A 'Not-to-Do List'

New Year's Eve is time to resolve what you want in the year ahead. Rather than creating a list of resolutions, Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, sits down and does the opposite. Before setting down any strategic objectives, he comes up with three corresponding things to stop doing. So if he decided he wanted to read more, he first determined to unplug the TV.

He suggests you ask yourself what you're:

a) passionate about

b) good at

c) able to make a living doing.

Then consider how you're spending time. How much of it falls outside those three factors? If the answer is most of it, a not-to-do list could be a valuable tool.

If-Then Planning

It's called if-then planning, and it is a really powerful way to help you achieve any goal. Well over a hundred studies, on everything from diet and exercise to negotiation and time management, have shown that deciding in advance when and where you will take specific actions to reach your goal (e.g., "If it is 4 p.m., then I will return any phone calls I should return today") can double or triple your chances for success.

Heidi Grant Halvorson, Nine Things Successful People Do Differently

Licking the Earth

When I look back on my life nowadays, which I sometimes do, what strikes me most forcibly about it is that what seemed at the time most significant and seductive, seems now most futile and absurd. For instance, success in all of its various guises, being known and praised, ostensible pleasures like acquiring money or seducing women, or traveling, going to and fro in the world and up and down in it like Satan, explaining and experiencing whatever Vanity Fair has to offer. In retrospect, all these exercises in self-gratification seem pure fantasy, what Pascal called, ‘licking the earth’.

Malcolm Muggeridge

Activity is not accomplishment

John Henry Fabre, the great French naturalist, conducted a most unusual experiment with some Processionary Caterpillars. These caterpillars blindly follow the one in front of them. Hence, the name. Fabre carefully arranged them in a circle around the rim of a flower pot. So that the lead caterpillar actually touched the last one., making a complete circle. In the center of the flower pot he put pine needles, which is food for the Processionary Caterpillar. The caterpillars started around this circular flower pot. Around and around they went, hour after hour, day after day, night after night. For seven full days and seven full nights they went around the flower pot. Finally, they dropped dead of starvation and exhaustion. With an abundance of food less that six inches away, they literally started to death, because they confused activity with accomplishment.

Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top

Settling for the shallow

On golf courses, one may find some aging men and women whose chief remaining goal in life is to knock a few more strokes off their game. This dedicated effort to improve their skill serves to give them a sense of progress in life and there by assists them in ignoring the reality that they have actually stopped progressing, having given up the effort to improve themselves as human beings. If they loved themselves more they would not allow themselves to a passionately settle for such a shallow goal and narrow future.

M Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

Why is it so impossible to get everything done?

Several research studies have shown that people never get more done by blindly working more hours on everything that comes up. Instead, they get more done when they follow careful plans that measure and track key priorities and milestones. So if you want to be more successful and less stressed, don’t ask how to make something more efficient until you’ve first asked, “Do I need to do this at all?”

Simply being able to do something well does not make it the right thing to do. I think this is one of the most common problems with a lot of time-management advice; too often productivity gurus focus on how to do things quickly, but the vast majority of things people do quickly should not be done at all.

If you think about it, it’s actually kind of ironic that we complain we have so little time, and then we prioritize like time is infinite. So do your best to focus on what’s truly important, and not much else.

Angel Chernoff

30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself

Stop spending time with the wrong people.  Life is too short to spend time with people who suck the happiness out of you. If someone wants you in their life, they’ll make room for you. You shouldn’t have to fight for a spot. Never, ever insist yourself to someone who continuously overlooks your worth. And remember, it’s not the people that stand by your side when you’re at your best, but the ones who stand beside you when you’re at your worst that are your true friends.

Marc Chernoff, read more here.

Please Understand Me

We want desperately to be understood. But if we put that power in the hands of strangers who may or may not care about us, who may or may not have our best interest at heart, we will waste time trying to please people who are not playing a significant role in our lives.

We are giving people who don’t know us very well too much influence over our lives--control they haven’t earned or deserve. How much better to find solace in those who truly love us--people we can trust who want to bring good into our lives because they have spent time getting to know who we are... and who we are becoming.

Stephen Goforth

The Main Thing

Every morning just look at your calendar and ask yourself one question: “What’s the main event today?” I’m going to see six people. I’m going to do seven things. But of the six people I see and the seven things I do, what’s the main event?

In other words, what’s the most important thing I’m going to do today. Don’t make everything the main event because I’m not going to be good all day. I’m not going to be able to hit a home run every time I swing the bat. I’m going to have some fouls and I’m going to have some strike outs.

