My To-Don't List

by Peter Saint-Andre


Once in a while someone asks me how it is that I accomplish so much. (I'm not convinced that I accomplish more than most people, although perhaps my accomplishments are more public.) In large measure I think it's not because of what I do, but because of what I don't do.

Here are some of the things I don't do much of: watch television, closely follow the latest news, hang out on Facebook and other social networking sites, randomly surf the Internet, engage in chitchat with my co-workers, eat out for lunch or dinner, or go shopping. Don't get me wrong, some of these activities are enjoyable and distracting, but I work to avoid them as much as possible.

What I've found is that eliminating these less productive activities frees up a great deal of time for the more productive activities in my life. By avoiding social networking sites and not watching television and not going out to dinner in the evenings, I have time to work on my music, read a bit real literature, take a walk or do some stretches, and write (I aim to do each of those things daily). By not going out to lunch or chatting with my colleagues or checking the news throughout the day, I have time to complete more high-value tasks at the office. And so on.

Recently on a finance discussion list I frequent, a participant raised a similar point about investing: don't spend a lot of time trying to find a portfolio of perfect companies, but instead formulate a list of strong possibilities and then eliminate the losers (or at least the companies that are less likely to succeed over the long term).

We all have a "portfolio" of activities we could engage in, but, just as in investing, time and money are preciously limited. The approach most people seem to take is to add more and more items to their to-do list. By constrast, I'm thinking that it's more effective to add things to my to-don't list; as a natural byproduct, I will focus more on what really matters and less on what's nonessential.

Peter Saint-Andre > Journal