose not to do some things. Highly productive people choose not to do a bunch of things. Extremely productive people choose not to do almost everything.