Have you heard someone say they don’t like the Bible because it’s just a list of restrictions, of things not to do, a way to stop a person from living with freedom and fun? I have, and as I was looking into some topics this week, I kept running into a trending idea called the not-to-do list, which really made me smile. God started this trend a long time ago, and finally people are realizing it’s a good idea.
The not-to-do list is showing up all over the internet in a few specific situations. It’s often being used as a way to boost productivity. Then it’s also showing up as a method of self-care and personal betterment. I think it would be a great idea for spiritual betterment (especially since God has a list ready-made for me that’s been in use for thousands of years) and as another way to tackle anxiety.
The idea is to look at one’s life, take a few notes, and determine what in your life is holding you back and giving you trouble. In productivity, usually the list is time wasters and self-care issues—like never taking breaks or spending hours on social media. In self-betterment, usually the list includes things like gossip or sleep. The purpose is to clear out the muck so there is time and space to do the good things.
Why a not-to-do list?
We know the Bible is filled with Do Nots. Paul has a ton of them. Jesus had some. Eight of the ten commandments in Exodus 20 are Shall Nots. We are told what not to do as much as we are told what to do. It’s been a stumbling block for many, and yet it seems, in certain circles, this way of thinking is having its day.
As an anxious person, I can take on too much. Physically I do too much, which tires my body and can disrupt my sleep. Emotionally I take on too much. I feel too much for my people, and I let their burdens become mine. I struggle to put down a burden once I pick it up. Mentally I definitely take on too much, letting information from social media and news sites knock my peace back to zero.
All of this fills my time. You can give me ten tips for living with less anxiety, but it’s hard to implement them unless something else goes. I need to spend time with God every morning? I agree. So why isn’t it happening? Maybe because I need to put on my not-to-do list Phone use in the morning. If I’m not on my phone, voila, I have easily freed up time and taken away an excuse I used not to do the better thing.
So, what does this kind of list look like?
The Do Nots and sin
Do not covet. Do not gossip. Do not lie. Do not steal. We don’t have to put all of these on our lists. There are literally hundreds of places in the Bible where someone tells someone else not to do something. But I bet there are three or five do nots that plague you, sins like gossip or lying. These are the ones that you’ve become blind to, that are so ingrained you might not see them.
A lot of the Biblical do nots don’t really have a flip side, something that easily fits in the space. Instead, other areas of our lives find peace and renewal. If I stop lying to, stealing from, and gossiping about my friends, my relationships are going to function a thousand percent better. Jesus says to love our neighbor, and implementing the do nots lets that happen without a whole lot of extra work.
So sometimes the do nots are about renewal and restoration, putting something back to right that our actions had broken. Relationships with God, relationships with others, relationship with the physical world can all benefit when we look at the Biblical do nots.
The Do Nots and distractions
What about the distractions? Add a few of those to your list. Free up time, because your anxious soul might need time to rest. What steals your time, your peace, your attention? Are you spread too thin? Do you do things because you think it’s expected? Our peers and their expectations can end up some of our worst distractions. I was on Facebook because I thought I should be, that it was what a good, friendly, social person did. So wrong. Chop those useless, time-stealing, calm-conquering distractions right out of your life.
This one can be kind of fun. The sin one? Not so much. Nobody really likes to look deep and see hidden sins staring back at them. But discovering distractions can be freeing, because often they’re not helpful. They don’t leave us satisfied and whole, and while getting rid of some of them can be rough, some are easy, especially those we didn’t expect to find. Look at your internet use. Look at your house—clutter is a brain distraction. It doesn’t have to be time. What takes your brain space? What takes all your emotional energy? Toxic relationships or being too controlling can be emotional distractions that keep us from putting good and right things into our lives.
