It’s no secret that we are busier than ever before, which is why it can be tempting to spend every minute of every day trying to do it all. However, even when there are so many things we “could” be doing, more is not necessarily better.

Every task we take on costs us our most valuable and limited assets: our time, energy, and attention. Deciding how to spend—and, just as significantly, how not to spend—these resources is key to successful time management, which is one of the most important skills for reducing stress while living a full life.

“What we aren’t willing to do or keep doing is as much a sign of our strength as what we are willing to give our effort and attention to,” says meQuilibrium Co-founder and CEO Jan Bruce. “Steve Jobs talked a lot about perseverance, for example. But he also said he was as proud of the things he hadn’t done: ‘Innovation is saying no to a thousand things.’”

A simple way to put this into practice? Create a not-to-do list. “It’s a list of tasks that you might think you should do, or might want to do, or might be asked to do by someone else,” explains business writer Minda Zetlin. “But because these tasks don’t move you toward any of your larger objectives, don’t feed your soul, and aren’t necessary for you to do, you are much better off not doing them.”

Creating (and committing to) a not-to-do list comes down to having a clear grasp on your priorities and values, listening to your intuition, and building boundaries. Here’s how:

1.  Take Inventory of Your To-Do’s

Go through your current calendar or day planner. (You may want to track your time for a few weeks to see which tasks are eating up most of your hours each day.) Start to think about how each task contributes to your vision of success, both professionally and personally. Include an estimate for how long you think it will take to complete each task on your list. This will help you make realistic decisions about how much you can fit into each day.

2. Start with Easy Eliminations

Research has shown that focusing on too many tasks at once overwhelms our ability to think clearly, drains our mental energy, and puts us at risk for burnout. Start by sifting out all the small stuff that’s a drag on your productivity or a damper on your wellbeing. Look for tasks that you keep bumping to next week’s schedule. Those are ripe pickings, as are any tasks that make your heart sink just thinking about them. Of course, it goes without saying that we can’t shirk our responsibilities even if they aren’t our favorite. However within each of our lives, there are things we can let go of once we take a closer look. Can the kids do midweek laundry, can your partner unload the dishwasher in the morning, can you let go of a voluntary group you belong to?

3. Evaluate Each Task

Once you’ve compiled your list, address each item with these questions:

  • Will this task help me accomplish my goals?
  • Will there be any serious consequences if this task doesn’t get done?
  • Must I be the one to do this task?
  • Is this task worth what it will cost (in time, money, energy, etc.) to complete?

If the answer is no to any of these questions, it’s a candidate for your not-to-do list. Moving tasks that don’t pass this test to your not-to-do list will clear out space on your calendar for big-picture goals, important projects, and other activities that really matter.

Bonus tip for people pleasers: Turning down requests can be difficult—especially when the person asking is standing in front of you—but you do both yourself and the person asking a disservice when you agree to a request that you can’t give your full attention. Try replacing an instant yes with, “Let me take some time to think about that,” or “I’ll get back to you.” This prepares the asker for a no by not immediately jumping on their request and gives you time to calmly consider your response.

4. Keep It Up!

From here on out, every task you’re considering should be subject to the same scrutiny. Does it meet the criteria for your to-do list (furthering your greater good), or does it belong on your not-to-do list? The point is to make it easy to identify and decline tasks that don’t align with your vision for your best life.

When in doubt, remind yourself that when you say “no” to going out or taking on that fifth project, you may actually be saying yes to restoring yourself. To quote award-winning author Annie Dillard, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Once you begin to peel away at what doesn’t matter and focus more on what does, you’ll be astonished at what you can achieve.

Over the last 10 years, Janet Ungless has developed a comprehensive expertise in health and wellbeing as a writer and editor. With a particular focus on sleep, meditation, and wellness, Janet has worked with a host of digital platforms to help consumers live healthier, happier lives. Find her on Twitter @jungless.