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Make a Not-to-Do List for Better Brain Health

Updated: May 4, 2022

A lot of people have a To-Do list loaded with tasks, errands, and projects that they intend to take care of either during the course of that day or at some reasonable time in the future. Most of the people who have lists like this tend to get a few things done, then transfer whatever was leftover to the new list they write up the following day, week, or month.

Make a Not-to-Do List for Better Brain Health

Typically, these lists end up getting so filled with uncompleted tasks that they become daunting. It can even get to the point where your bloated To-Do list is a source of stress. If something isn’t getting done it may be due to procrastination, or it’s simply something that just wasn’t important. Leaving trivial items on your To-Do list bogs down your brain capacity and starts causing you to feel things like worry and fear, which are the two most damaging emotions for the brain.

I encourage my clients to keep a Not-To-Do list. This type of list can actually have several different uses. First and foremost, it’s a sort of garbage can where you can dump meaningless tasks that probably shouldn’t have been on your To-Do list in the first place.

This turns the list into an exercise in prioritizing. It forces you to sit down and think about what you really need to get done, what you should do, and what really isn’t all that important. Then you can sharpen your focus and execute the important tasks in your life with fervor.

The other aspect of a Not-To-Do list is to serve as a reminder of bad habits you want to avoid. It might be eating too much sugar, having too many drinks, or keeping up with your efforts to quit smoking. Writing down bad habits that you know you shouldn’t do can be an empowering way to break negative cycles in your life.

It can also be a tool to help you identify sources of stress in your life. You might include things on the list like ‘I’m not going to get angry in traffic today’, or ‘I’m not going to let my annoying co-worker get to me’.

When you think about all of these things and how they can all add up, a Not-To-Do list can be a very powerful stress management tool!

Many successful people, like Tim Ferris, are advocating Not-To-Do lists. It allows them to be much more proactive and productive than the actual To-Do-list. At the same time, it also invokes creativity and innovation, because you’re no longer bogging down your brain with things that are seemingly not that important.

Sit down and brainstorm about what is not serving you well on your list and in your life. Then compile a Not-To-Do list. You might find that it will become more important than your To-Do list. This is a really powerful tip to ramp up your brain for peak performance.

Contributor: Dr. Michael Trayford is a Board-Certified Chiropractic Neurologist and Founder of APEX Brain Centers in Asheville, NC. For more information, please visit

The opinions expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily the opinions of the Dementia Society, Inc. We do not endorse nor guarantee products, comments, suggestions, links, or other forms of the content contained within blog posts that have been provided to us with permission, or otherwise. Dementia Society does not provide medical advice. Please consult your doctor.

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