Create a Do-Not-Do List

Posted by Beetle B. on Tue 01 January 2019

There's an often repeated story about Warren Buffet mentoring an employee of his - Mike Flint. He asked Mike to write down the top 25 items he wanted to accomplish.

Once done, he asked Mike to circle his top 5.

Once Mike did that, he told Mike he really needed to focus on those 5 items. Then he asked Mike "What are you going to do about the remaining 20 items on the list?"

"Well," Mike said. "I still think they are important. I'll focus most of the effort on the top 5, but will try to squeeze in some of the others as time permits."

Warren said "No. Everything you didn't circle goes on your Avoid At All Costs list. Do not let yourself get distracted with those no matter how easy they may appear."

If you have as many aspirations as I do, you will some day realize you cannot achieve most of them. I always spread myself too thin, even when I do prioritize as Mike did.

So what should go on your Do-Not-Do list?

First off, put anything that you consider to be a time waster. Some people are obsessed with the news, and will browse news web sites all morning while eating breakfast before heading out to work. Others spend a lot of time on various other sites (Facebook Feed, Reddit, etc). You might want to consider putting time sinks like these in there.

Beyond time sinks and addictions, follow Warren's advice. As an example, I started playing with Arduinos a few years ago. I had a lot of fun. I ultimately built my own yogurt maker and used it for a few years to make yogurt. I want to make a panel of lights that light up my stairs whenever someone approaches them - really handy at night when you can't see.

Arduino projects are a lot of fun. And frankly, they were the first time I utilized my circuit knowledge since graduating from my undergrad.

But when I look at the other projects I want to do, this doesn't make it into my top 5. I know if I don't put it in my Do-Not-Do list, I'll lose a few weeks in the year suddenly deciding to tinker with my Arduino, or fantasizing by spending time ogling at others' projects.

Besides Arduino, there are a lot of computer skills I always have in the backlog. Almost all will explicitly be put in that list - unless they're satisfying some goal beyond intellectual stimulation.

The ultimate goal of the Do-Not-Do list is to find common distractions and seal them away.

You may ask "Why not just have a policy of no distractions? Why an explicit list?"

It's an explicit pact. Other things not on the list may come up during the year and you may decide to sacrifice something for them. But for the items on the list, you've already decided they cannot interfere.

For 2018 I made such a list, but sadly, I can't find it. From what I remember, it was probably only about 50% successful - I did violate it from time to time. Nevertheless, I'm glad I made one.

This article is part of the series on New Year's Resolutions.