Positively Awesome: Stacie Swift

How to Create A ‘Not To Do List’ by Illustrator and Author Stacie Swift

It’s a joy to publish illustrator, author and good vibes advocate Stacie Swift‘s uplifting guest post: ‘How to create a not-to-do list – and how it will help you deal with anxiety post lockdown’, on the blog. Enjoy!

illustrator and author Stacie Swift

Sometimes even the most positive changes can be difficult – and as we look ahead to eased restrictions and life post-lockdown it’s natural for feelings of anxiety and uncertainty to surface. With so much focus on pushing forward, now is the perfect time to pause and reflect on obligations and expectations.

A brilliant way to do this is to create a not-to-do list.

Positively Awesome: Stacie Swift

Lists are a great way to create order in overwhelm, a way to structure our spiraling thoughts and plans. By creating a list of boundaries and managing our self-expectation we can quieten some of our anxious thoughts and redefine our roles as we enter into this new phase.

Your not-to-do list is a place to unload and relieve some of your burdens. It allows space to focus, ensuring well-being is at the forefront of your decisions and actions. Think of it as your permission slip for saying ‘no’.

So, instead of adding more to your list of things to do, grab a pen and start a not-to-do-list, instead.

Here are some journal prompts to get you started:


Reconsider your daily routine

How are you spending your time? Which aspects of your day make you feel most content – and which heighten your unsettled thoughts?

Change to our everyday routines can be hard to navigate as we step back into life without lockdown constraints. Identifying the activities each day that best serve us and those that are more challenging gives us a great starting point for a list of don’ts.

Maybe you’ve benefitted from a proper lunch break while working at home; your not-to-do might be ‘don’t eat lunch at my desk once I return to the office’.

Perhaps the thought of adding more travel or increased activity into your daily schedule is throwing you off-kilter, your not-to-do might read ‘don’t invalidate my worries – it’s okay to feel nervous and I can take things at my own pace.’

If you are returning to a workplace outside of your home, you might be keen to redefine those work/home boundaries; ‘I won’t answer work emails after 6 pm’.

While some aspects of our days will be non-negotiable, we can find areas of compromise and comfort by adding boundaries to our routine.


Do away with should

How many things on your to-do list are things you feel you ‘should’ be doing? 

These are the things your inner-critic shouts loudly about, the added plates you are spinning because you’ve set your self-expectation impossibly high. You feel you should cook a meal from scratch every night, you should just take on that extra project even though you are at capacity, you should have remembered that birthday (even though it’s human to make mistakes and everyone else in the house has access to the calendar too!).

The demands on our time are likely to change as we enter a new ‘new normal’ again. Add, ‘I must not be weighed down by ‘should’, my best is enough’ to your not-to-do list. You are good enough and your not-to-do list is a reminder of that.


Review your relationships

Social contact has been limited and our interactions with even the closest family have been impacted during lockdowns. Our relationships and family dynamics may have altered in that time, for lots of us it’s given space to reflect on the relationships that mean the most – and those that maybe we were grateful to have some distance from.

Who are the people who make you feel your brightest? Are there aspects of any relationships you have been glad to step back from?

You get to define what is okay when it comes to friends and family; you are allowed to put boundaries in place to protect your energy, take care of your well-being and prioritise your feelings. Our relationships might also be impacted by individual experiences during the pandemic, and likewise, our keenness to return to pre-lockdown socialising will vary dramatically.

It can be difficult and uncomfortable setting new ground rules or redefining the roles we play but it’s important to remember it is necessary too. Some statements to consider:

‘Don’t say yes when I want to say no’

‘Do not always prioritise other people’s needs above my own’

‘I am not defined by anyone else’s ideas and expectations of me’

‘I must not compare myself to others or feel pressured to do anything I am not comfortable with’.


Don’t forget self-care

When our priorities are changing, it can be all too easy for looking after ourselves to fall to the bottom of our to-do list. If our not-to-do list is there to make sure we’re prioritising self-care, we need to add some specific, immutable action points to the don’ts. These are the everyday habits that will help manage anxious thoughts through every change or life event. What they look like will be specific to you, things


Don’t forget to take care of my mental health – make time for journaling, therapy, seeking support.

Do not look at my phone before bed; prioritise rest.

I must not ignore my daily needs (water, nutrition, medication, moving my body).

Unlike a to-do list, have total control of your not-to-dos, even in the most uncertain times. Your don’ts really can make all the difference to your emotional wellbeing. 


The Positively Awesome Journal by Stacie Swift is out on 8 July 2021 (published in paperback by Pavilion Books), £11.99.

Positively Awesome: Stacie Swift

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