When you decide your main event, spend most of your time, most of your energy, most of your focus on it. You know what I know about life? You don’t have to be good at everything, you just have to be good at the main thing. If you’re good at the main thing, people will pay for you to do it again.

John Maxwell

Wasting Our Love

We may have a feeling of love for mankind, and this feeling may also be useful in providing us with enough energy to manifest genuine love for a few specific individuals. But genuine love for a relatively few individuals is all that is within our power. To attempt to exceed the limits of our energy is to offer more than we can deliver, and there is a point of no return beyond which an attempt to love all comers becomes fraudulent and harmful to the very ones we desire to assist.

Consequently if we are fortunate enough to be in a position in which many people ask for our attention, we must choose those among them whom we are actually to love. This choice is not easy; it may be excruciatingly painful, as the assumption of godlike power so often is. But it must be made.

Many factors need to be considered, primarily the capacity of a prospective recipient of our love to respond to that love with spiritual growth. It is unquestionable that there are many whose spirits are so locked in behind impenetrable armor that even the greatest efforts to nurture the growth of those spirits are doomed to almost certain failure.

To attempt to love someone who cannot benefit from your love with spiritual growth is to waste your energy, to cast your seed upon arid ground. Genuine love is precious, and those who are capable of genuine love know that their loving must be focused as productively as possible through self-discipline.

M Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

Immediate Living

Consider the difference between the person who has been toiling in the hot sun and is desperately thirsty and the wine connoisseur who wants to sample a new pinot noir from California. Both have a desire to drink something liquid, but the resemblance ends there. There desire of the first person is rooted in the raw structure of the body, which needs and craves water. No reflection or education is needed to have such a desire. In order to appreciate the difference between a pinot noir and a cabernet sauvignon, However, it may be necessary to have a cultivated taste, with an imaginative grasp of the vocabulary used to describe the subtle “notes” of the wines. The person who simply wants to get drunk every night as well as the person who prides himself on his refined and elegant taste in wine… are focused solely on the satisfaction of the desires the person happens to have and are thus in one sense “immediate.”

A person may know a great deal about ethical theory without having much in the way of ethical character. It is possible, then, for a person to be well-developed intellectually but existentially not developed at all, and therefore still immediate.

C. Steven Evans, Kierkegaard: An Introduction

How We’re Gaming Ourselves

We let ourselves be gamed every day by one of the oldest technologies of all: the calendar. Because it displays our nonscheduled time as empty space, our calendar apps encourage us to pack our days with events. Think how differently we'd interact with our calendars if the default wasn't for timeslots not to be empty – if, instead they were prepopulated with tasks like thinking, writing, and planning. We’d be far less likely to neglect the opportunity costs: Every time we accept an obligation, it would be clear that we are giving something up.

Another calendar problem is related to what behavioral economist Gail Zauberman and John Lynch call “resource slack.” Their research shows that when people estimate future time and money we are overly optimistic about how much flexibility (slack) we’ll have. But we’re even more unrealistic about time than money. Lynch, who was my dissertation advisor used to give me this advice: When someone asks you to do something in a year, ask yourself whether you’d accept if it were happening in the next two weeks. Based on our calendar, it looks as if we have nothing to do year from now. In reality, though, our typical week next year will look a lot like this week. But until on my calendar starts to simulate that, I'll keep surrendering my days to stuff I never should have scheduled.

Dan Ariely writing in Wired Magazine

Ordering the Mind

Unless a person knows how to give order to his or her thoughts, attention will be attracted to whatever is most problematic at the moment: it will focus on some real or imaginary pain, on recent grudges or long-term frustrations. Entropy is the normal state of consciousness – a condition that is neither useful nor enjoyable.

To avoid this condition, people are naturally eager to fill their minds with whatever information is reality available, as long as it distracts attention from turning inward and dwelling on negative feelings. This explains why such a huge proportion of time is invested in watching television, despite the fact that it is very rarely enjoyed. Compared to other sources of stimulation – like reading, talking to other people, or working on a hobby – TV can provide continuous and easily accessible information that will structure the viewers attention, at a very low cost in terms of the psychic energy that needs to be invested. While people watch television, people need not fear that their drifting minds will force them to fact disturbing personal problems. It is understandable that once on develops this strategy for overcoming psychic entropy, to give up the habit becomes almost impossible.

The better route for avoiding chaos in consciousness, of course, is through habits that give control over mental processes to the individual, rather than to some external source of stimulation… To acquire such habits requires practice, however, and the kind of goals and rules that are inherent in flow activities.

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, Flow