Insights and Opinions

Long To-Do List? Make a Not-Right-Now List

In today's digital age, it's hard to focus. But the Not-Right-Now list can help you get things done

Most people operate with To-Do lists. If you're like me, it seems as though that To-Do list never ends and you never check everything off of it. It's so easy to add new things to the To-Do list. For those who use their email box as a To-Do list, it can be even worse. Our email inboxes have become an “open” list in which anyone in the world can add something to it at any time.

In today's digital age, I have found that a Not-Right-Now list is just as important as a To-Do list. In fact, I'd say you should not have a To-Do list without a Not-Right-Now list. What's a Not-Right-Now list? It's a list on which you put things that you don't have time to work on right now, but you don't want to take off your To-Do list. As the adage says, “out of sight, out of mind.” If you unclutter your mind, you'll be more effective in getting things done.

With emails, voicemails, text messages, Tweets, Facebook messages, and the occasional old-fashioned phone call bombarding us every day, it's getting harder and harder to focus. If you can't think, you can't work. You can use your Not-Right-Now list to help you compartmentalize. Try it. Create a folder in your email inbox or on your computer called Not-Right-Now. If you're a paper person, write your To-Do list on the front of a piece of paper and then your Not-Right-Now list on the back.

I've also found that the Not-Right-Now list can be effective in meetings and brainstorming sessions to keep focus. Instead of saying “No, we can't do that,” you can simply say, “That's a great idea, we have other priorities we need to focus on at the moment, let's put that on the Not-Right-Now list.” It's a polite response and it's a way of acknowledging a person's idea, and ensuring it won't be forgotten.

Typically, I go through my To-Do list every day. I've made it a habit to go through my Not-Right-Now list every week, typically on Fridays. If I'm falling behind, I put more things on my Not-Right-Now list. If something is added to my To-Do list during the week, I check to see what I can put on my Not-Right-Now list to balance it.

Even though you may experience some anxiety about the Not-Right-Now list at first, it's far easier than it seems. The bottom line is you can only do so much, so why fool yourself with longer lists? Don't worry, if you finish your To-Do list, I assure you that you can always move things from the Not-Right-Now list back on to your To-Do list. Though these days that seems to be a rarity for me.

Frank Addante is the founder and CEO of the Rubicon Project, an online advertising technology company. Frank is a serial entrepreneur with one IPO and two acquisitions before the age of 30. He previously served as CTO and technology Founder of L90, Inc., a publicly-held Internet advertising company that was acquired by DoubleClick after a successful $112 million IPO. Frank's fifth company was StrongMail, the leading email delivery infrastructure provider for thousands of companies worldwide, including Fox Sports/MSN, Ticketmaster, Williams Sonoma, FTD, Netflix and He serves on various boards of innovative technology and marketing companies and received his education in electrical and computer engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Read Frank's blog at