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Episode 22 — Do You Have A Not-To-Do List

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About this episode

Most of us have to-do lists. In fact, you may be using sophisticated tools for this purpose, and you are well versed in their use. But some days you only complete your list at the edge of exhaustion — or not at all. What went wrong? It may have been all the things not on your to-do list. So what if you had a Not-To-Do list? In this episode, we will discuss an effective technique that combats how human nature sabotages your intentions.

Hosted by Bitesize Bio’s own Dr. Nick Oswald featuring Kenneth Vogt of Vera Claritas.

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This is an automated transcript and may not be 100% accurate.

INTRO (00:08):
This is The Happy Scientist podcast. Each episode is designed to make you more focused, more productive, and more satisfied in the lab. You can find us online at bitesizebio.com/happyscientist. Your hosts are Kenneth Vogt, founder of the executive coaching firm Vera Claritas and Dr. Nick Oswald, PhD bio-scientist and founder of Bitesizebio.

Nick Oswald (00:38):
Hello and welcome to the happy scientist podcast from Bitesize Bio. If you want to become a happier, healthier, and more productive scientist, you’re in the right place. I’m Nick Oswald, the founder of bitesize bio.com and with me, the driving force of this podcast is Kenneth Vogt. I’ve worked with Ken for over seven years now with him as my business mentor and colleague, I knew that his expertise could help you and so he decided he agreed to help me to make this podcast. So in these sessions, we will hear mostly from Ken on principles that will help shape you for a happier and more successful career and along the way, I’ll pitch in with points from my personal experience as a scientist, and from working with Ken. Today, we will be discussing the fact that you have a, to do list, but do you have a, not to do list, but before we start, remember that in episodes one to nine of this podcast. We talk about the foundational principles of human needs, core mindsets, and charisma factors, which we will be referring to in all future episodes. So if you find this episode useful, please go back and listen to episodes one to nine, to get an understanding of these life-changing concepts. So let’s bring in the man himself, Kenneth, how are you today?

Kenneth Vogt (01:45):
I’m doing great. How are you?

Nick Oswald (01:47):
I’m good. Thank you.

Kenneth Vogt (01:49):
So on your to-do list today was to record this podcast. You know, we all have our methods to keep track of what we have to do for the day. And I’m not really here to talk to you about what your, what kind of to-do list you have. Probably you have something that you’re using, and if it’s working for you, awesome, keep doing it. If it’s not working for you. Well, maybe you need to look around a little more, but some folks do just fine with just a, an a pad of paper and they just write down what they got to do for the day. And they do that. Some folks try and hold this in their head, and I will caution you that that almost never works. So if you think you’re remembering everything just fine, I promise you, if you will try any system, you’re gonna, you’re gonna see improvements.

Kenneth Vogt (02:44):
And it could be something, as I say, as simple as a notepad, it could be a free application that that’s on your phone and they all have them. It could be a paid application on your phone and are plenty of them that are, are very inexpensive, or it could be a full blown project management system that just, just organizes your whole existence. You know, it could be, it could be a sign, 0r Basecamp or anything like that. I mean, there’s, there are all these options out there, and I’m not here today to tell you which one to choose or how to choose them even. What I want to talk about is something else. How many times do you get to the end of the day and everything on your list is checked off. Now that’s a rhetorical question to the rest of you, but I’m going to put that question to Nick. What are you?

Kenneth Vogt (03:39):
And that is a common experience. That is what often happens to folks. And what happens is you start to use your to-do list as a kind of a catchall. You don’t really intend to do all this today. It’s just the stuff you want to remember that, that you want to keep in mind for the day is what, which many people are using your to do list for. And that’s okay. You know, I will argue it’s not optimal, but it’s okay. If you can actually complete your to-do list every day. And, and to set yourself up for success from the beginning, so that you only put on your to-do list, what is doable today? And having that satisfaction of crossing off everything on the list every day is really fantastic. And it, and if you get used to it, if you have a day where you don’t make it, you redouble your efforts and, and you reassess, wow. How did I convince myself that I could do these 10 things today? When I could only do six?

Nick Oswald (04:45):
It’s interesting. It goes back to the previous episode about, you know, managing your dopamine. When you get a dopamine hit, when you turn on, when you take off a to do and you get, I mean, minus or whatever the other the other one is about, you know, when it, when you leave things on your to-do list that you intended to get done, and then you don’t, you don’t do it.