The Do Nots and anxiety triggers
What about your known anxiety triggers? Oh, these can be difficult, and I know some triggers are impossible to avoid. But how about the ones that aren’t? For me, news sites, social media, and late bedtimes are big anxiety triggers. Those go on my not-to-do list. Maybe for you it’s processed food or toxic relationships or working through lunch. Slap them on the list. Paying attention to your moods and finding triggers is a great exercise in itself, and then trying to get rid of any you can is even better.
What makes this different than a to-do list? Well, in a way it takes less energy not to do something than to do it. I like building things, but a few times I’ve done demolition—we knocked down a shed, ripped up carpet—and I will tell you demolishing something, tearing it down, can be fun. Freeing. And what remains is less cluttered, easier to see, and easier to manage. Take a crowbar to your life. See how much fun it can be.
Then that space can be filled with the to-dos. If you want to set some rhythms in your life, like regular quiet times, seasonal traditions, times with friends—you have physical time, maybe more mental space, maybe more peace.
A personal experiment
When I first read about the not-to-do list, I wasn’t sure about it. I actually found it on a site with a little more mystical spiritualism than makes me comfortable, and then I found it again on productivity sites. Many, many productivity sites. Honestly, I’ve not seen it on a Christian site, but maybe that’s because it’s so close to how God already trains us that we don’t think about it. We have a running list of things we aren’t to do, and maybe we think of them in terms of sin and not sin. Which the Biblical ones mostly are.
I suggest taking it further, like I did above. Some things on my list aren’t sins. They’re just personal and productivity and self-care, things that might not trip up someone else, but they do me.
I liked this idea, so I spent some time with it, and I thought I’d share how it went.
I focused on three areas, although some things on my list were crossovers. The first area was things that steal my time. Next was things that steal my peace, and the third was sins I cling to.
It took me a couple days to get real lists going. Some people are great at self-evaluation, but I’m not. I recently read a book on anxiety by well-known author Rebekah Lyons, and she suggests taking daily, quarterly, and yearly inventory of goals and problems. I agree it’s a wise exercise. Changing a condition is easier if you know the condition.
And my list looked like…
This is what some of my list looked like:
- Social media except for posting about my businesses
- News sites
- Late nights
- Internet before morning quiet time
- Rash judgments when I don’t know the whole story
- Using fears as an excuse to isolate
- Trying to control (and then worrying about) my people
It can be longer. I’m sure mine will get longer (and the truth is I left out a few super-personal things), but you get the idea. It’s simply a way to write out a few changes you need in your life.
And then the hard part…
So, I’ve found list building to be great fun, but next it’s time to implement. I cheated in that this list includes a few things I’ve already implemented. But others… I suggest taking two or three and intentionally considering them for the next few days. Those that dig down into hard-set sins or attitudes—like complaining on my list—are going to take more time and effort to do. Then some are going to be easier, like news sites. I always hated news sites, and it wasn’t until someone gave me permission to cut them—assured me that I can still be a good citizen if I cut most news—that I cut it. When I did, it was a one-and-done. No looking back.
For me, one of those I’ll have to remind myself to do over and over is not use fears and social anxiety as an excuse to isolate. This one will be work, and I will fight myself every step of the way. So that one might go to the top of the list.
Pray over your list. Because I’ve been seeing these outside the Christian world, I’ve not seen this advice given, but here on this site we pray over changes. Repent of sins. Be honest—some of these we call bad habits, but God calls them sin. Repent and then be happy that you finally had the courage to call them what they are and make a plan to change.
Pray over the others, too. Change is difficult. These changes might lead to less anxiety, which will improve our entire quality of life, including our spiritual lives. We will be better able to step out and do what God wants. Unfortunately, we have an enemy who won’t appreciate that. Prayer is a great way to fight the forces that wish for us to fail.
As an anxious soul, I am always on the lookout for ways to incorporate a little peace into my life, to tone down the chaos that defines 21st century life. I like this one. I am in the midst of doing a lot of life demolition—taking down habits that don’t work, looking for routines and methods to get closer to God and do what really matters—and I think the Not-to-do list might be a keeper.