I’ve made to-do lists since I was a kid, currently managing a love/hate relationship with ‘em, which is ironic, since I’m in a profession where I’m all about backlogs and frontlogs. So you’d think I’d be dang good at ‘em. I mean, I am. (I’m real’ humble, too!) And I bet you are, too. And we can get better, with a little help from our friends: Bruce Lee, Greg Marta, and Tim Ferriss.
Oh, and y’saw “To-Don’t List” in the title, and wonder when we’ll get more into that? Yeah, that’s at the end. I can’t stop ya from skipping ahead, but its build-up will make a little more sense if you hang out for the ride…
Useful, Not Useful, Uniquely Your Own
Bruce Lee said a few things. Here’s one I really like:
Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.
Applying this to those lists we make, I fold in this wisdom this way:
- useful: What am I adding to my life that may not be exciting, but is responsible?
- e.g., dental appointment, passport renewal
- useless: What am I removing from my life because it doesn’t ultimately feel good to deal with it?
- e.g., time spent in email, all that shit in the basement & under my desk
- unique: What do I want to do that is exciting and lights me up inside?
- e.g., parkour, blogging, podcasting, recording music again
There y’go. The responsible, the unbearable, the delightable. (Man, I like that, I should write that down…)
And now y’got… a lot. It might be overwhelming. You might look at your life and go, “but I’ll never get to actually learning how to skateboard, do parkour, and also pop ’n’ lock, and definitely not all at the same time”. So what to do?
If list items are more like can-do’s, then they are choices, and at any point in time, it is my decision for what to do now & next.
There y’go. A more empowering stance.
You may have heard of the “80/20 rule” or the “law of the vital few” or the “power law distribution”. It goes:
80% of consequences come from 20% of causes
Author & podcaster Tim Ferriss, of “The 4-Hour Workweek” fame, takes this Pareto Principle and asks us to
shove it analyze our life via a couple of questions.
Which 20% of sources are resulting in 80% of my desired outcomes and happiness?
There y’go. Your to-do list. I mean, you can start with the “Bruce Lee method” above, and then shift your stance so each item is an option. Or you can start with this 80/20 approach, first addressing the things that give you a smiley face…
…and then addressing the things that give you a frowny face, via this second question from Tim Ferriss.
Which 20% of sources are causing 80% of my problems and unhappiness?
There y’go. Your not-to-do list. Or more clumsily, your to-don’t list. I personally love this because you just know which things piss you off, or bring you angst to just think about, and these automatically shoot up to the top of this list, representing how there really are a few things (~20%) that bring you most of the crap in your life (~80%). Don’t overthink this: refer to your gut, then write it down.
So what few things bring you most of the suck in your life? Now ask yourself how to bag it, barter it, or better it.