Kenneth Vogt (05:09):
Yeah, exactly. And here’s what happens to us. It’s because there’s it isn’t because you didn’t work your list. You know, you may, you, you probably didn’t start at item. Number one, do it until it was finished, then turn your full attention to item, number two, do it until it’s finished, et cetera. That’s not usually how one’s day goes. You don’t look at your to-do list as the things that are, are the restrictions on what you can do today. You see your to do list as things to do, but you don’t see it as the only things to do today. And so you free yourself up to do other things also, when I say free yourself up, I mean, free, you, you feel free to do other things beyond your list. And of course, that has to be, you know, there are interruptions, you’ve got to take a call.

Kenneth Vogt (06:11):
The boss wants something you don’t necessarily control every minute of your day. You know, you got a three-year-old tucking on your skirt. It happens. And, and you have to deal with that. You can’t just pretend it away. But, but the thing is, there are other things that are really getting in your way. And there are things that are, are kind of invisible to dos. They’re, they’re getting on your list without you really choosing them, or, or even being aware that it’s happening. What’ll happen is you’re going along and you’re doing whatever you’re doing. And then you realize you could do something else. And so you start excusing yourself. You start telling yourself, well, I can do this. You know, I, I can, I can stop doing what I’m doing now. And I can read this interesting article that just showed up in my email.

Kenneth Vogt (07:09):
I can do that. I can, or it might be well, you know, I, I’ve still got time to finish my to-do list. I, I can, I can break away for a minute and you know, you need to take breaks. I, I need some refreshment in my life. And so you, you go off and you do something with that. Or another one it’s like, well, there’s nothing I can do. My next to do is a scheduled event. It doesn’t happen until 2:00 PM. And it’s, it’s currently 10:00 AM. I can’t do anything on my list. I, so I have to do something with my time. So these are the things that get on there, but you don’t get on there by choice. They don’t get on there by, by contemplation. You didn’t, you didn’t sit down and think, well, all right, if any of that’s true, what is the best use of this time?

Kenneth Vogt (07:55):
Instead of just what’s the most convenient or right in front of me, use of my time. And those things keep getting on there. And here’s the, here is the rub. Why are you doing that? Why would you do that? Why would you bother to make it to the list? And then let other things just kind of show up past haphazardly. And the answer is, you’re trying to maintain your freedom. Well, guess what your freedom is getting in your way. And that’s, that’s hard to hear because freedom is a wonderful thing. Freedom is a thing that we strive for. And in fact, most of us in our careers, why did we work so hard to, to get to this place, to do what we’re doing? Because we felt it would give us freedom that it would, that these opportunities that we’ve worked so hard for will now give us the freedom to do the things we want to do.

Kenneth Vogt (08:57):
And I don’t just mean necessarily freedom to do things you want to do outside of work. I mean, you know, maybe you want to go fishing. Maybe you want to go boating. Maybe you want to go shopping. I don’t know, but, but to give you freedom to do what you want to do for a living to be able to be involved in things that, that are satisfying to you and whether that’s intellectually satisfying or physically satisfying or, or emotionally satisfying, whatever it was. That’s the thing that we’re all striving for. We all want that. And now I’m telling you that freedom is getting in your way. You know, what kind of heresy is this? Well, if you ever thought there, Nick, please,

Nick Oswald (09:38):
I’ve never had to say that before, but that is definitely, you’ve absolutely nailed why I straight from the to-do list because yeah, I’m quite jealously guard what I regard as my freedom by, I totally agree that it does then, you know, doing that and not straying from that list and not just getting it done means that it just lingers those things that need to get done, just linger. And then that is a damper on everything else.

Kenneth Vogt (10:05):
Yeah, exactly. And one of the things that happens then too, is that this stuff that then sneaks onto your to-do list, it’s just, it’s just water finding its own level. It’s, it’s the path of least resistance. So it’s, what’s right in front of you. It’s something that, again, we’ve talked about this before, we’ll give you that short term pleasure that short-term satisfaction for, I do this as opposed to something that has a long-term benefit for you. That’s the stuff that will sneak onto your list. But what are you going to do with your freedom is use it to your advantage. See, now think of it this way. You are free to set your own limits. You can say whether or not something is acceptable at this time. And this, this is reminiscent of episode 15, where we talked about the difference between deciding and choosing, because there’s a lot of decisions going on with these invisible to dos that are popping in there.

Kenneth Vogt (11:10):
Those are just decisions. It’s, there’s simple decisions, as opposed to choices, the choices were the ones that you, you explicitly put on your list. They are different. They’re ones that, that you put in place on purpose, as opposed to things that were driven by reasons. And I say that in air quotes, there’s a reason why you’re doing this thing. That’s not on the list right now. And that reason may not be terribly good, or it may not be terribly complete. And it may not be supportive of what you actually want to get done and, but what you actually want to accomplish. So the answer to all of this is to have not to dues. Now I’ve said to have a, not to do list. But I I’d like to qualify that a little bit. I’m not saying you have a to-do list and then separate over here, unrelated to it as a, not to do list.

