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The Not-To-Do List for 2020

Instead of trying to figure out what you should be doing in 2020, ask yourself: what should I NOT be doing?

Dominik Nitsch
7 min read
The Not-To-Do List for 2020
Photo by Andy T on Unsplash

In order to become a better writer, instead of focusing what people are doing right, I focus on what people are doing wrong. By learning how to avoid the mistakes others have made, I’ve become better than I would’ve ever gotten had I simply focused on what others are doing well”, Malcolm Gladwell once stated in a podcast.

In other words, he’s looking for things he shouldn’t do, instead of looking for things he should do. He’s learning from negative examples.

You can apply this concept in your life, too. Keep reading.

Life is unpredictable. Re-reading my journal entries from December 31st, 2018, I had a very different idea what 2019 would look like from what it was actually like. I achieved some goals I set, and some goals I hadn’t thought about before, but I also didn’t achieve a lot of things that I wanted to.

The only thing that I achieved fairly consistently was my not-to-do list.

Tim Ferriss first introduced the concept of the “not-to-do list” back in 2007. His list puts a focus on your work environment, not on life in general. While it is useful, the concept can be elevated to a much higher, personal level.

I believe that everyone should have their not-to-do list, as everyone has different good and bad behavior patterns.

How does a not-to-do list work? Similar to your ordinary to-do list. You simply list activities, and then you don’t do them.

In our constantly changing world, you won’t always achieve your goals. Life will get in the way at one point or another, and that’s perfectly fine. You can, however, avoid behaviors that are detrimental to you. Which is why the not-to-do list is so powerful.

Every year, I write a new list for the next year. The process looks as follows:

  1. In a long journaling session (or several) over the Christmas break, I reflect back on the past year and what I want to achieve in the next year as well as in the next 3–5 years.
  2. From that journaling session, usually a few events and/or patterns emerge that were quite ugly.
  3. I then ask myself: what could I have done better in order to prevent these events? What did I do so they happened in the first place?
  4. If it’s not just a single fuckup, but a pattern in my behavior, I put the pattern on my not-to-do list.

Example: I wasted a lot of Sundays with a hangover and sleep deficit on the couch, sometimes carrying over into the Monday after, eliminating any productivity. Obviously, this was due to excessive partying, in which I also sometimes got into not so glorious arguments. The pattern here was that had I been in bed by 2 am, it probably would’ve been a lot better. Hence, the item for the not-to-do list is “not staying up past 2 am”.

Makes sense? Perfect.

Here’s what I have for 2020:

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

2020’s not-to-do list

In case you forgot: these are things I don’t want to do.

Avoiding tough conversations

My biggest culprit. I like harmony; I dislike tough conversations that might and likely will piss someone off. But everywhere in life, whether it is in your job, your relationship, or your social circle, sometimes you have to have those tough conversations.

Last year, I avoided them more than I should have. In my job as manager, I feel like I sometimes wasn’t tough enough on our people; in my relationship, I didn’t say the things I needed to say, didn’t have the conversations we needed to have. And sometimes you gotta stop saying “oh it’s okay” when it’s really not.

This year, I want to make this my priority: having tough conversations when they’re necessary. No avoiding anymore. Avoiding them might preserve the harmony for a while, but you cannot avoid them forever. It’s better to have them early in order to resentment and emotional arguments in the future.

Being satisfied with the status quo

Do you know that feeling when you’re not quite happy with where you’re at, but also too lazy and complacent to change it? That’s what the first part of 2019 was like for me. Life was good, yeah. But I stopped growing, stopped challenging myself. And wrote a post about it.

Complacency: Why You Should Be Dissatisfied With Being Satisfied
When everything is going well, not everything might be going well.

Next year, I want to be aware to think again when the status quo seems good enough. It’s not. I’m 26 years old, there’s still so much to discover, explore, conquer. I don’t want to be doing the things I’m currently doing forever; life still has so much to offer. No complacency!

Staying up past 2 am in general, and drinking on Sundays

“Nothing good happens after 2 am”, a famous How I Met Your Mother episode is titled.

They’re right. Dude, nothing good happens after 2 am. Your decision making is flawed, and it’s gonna fuck over your sleeping schedule for the whole next week. Just go to bed. Really. Tomorrow’s you will thank you.

