Many small business owners use to-do lists to keep track of their important tasks, errands and appointments. These lists can help you focus on the most important activities to complete in the short term, such as submitting that client proposal by noon or approving payroll today. To-do lists help ensure that you and your team get business tasks done in the time frame allotted.

However, there's another type of list that is just as essential to business growth as the to-do list: the don't-do list.

While to-do lists help you focus on tasks that must be completed in the short term, don't-do lists help you change your behavior in the long term through repeated reminders. Don't-dos might include incessantly checking email during the day or using too much space in customer newsletters for hard-sell content.

You need both sets of reminders to maximize your productivity and fuel your company's growth.

Paying attention to don't-dos can dramatically improve your business operations. Cutting out time-wasting activities and discouraging bad habits can help businesses improve productivity and boost profitability.

Using Don't-Do Lists to Set and Maintain Priorities and Focus

Business owners use their don't-do list much like their to-do list: to focus their time and energy on activities that will most benefit the company. A don't-do list can also remind you to take a new approach to situations that have proven problematic in the past.

Alexis Davis, founder and CEO of H.K. Productions Inc., adopted a don't-do list several years ago to help her focus. Atop her list is "Don't allow others' 'emergencies' to become my own," which has helped her retake control of her schedule. When vendors and employees fail to plan ahead, instead of jumping in to save them, Davis now lets them find their own solutions. In addition to saving time, she says, "My life has been better since."

Other don't-do items are less tactical and more strategic, such as Kristie Garduño's promise to herself that became part of her Giving Soaps don't-do list years ago: "Do not put up with clients that don't value me." She honed her client list to include only those who are good for her business. Her list no longer includes clients who repeatedly cancel, require too much time to service or constantly push for discounts. No matter how much money is on the line, Garduño cuts clients who don't value her time or expertise, and doing so has helped her to reduce the number of days when she feels completely "drained" by the end.

Barak Kassar, who runs marketing agency BKW Partners with his wife Kristin Wiederholt, has a rather large don't-do list. "I really try to focus on the areas where I can add the most value in a situation," says Kassar. Today that no longer includes some client conference calls, some meetings, serving as the email gatekeeper — he's now just copied on correspondence — and preparing contracts, all of which he has handed off to other team members.

Kassar's list has helped him challenge his assumptions about how much value he can add versus another member of his team, pushing him to delegate more. The result? "I have much more free time to do the things I love and that appear to be having a significant impact on our success," Kassar reveals.

Company-Wide Don't-Do Lists

Some activities that appear on don't-do lists may seem trivial, but when addressed company-wide, these items can have larger implications and a more positive impact.

Leo Welder, founder of ChooseWhat, a startup guide for entrepreneurs, has an ever-evolving don't-do list that he shares with everyone in the business. "Everything on my don't-do list is something that often seems like a good idea, but which generally creates more problems than it solves," he explains. Like, "Don't create folders in the company server unless it is absolutely necessary." Or, "Don't mark a task completed on your to-do list without notifying the person who assigned you that task that it has been completed," which helps spread the word that key action items have been taken care of.

Identifying behaviors that are taking up your or your team's time and not helping your business move forward are the perfect "don'ts" for your don't-do list. Getting clear about the activities and behaviors that are good for business, and those that are not, can help transform a company from one that struggles to one that succeeds.

This article provides general information and should not be construed as specific legal, HR, financial, insurance, tax or accounting advice. As with all matters of a legal or human resources nature, you should consult with your own legal counsel and human resources professionals. The Hartford and ADP shall not be liable for any direct, indirect, special, consequential, incidental, punitive or exemplary damages in connection with the use by you or anyone of the information provided herein.

Tags: Business Planning