2011: Your Not To Do List

Welcome to 2011!

It’s not only the start of a new year, as well as a new decade, but 2011 is a mathematically loaded year.

1/1/11 is a week away, 11/11/11 is a mere ten months from here.

2011 is also the first prime number year since 2003.

The definition of a prime number (in case you were out smoking during math class) is a number that can be divided evenly only by 1 or itself.

The number 2011, it turns out, is the sum of 11 consecutive prime numbers: 2011=157+163+167+173+179+181+191+193+197+199+211.

Exciting news if you’re into prime numbers or have an eleven fetish, but what’s this New Year really mean?

Unless you’re a jaded misanthrope with an uncle named Scrooge, the new year will always strike a chord of promise and betterment somewhere inside you, despite bountiful evidence to the contrary.

Obvious example: memberships at gyms and fitness centers soar beyond capacity at the beginning of every new year.

They know with mathematical certainty that the dropouts will be as swift as the sign-ups. Meanwhile, they lock in recurring income for the rest of the year from the no-shows who’ve just signed contracts.

Yes, resolution fever is in the air…for another week or two.

Yesterday morning from behind the wheel, I noticed a parade of the well intentioned doing road work in the comparatively warm weather of Southern Arizona.

One oversized fellow particularly stood out. He was several inches over six feet and pushing 300 pounds. His massive arms flailed out like duck wings as his brisk walk resembled a waddle.

Minutes later while driving in the opposite direction on the same stretch of road, I noticed him again.

By this time, he’d worked up to a slow jog with face beet red, huffing and puffing like the little engine that no longer could. I would have been more concerned about his welfare had two svelte joggers not been heading in his direction.

While the optimist in me was rooting for him, if I had to put money on the table, I’d bet against seeing him out there next weekend.

We all know from long experience that New Year’s resolutions quickly crash and burn.

So, why should this year be any different?

What are New Year’s resolutions anyway but glorified to do lists bolstered by temporary motivation?

If you’re like most people who use to do lists, whether in a day timer, on a sheet of paper or in a device of some kind, consider how often you manage to complete all the items on your list in any given day. Usually, there’s carry over for one or more days.

A New Year’s to do list (a.k.a. resolutions) typically looks something like this.

  • Start exercising
  • Eat healthier
  • Spend more quality time with my spouse/family

The person who’s in the resolution zone feels great for a while but all it takes is the passage of a little time and an unnerving event to detonate the whole thing.

The guy who claims he’s committed to the above may get chewed out by his boss and be forced to work late. Suddenly, he doesn’t have time for exercise and the brussels sprouts he’s packed for lunch become a lot less appetizing. By the time he gets home, he’s ready for a six-pack on the sofa.


The Not To Do List

Not only does the “not to do list” eliminate much of the friction and psychological baggage connected to “to do lists,” it’s quite possible to make positive changes that last through February…and beyond. There’s no albatross of resolutions hanging around your neck.

Think of some of the things you no longer want in your life. Since you’re living in the 21st Century, there are likely a lot of them.

In the olds days, sailors caught in a storm on the high seas were often forced to toss cargo overboard to keep their ship from sinking.

Think of your bad habits and unproductive behaviors as disposable cargo you’d like to toss aside.

Since it’s the most popular one this time of year, let’s use exercise as an example.

Old paradigm (To do list): Start exercising.

New paradigm (Not to do list): Sedentary habits.

It’s difficult for a flabby knowledge worker cramped in a cubicle for 60 hours a week to contemplate running five miles or benching three sets of 200 pounds.

But what if he changes the paradigm?

Instead of beginning an arduous exercise routine, he decides not to lead a sedentary life. This may mean taking a break to stretch every hour or going out for a walk at lunchtime.

Instead of doing something, he’s eliminating something — the sedentary behavior.

Another example.

Old paradigm (To do list): Increase productivity.

New paradigm (Not to do list): Compulsive inboxing, texting, browsing, Tweeting, Facebooking, answering the telephone, etc.

These are all links in the same chain: cyber stimuli for those who’ve willingly stepped into a Skinner box. Eliminate these and productivity fills the vacuum.  (See insights gleaned on Alcatraz for more on this.)

Last one.

Old paradigm (To do list): Enjoy more free time.

New paradigm (Not to do list): Unnecessary commitments.

Do you ever get trapped into doing things you later regret agreeing to? This is where the say “no” early and often part comes in. This may be the single greatest liberating skill and all it requires is consistent practice to make it a habit…even if you’re a “yes man.”

You get the idea.

Okay, this won’t work for everything. The pack a day smoker is no more likely to purge his addiction than the bottle of booze a day drinker with a “not to do” list.

But this is a twist worth exploring.

So what are you going to put on your “not to do” list?

How about resolutions?


  1. Nathan Thomas says

    Interesting line of thought!

    The old self help gurus have been exposes the old paradigm for years, but copywriters know that people tend to be more motivated by what they won’t want than what they do, so maybe this way of thinking has some merit!

    Don’t have an unhappy new year!

  2. admin says

    Hey, Nathan. Okay, I won’t have an unhappy New Year.

    Jill, have a twist if you like. These days, I’d favor the vacuuming. At least you know when you’re done! Hope you’re not in Melbourne — hard to do much of anything there without a boat.

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