This post is part of the 📖 Mental Models series.
Today, I am reading the 22nd mental model
Avoid To-Do Lists from Anti-Mental Models: How Avoidance Breeds Success chapter of the book Mental Models written by Author Peter Hollins.
Mental Models are like giving a treasure map to someone lost in the woods. They provide instant understanding, context, and most importantly, a path to the end destination. Now imagine having such a map for all problems and decisions in your life.
In this book Mental Models, author Peter Hollins discuss 30 mental models that billionaires/CEOs, Olympic athletes, and scientists use to think differently and avoid mistakes.
Battle information overwhelm, focus on what really matters, and make complex decisions with speed and confidence.
Yesterday, I finished reading the 21st mental model Avoid Your Non-Genius Zones.
Chapter #4: Anti-Mental Models: How Avoidance Breeds Success
This chapter looks at some anti-mental models that will clarify how avoidance of negatives can breed just as much success as directly pursuing goals.
Mental Model #22:
Avoid To-Do Lists
Use to direct your attention only to what matters at the moment.
Everyone knows the value of the to-do list, but this isn’t as helpful as you might think because everyone inherently knows what they should be doing and when they need to do it.
The act of writing it down helps remind them. This makes them more likely to do what they know they should be doing—more than if they didn’t have such a list.
Along with your to-do list, it’s equally important to make a don’t-do list. You need to fill your don’t-do list with tasks that will sneakily steal your time and undermine your goals.
These are trivial tasks or poor use of your time, tasks that don’t help your bottom line, and tasks that have a serious case of diminishing returns the more you work on them.
They are useless, but it can be difficult to distinguish between real tasks and unproductive tasks, and it will require some complex thought.
There are a few categories of tasks that belong on the don’t-do list.
Include tasks that may be priorities, but you can’t do anything about them at present because of external circumstances.
These are important tasks in one or many ways but are waiting for feedback from others or for underlying tasks to be completed first.
Put these on your don’t-do list because there is nothing you can do about them, so they clog up your mental bandwidth.
They’ll still be there when you hear back from those other people. Just note that you are waiting to hear back from someone else and the date you need to follow up if you haven’t heard back. Then push these out of your mind because they’re on someone else’s to-do list, not yours.
Include tasks that don’t add value as far as your priorities are concerned.
Many small items don’t add to your bottom line, and often, these are trivial things—busy work. These tasks are just wasted motion for the sake of motion and don’t matter in the big picture.
You should spend your time on big tasks that move entire projects forward and not myopic, trivial tasks.
Include current and ongoing tasks but will not benefit from additional work or attention paid to them. These tasks suffer from diminishing returns.
These tasks should be considered done. Don’t waste your time on them, and don’t fall into the trap of considering them a priority.
Urgent tasks! Refer to MM #1: Address “Important”; Ignore “Urgent”
When you consciously avoid the items on your don’t-do list, you keep yourself focused and streamlined. You don’t waste energy or time, and your daily output will increase dramatically.
- A don’t-do list will free your mind of the burden of having too many things in the air because it eliminates most of those things.
- Avoid To-Do Lists. Construct don’t-do lists. Narrowing down what you should be avoiding and what doesn’t matter will drastically free up your time. This means you will have less stress and anxiety and know exactly what your priorities are.
That’s it for today. Tomorrow, we will read the 23rd mental model Avoid the Path of Least Resistance, use to exercise more self-discipline and willpower.
Address “Important”; Ignore “Urgent”
Identify and address important tasks, ignore urgent tasks. Delegate important but non-urgent task and delete not important and not urgent tasks.
Visualize All the Dominoes
Don’t stop your analysis once the most obvious situations are articulated. Consider as many long-term possible ramifications as you can. Think twice about what you’re doing, and it helps to eliminate rash decisions.
Make Reversible Decisions
If you want to make the best decision possible, you can go ahead and use reversible decisions to learn exactly what you need to know.
We need far fewer things than we originally thought and that our desires are masquerading as needs. Use Seek “Satisfaction” to achieve your priorities and ignore what doesn’t matter by creating a default choice.
Stay Within 40-70%
Utilize this mental model by intentionally consuming less information and even overgeneralizing — this means not looking at the subtleties of your options.
Minimize Regret. Jeff Bezos developed what he calls the regret minimization framework. In it, he asks one to visualize themselves at age 80 and ask if they would regret making (or not making) a decision. This simplifies decisions by making them about one metric: regret.
Ignore “Black Swans”
A black swan event is an entirely unpredictable event that comes out of nowhere. Doing so skews all data and beliefs, and people start to take the black swan into account as a new normal. But these are just outliers that should be ignored.