Kenneth Vogt (12:07):
It’s actually, these are not to do items on your to-do list because you need to see them. They need to be there. Now, if you think about this, now, if you look at your recent activity and say, what, what things have been sneaking on to my to-do list, what invisible to dos keep showing up, and they’re not going to be things you’re proud of. It’s not going to be that. Well, I finally got to that backlog of research that I was supposed to do. No, no, that’s not what happened. It’s going to be other things. It’s going to be things that maybe you should never do. It will be things that maybe you, you should do them, but only after all the other work has done or could even be things that are worthwhile. It’s just, they’re not presently supportive of what you’re trying to accomplish.

Kenneth Vogt (13:02):
So let me give you some examples of that. If you found yourself, instead of doing your to do’s, you’re, you’re, you know, browsing the entertainment section of, of, of the paper and you’re catching up on the Kardashians, you know, is that really helping you with anything in your life? Is that, is that taking you anywhere forward? And I understand I’m not being critical of, of entertainment or, or, or of the Kardashians, if that, if that floats your boat power to you, but it has a place, but there are definitely things that, you know, they’re not good for you, you know what, you know, that’s happening, you know, it’s not beneficial. And you, when you look back at, you know, the last week or two, and think what keeps showing up, what do I keep doing? And you’re going to find a few of those things, perhaps like, wow, I really shouldn’t be doing that. I’ve got to stop turning on Netflix and getting a carton ice cream. I just got to stop that, you know? And so let me, let me put that to you, Nick, if you’re in the lab, in the lab, what can, can you think of anything that might be things you just plain should never do, but people do them,

Nick Oswald (14:21):
Not things that you should, well, obviously safety things you should never do, but actual things you should never do. I don’t think there’s anything, nothing that, I mean, it’s just general really. It’s kind of maybe not bringing, not getting into the habit of putting Netflix on the computer or this kind of idea of mixing in play for me, it would be mixing in pleasure with your working time or entertainment with your working time, because it’s a creep. And I remember, I know, you know, one of the things that I got drawn into at one stage in the lab was we would go for way too many coffee breaks. And so then, you know, that was kind of like a group thing. And then it became that it was just, it just fragmented the day too much. And it meant that you actually stayed at work longer, as well as long to get things done. So probably, you know, that’d be on the, not to do more than once a day or something less.

Kenneth Vogt (15:19):
Sure. Well, and that’s something you can do, you know, you can say, you can have on your to-do list, take one coffee break or take two coffee breaks when it’s an, and then you’re not to do list is don’t take the third coffee break, you know, so, you know, it’s always there and the idea of putting it down, it’s something you will continually see. It’ll be a continual reminder. Don’t take a third coffee break. Don’t take a third coffee break. Don’t take a third coffee break. You’ll keep noticing that. Now there are other things that might be there that, that you keep doing, but it’s not that they’re wrong or even bad, it’s that it’s not the time for them. So what you got to do is, again, on your not to do task is no Netflix until 7:00 PM or, you know, or know surfing the net until till after work or whatever it is you, you gotta say to yourself.

Kenneth Vogt (16:13):
And perhaps in, in your work, you need to be on the internet. You need to be looking for things. So maybe you need to have a not to do there is, is not to get off track and, and surf surf away from your actual work. And again, putting something down in writing that you will keep reading is good for you. Now, the examples that we’re giving you may not hit for you at all. They may not matter to you like that. Just don’t do that. You know, I’m never gonna, I’m never gonna put a movie on while I’m in the lab, that’s not gonna happen, you know? Okay, great. Other people are sitting there going, I hope nobody hears this is I would do that. You know, so, you know,

Nick Oswald (17:01):
Your kinda hit the nail on the head for me.

Kenneth Vogt (17:04):
Well, there you go.

Kenneth Vogt (17:06):
So, you know, whatever it turns out to be that is standing in the way. And now that’s some other things too, and you might be some things that you think, well, that’s not really the impact, but Hey, if you’re going to the vending machine every hour and loading up on snacks that are not, that are, are making you bogged down physically and are making you foggy mentally or if you’re trucking too much caffeine, you’re keep you keep wiring yourself up. It’s hard to, to, to hold a straight top of your head. You know, those are the things that you need to put down because they’re personal to you, you know what you need. And you know, this is your to-do list. This isn’t something you’re broadcasting to the world or telling anybody else. So, you know, you put, you put those things on there and if things need to have time restrictions, then put them on there. And it might be that you know, I never look at my email again after 9:00 AM. You know, if that’s a system that works for you, that you check your email first in the morning, but, but when, when the clock strikes nine, it’s over, you know great. Now a lot of people that’s dangerous. They, they can’t do email first thing. They really need to do email last thing. So they have to tell them, so it was okay until 4:00 PM. I don’t look at email.

