“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do,” he told me. “That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.” ~ Steve Jobs to Walter Isaacson
And I believe it is true for people as well. In this graduation season many graduates face the next step in their lives with uncertainty. If they have not already committed to a job or further education, the possibilities seem endless and it is overwhelming to think about the choices. This is one of the times when thinking in the negative is helpful. To eliminate the things one knows for sure are not options is the first step in the narrowing process. Each of us can use this technique to help refine our decision-making.
My home and the nine acres surrounding it always have a list of things that need doing that would strike fear in the heart of my former suburban self. On any given day, it is easier to start with deciding what not to do. Mother Nature is the guiding force more often than not in the process of elimination. Choosing a task compatible with the weather often cuts the outdoor list in half. The wear and tear on my less than youthful body is another consideration. If the day before was extremely physical, I immediately set aside heavy work projects the following day.
Deciding what not to do falls into two categories, what not to do right now, and what will never be done. Just because the option presents itself does not mean that it is worthy of further consideration. Allowing oneself to toss out the unworthy and unworkable, clears out the mental clutter a bit. If it is simply a question of not doing it right now, assigning the task a priority ranking and placing any related items that must happen first in front, the action list begins to emerge. Use this for anything from making large life choices to planning the spring yard cleanup, the idea and process is the same.
The point is to refine one’s focus to a manageable list of options and be able to weigh the relative value of the particular choice. Thinking of our lives as a product development project allows us to step back and to leave behind consideration of options that do nothing to further that development. When faced with open-ended questions, starting with what not to do can in fact point us directly at the answer of what to do.