Look for Equilibrium Points
This mental model is about noticing trends in progress.
When you first start something, you go from zero to one—that’s an infinite rate of progress. Then you go from one to two, two to three, and so on, and the rate of progress slows, and the returns start diminishing.
Somewhere around there is an equilibrium point that truly represents what the average mean will be. Don’t make the mistake of not waiting for it.
Wait for the Regression to the Mean
This mental model is the final mental model about seeing the whole picture in terms of information.
A change without reason for the change is not a change; it’s just a deviation. As such, it doesn’t represent what will continue to happen in the future.
A regression to the mean is when things settle back down and resume what they were doing before—this is representative of reality.
What Would Bayes Do (WWBD)?
Bayes’ Theorem is something that does allow us to conclude the future: based on probabilities and taking into account events that have already occurred. All you need are the rough probabilities of three elements to plug into the Bayes’ formula, and you will come to a more accurate conclusion than so-called experts. This is basic probabilistic thinking.
Do It Like Darwin
Darwin was not a genius, but he did have one trait that set him apart from others: his undying devotion to truth.
In doing so, he developed his golden rule (and our mental model) of giving equal weight and attention to arguments and opinions that opposed his own.
Instead of growing defensive when presented with something that opposed him, he grew critical and sceptical toward himself. This radical open-mindedness puts aside confirmation bias and ego.
Think With System 2
System 1 focuses on speed and efficiency of thought, while System 2 focuses on accuracy and depth of thought. System 2 is smart, while System 1 is dumb.
System 1 does more harm than good, but unfortunately, it is the one we default to because it is easier. Gain awareness of the difference between the two; acknowledge System 1, then jump immediately to System 2.
Peer Review Your Perspectives
Peer Review Your Perspectives. Many of the ways we fail at solving problems are related to our inability to look at other perspectives. We should be continually checking our perspectives through triangulation against those of others.
Thinking and solving in a vacuum will never work because if you didn’t experience it firsthand, it wouldn’t make sense to you.
Find Your Own Flaws
This mental model is about resisting the comforting allure of confirmation bias and attempting to scrutinize yourself before others ever get the chance.
Assume that you are wrong; this especially applies to interpersonal relationships. If you assume that you are at least 1% responsible for the conflict, your illusion of superiority and infallibility is broken, an important factor in social interaction.
Separate Correlation From Causation
Separate Correlation From Causation. They are entirely different things. Forcing a relationship where none exists will cause you to chase the wrong issue. In addition, you must separate proximate cause from root cause—the root cause is what we always want, and it can be reached through a series of questions.
Storytell in Reverse
When it comes to causation, sometimes we need to get better at thinking in a specific manner. You have a visual aid in a fishbone diagram, which document causes of causes and so on. This is storytelling in reverse because you start with a conclusion, and you work backwards through sometimes ambiguous means.
The SCAMPER method stands for seven techniques that help direct thinking toward novel ideas and solutions: (S) substitute, (C) combine, (A) adapt, (M) minimize/magnify, (P) put to another use, (E) eliminate, and (R) reverse.
Get Back to First Principles
When we try to solve problems, oftentimes we attempt to follow methods or a specific path just because they are the conventional means. But are they the best? First principles thinking strips away assumptions and leaves you with only a set of facts and a desired outcome. From there, you can forge your own solution.
Avoid Direct Goals
Direct goals are like shooting for the moon, while anti-goals, or inverse goals, are about avoiding crashing into the earth and doing everything to prevent that from happening. This has just as good a chance of achieving the outcome you want through direct goals, but it might get you there quicker and more efficiently. Articulate the factors involved in a worst-case scenario, then devote your time to preventing them.
Avoid Thinking Like an Expert
Experts think about the big picture and sometimes can’t be bothered with small details. Small details, counterintuitively, are mostly paid attention to by novices because they are absorbing new information and going slowly through a process. Thinking like an expert in a given field will probably mean that you make small mistakes because you engage in assumptive thinking and focus on overall effects and conception.
Avoid Your Non-Genius Zones
All of us have natural advantages in some things, and despite how hard we work, we will never be more than mediocre in other areas. Recognize your strengths, and while you shouldn’t stop trying to improve upon your weaknesses, understand where you will have the most impact.
Avoid To-Do Lists
Construct don’t-do lists. Narrowing down what you should be avoiding and what doesn’t matter will drastically free up your time. This means you will have less stress and anxiety and know exactly what your priorities are.
Author(s): Peter Hollins
Part 22 of 29 in the 📖 Mental Models book series.