To-do lists can be helpful tools for getting stuff done. The process of unloading your brain onto a list can even help relieve stress for people who feel anxious. But they can also keep us on a hamster wheel of stress, feeding behaviors that don’t always serve us—perfectionism, people pleasing, need for control, and the drive for achievement.

Over the years, as my life became increasingly busy, my to-do lists not only got longer, they spawned. There were lists for home (general, weekend, big picture), lists for work (near term, long term, and everything in between), lists for all kinds of other things, too (travel, kids, budgeting). And just as soon as I crossed items off my lists, they would seemingly repopulate, like weeds in a garden.

I finally got my to-dos under control by fighting fire with fire. I created the to-do list’s mirror opposite: The to-don’t list, i.e. everything I was not going to do.

By saying “no”—to extra social commitments, errands, unrealistic expectations—you are saying a big “yes” to your well-being, your health, and your self-care. For me, it’s been a power move—and a powerful tool for cultivating calm and creating boundaries.

Whether it’s to your family, to your friends, or to that inner voice in your head that’s pushing for a late-night email check instead of going to sleep, stand up for what you need and deserve. And guess what? People will understand. The world will keep turning. Most importantly: The more you convince yourself that you are worthy of respect and care, the more others will start treating you as such.

How to Create Your To-Don’t List

Step 1. Make a list of activities and requests you won’t do because they don’t support your mental or emotional well-being. Choose one to three ideas from this list, or write your own.

I won’t:

  • Beat myself up for not being as productive as I wanted to be.
  • Expect to be perfect all the time.
  • Feel guilty for taking down time.
  • Talk negatively to myself.
  • Feel like I’m not enough.
  • Try to control the uncontrollable.
  • Try to do it all myself.
  • Care for everyone else, except myself.

Step 2. Add to-don’ts that include your physical well-being, such as social commitments, housework, errands, working late, or mindlessly scrolling social media. Choose one to three from this list, or write your own.

I won’t:

  • Say yes to socializing when I’m tired, because I feel like I “should.”
  • Say yes—to anything—because I feel like I should.
  • Grab my phone first thing in the morning and look at social feeds, email, and news before I’m even out of bed.
  • Skip my morning meditation to dive into work.
  • Exercise when I’m exhausted.
  • Plan constantly for the future and possible scenarios that will likely never come true.
  • Try to get all the laundry done (because it never truly ends).

Step 3. Put it into practice. Save the To-Don’t List activity to your favorites, so it shows up on your dashboard for easy access, or if you’re doing it on paper, post it where you can see it. The key is to keep it visible and top of mind to easily remind yourself of the boundaries you’ve committed to for you—and hold yourself accountable to them. Track your wins and losses. Give yourself kudos for the wins. When you aren’t able to follow through, learn from these moments so you can get better over time. After a little practice, to-don’ts become as easy as to-dos.