This goes along with healthy sleeping habits, such as getting a solid 8 hours of sleep every night. But let’s start small this year, and maybe next year the 8 hours will be in order.

Also, drinking on Sundays is just plain stupid. Starting your week with a hangover is the worst feeling for a productivity fanatic like me. While you’re doing it, it always seems like a great idea — but it’s not. Just don’t.

Talking to yourself negatively

“I’m not good enough.”
“I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“I’m not the right person for this job.”

Phrases like these flash through my mind, and I’m sure they cross yours too.

Stop it. Stop treating yourself like a piece of shit. You’re not. You’re an awesome human being with its flaws and deficiencies that everyone has. But you’re a good person, and you’re good enough.

“Whether you believe you can, or believe you can’t, you’re right”, Henry Ford once said. If you keep talking to yourself negatively, you will become that way.

Instead, embrace positive self talk. This may seem esoteric, but it works. I repeat a few phrases every morning, and it gets me in a positive mindset to tackle the day.

Trying to solve every problem yourself

In my working life, one of my biggest flaws has been not asking for help. I like to think of myself as a jack of all trades, someone who can do it all. Which has lead to mediocre results this year.

More than ever, I’ve realized that you can’t do everything on your own. I may have a highly inflated sense of confidence, but let’s be real: it’s just not possible.

And it’s perfectly fine to ask for help and advice.

My goal this year is to put together a mastermind group as described in Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich”: a group of people from various background, who have similar drive and attitude to you, with whom you can solve problems together.

Doing things I know I shouldn’t be doing

Do you want ice cream?” — “No, thanks” — “But I feel bad if I eat one and you don’t” — “OK, fine”

No, fuck that. It’s not fine. If you don’t feel like eating ice cream because it’s bad for you, because it’ll make you fat and because refined sugar is the devil anyway, then don’t eat it. No compromises on things you know you shouldn’t be doing.

When you don’t feel like having another beer, don’t. Don’t succumb to the social pressure. When you feel like going home from a party, go home. And when people tell you to pursue a different career, listen to yourself — is that really what you want?

Deep inside, you already know what you should and shouldn’t be doing. Don’t compromise on that. Set boundaries, and adhere to them.

Hell, would I have loved to ride that cable car. That would’ve been … well, interesting. And 100% outside of my comfort zone. Unfortunately, it’s been out of service for a while as you can see. Photo taken in Chiatura, Georgia.

Always doing the same things

I live a simple life. I go to the office, to the gym, to the practice field, and I drink beers with friends.

In order to be interesting, you must do interesting things.

By always doing the same, you won’t become a very interesting person. So instead of constantly doing the same things, I want to try a few new things, such as:

  • going to the museum (in 3 years in Frankfurt, I’ve been to a museum exactly once)
  • trying an activity I’ve never done before, such as sailing or kite-surfing
  • painting
  • traveling to a few new countries or areas (Italy has beautiful parts that I haven’t discovered, and who says one shouldn’t go to, say, Uzbekistan?)
  • give a few keynote speeches

… and many more things I haven’t discovered yet.

I enjoy telling stories. But those stories don’t simply appear in your head — they are fed from the experiences you make. Quite frankly, the practice field and gym at some point don’t yield new stories anymore. New stimulation never hurts. And hopefully will lead to new posts. ;)

So go out, try new things, challenge yourself — it’s gonna be a lot of fun!

I’ve consciously tried to keep the list to 7 items. The average person can remember 7 numbers, or 7 items, at once. More than that, and you’ll have to resort to mnemonic tricks such as chunking — which is hard with rules like those. So 7 items it is.

The not-to-do list is a great framework for everyone, really. There are infinite things you could be doing, but only a select few that you really shouldn’t be doing. They don’t necessarily have to be 7, they can be any number. But it’ll go a long way to identify the behavior patterns that are holding you back.

So identify your negative behavior patterns, and write your own list. It’s the best new year’s resolution you could have.

If you want to become a more effective and productive person next year, why don’t you give my newsletter a shot? Just sign up, and get every post (and more) straight to your inbox.

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