How Doing Nothing Saves the World

How Doing Nothing Saves the World

By: Donald Roos Comments: 0

Saving the World with the ToDon’tList


The ToDon’tList Method

As creative people, we have ideas. Bad, good, weird, clever, and even brilliant ideas. But most of them (even the great ideas) never see the light of day. We have more ideas than time to execute them all and do it well. Before you know it, you end up with a lot of unfinished business and a cluttered mind.

A psychologist was invited to the Pentagon to give a workshop on managing time and resources. He asked the generals to write down their time management strategy in 25 words. All the generals struggled, except one: the only female general present. She, a seasoned leader, shared her strategy: “I make a list of priorities: one, two, three, and so on. Then I cross out everything from three downwards.” This is the essence of the ToDon’tList method. But how can this simple strategy help creatives save the world?

Making Choices: Top Down/Bottom Up

When you choose to say ‘no’ to one to-do, you're not just freeing up time, you're taking control of your priorities. You can even put an entire project on the ToDon’tList — including all of its potential tasks and to-dos. The more you subtract, the more focus you get. The higher up in the decision tree you choose to do or not do something, the more significant the impact on all possible resources: time, labour, money, and raw materials. For example, if I decide not to bake bread, I don’t need to buy flour, make dough or check the dough’s rise either, and I’ll have more time to do something else.

This principle works the other way around, too. The choices we make on a daily basis also affect the things that come before. For instance, if you buy clothes, those garments have been shipped to where you live, constructed by someone, the cotton was grown, etcetera. So by making decisions, we affect the economy — how it works and what it produces, what its priorities may be. 

We need to keep this principle in mind as creative people. We tend to focus on our own little creative island, but there is a whole world beyond that island, and the two influence each other. Our work affects the world we live in – positively or negatively. So it’s wise to have a critical look at how we do things, and why. Simple choices affect how we design and redesign our world. If You Don’t gives a plethora of examples, ranging from how the car industry influenced where we can walk or live, to how the need for uniform production led to us eating only 1 type of banana. 

So how do you influence the world with your choices as a creative? The ToDontList-Method reveals a surprising truth: sometimes, the best action is inaction. As a creative, you could have a more significant effect not by adding more but by thoughtfully leaving things out. This method not only benefits you but also has the potential to positively impact the world around you, inspiring change and innovation.

Limitations Stimulate Creativity

Choosing not to do something can feel like a roadblock, a limitation that keeps you from doing your work. But the opposite is true: limitations can stimulate creativity. When children are left in a room with a multitude of toys, they get overwhelmed and end up bored. When the room has only a table and some chairs, they may start off being bored but end up in a self-built castle or a boat. Or something we, as grown-ups, haven’t even thought about.

Limitations, or even the decision to simply leave something out, or not do something that is normally expected, can inspire unpredictable and extraordinary ideas. A practical example: if you decide not to eat meat, that will affect all parts of the meat industry chain, down to deforestation. It could inspire others to do the same, causing a ripple effect. Human see, human do.

If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try spending the night in a closed room with a mosquito. — African proverb

If you know the architecture of a supply chain, you can change it — sometimes by making relatively simple choices. When you create products, consider existing processes and supply chains and see how you can hack them — or even fundamentally change them. The choices that keep things simple are often the ones least damaging to the ecosystem. Why design a Nespresso machine when pour-over coffee is so much better anyway?

The list of issues humanity is dealing with seems to have grown to enormous proportions in our time. On the other hand, that also means that there are lots of opportunities to come up with great solutions to those issues, and other wonderful,  helpful and hopeful  ideas. Just make sure to put some of them on the ToDon’tList.

This blogpost is based on passages from ‘Don’t Read This Book – Time Management for Creative People’, ‘Don’t Buy This Book – Entrepreneurship for Creative People’, and the latest release ‘If You Don’t — Economics for Creative People’.


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