Nick Oswald (18:18):
Okay. So I’ve mentioned this a few times in previous episodes and it’s kind of getting a bit worrying that it keeps coming back to this for me, but a great thing that I use for you know, for controlling these sort of things that happen inside the device or inside a computer, you know, like checking emails or watching Netflix or whatever are is the app freedom.io. And you know, again, basically something you can use to block on a time basis or on a permanent basis, any websites or apps or whatever that are sucking up your time. And the number of times, I’ve just created more time for myself by just realizing that something’s taken up way too much time. And either severely restricting the windows available will be used or completely removing it, I’m using the app is great. And, and that thing about, you know, freedom is, is quite an interesting thing because there’s nothing for me, what works really well is making it so that I can’t access email after six o’clock, for example, and the freedom you feel after, you know, when that you can’t physically can’t access the email after six o’clock is is, is amazing, actually.

Kenneth Vogt (19:32):
All right. And it gives you permission to set it, set it aside.

Nick Oswald (19:36):
Yeah. And, and kind of forces you to do it. So you don’t have that time. I mean, maybe that’s just my week. Well, it’s this whole thing about just making it so that you don’t have to rely on willpower all the time. And that’s what that I find the app useful for. So that’s yeah.

Kenneth Vogt (19:52):
And it also gives you permission. Not that sometimes people don’t, they feel like I can’t stop. I I’m a bad person. If I stop, well, here you go. You had to stop. So now there’s a third thing that could, that could be sneaking onto your list and should become a, not to do. And those are worthwhile things that it’s just not the right time for. So let’s say that you’ve got a future project that’s coming up. It’s not time to start yet. And you’re still engaged in, in your present project, but this future projects on your mind, and it’s exciting, and you’re, you’re really looking forward to getting into it. And so you find yourself doing tasks for that future project now, which is slowing down your present project, which is in turn, slowing down, you getting to your future project. You know, and it can be other things too.

Kenneth Vogt (20:46):
It could be other things are outside of it. Maybe you’re, you’re taking piano lessons. And, and so now you’re stopping in you’re, you’re, you’re practicing. Now that’s a good thing to do if you want to learn how to play piano, but it’s a bad thing to do if you needed to be doing something else related to your career. You know, so again, sometimes you get to put that on the list. I will not practice piano until after the kids are in bed. You know, whatever it is that you need to do to place that, that barrier in front of you. And it gives you this, by the way, gives you freedom. You are now free to do the things that you actually chose to do for today. You, you are, you are set free in a way that you might not have expected. Now, you don’t have the same, you know, in the moment, freedom, but it’s creating freedom for your future.

Kenneth Vogt (21:40):
You’re, you’re making the best possible decisions or the best possible choices that is so that you are now free to do the things you want to do with your, your life and with your career. And you will, if you keep allowing things to sneak their way to your, to do list, it’s going to keep slowing you down. Everything you really want is going to be delayed. Now, I know you don’t want that. So this is just a simple method that you can add onto your whatever to do list methodology you use. Add some, not to dos, make sure they’re the ones that you really need, and you’re going to find your day as more productive. So I think that’s a wrap for this right now.

Nick Oswald (22:26):
Well, that was a very short one Ken, getting faster. So I think that’s a really useful thing. And what occurred to me there was that you know, by freeing yourself up from what feels like the freedom in the moment of just doing whatever you want, you, you save yourself the stress and the, you know, the, the complete lack of freedom of being forced into, you know, meeting a deadline or something that, that you’ve gone to, or or something like that, you know, that where you just store a pull up the painful later, I feel

Kenneth Vogt (22:58):
Like

Nick Oswald (23:02):
We’re good at that one. So I’m getting better at that though. It was as bad as it used to be

Kenneth Vogt (23:06):
Good for you.

Nick Oswald (23:08):
Okay. So I think we’ll wrap that up for today. So that just leaves me to, before we go off is to remind you to visit the our Facebook page, facebook.com/thehappyscientistclub. And there you’ll find all sorts of different angles on the things that Ken, and I are talking about in these podcasts. And we’ll, we, you can, you can meet and discuss things with us there. So again, we’ll just thank you, Ken, for the, for the, another great insight. And we’ll see you in the next episode.

Kenneth Vogt (23:43):
All right. See ya.

Nick Oswald (23:44):
Thanks.

OUTRO (23:51):
The Happy Scientist is brought to you by Bitesize Bio, your mentor in the lab. Bitesize Bio features, thousands of articles and webinars contributed by hundreds of PhD scientists and scientific companies who freely offer their hard, won wisdom and solutions to the Bitesize Bio community.

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