2 min read

How to use anti-goals

To figure out where you want to go, start with the last place you want to end up.
How to use anti-goals

To figure out where you want to go, start with the last place you want to end up.

I've never been lucky enough to know where I want to be or do, exactly. I have a lot of dreams that take me in a lot of potential directions.

Dreams promise something better, but they tend to lack definition around their edges. That's part of the appeal, and why it can be such a seductive waste of time to continuously outline and plan the shape of your dreams.

I've never been clear on what I want to do, exactly. But I've always been intensely aware of what I dislike. And that's proven to be a better north star than any of the many diverse dreams I ever had.

Anti-goals are personal rules informed by what you want to avoid. Instead of orienting by where you want to go, you figure out the last place you want to end up.

As a child, I disliked the 60-minute car ride I had to take between divorced parents so much that I set my first set of anti-goals at 8-years-old:

  1. Never have a job that requires you to drive more than 15 minutes to work
  2. Never get married

These anti-goals still guide my approach today.

Think of anti-goals as your compass that points to your true north. (And remember, compass needle points north because of forces from the south pole.)

Use anti-goals to construct your perfect day

The first time I read the term "anti-goal," it was in this post by Andrew Wilkinson. A founder, investor, and client, Andrew used this example to construct his businesses "anti-goals," or "operating rules that tend to start with no or never."

  1. List the parts of your worst day (too many meetings, packed calendar, dealing with jerks, no outdoor time, etc.)
  2. Make goals to avoid those things (no more than 2 hours of scheduled time per day, no working with assholes, never work inside if outside is an option, etc.)

I construct my anti-goals every quarter. Here are my worst days and the anti-goals they resulted in.

My worst days

  • Lots of meetings
  • Packed calendar
  • Assholes or strangers
  • Obligations
  • Feel tired early
  • Feel aimless
  • Feel unaccomplished
  • Dread of evening errand

My Anti-Goals

  1. Never have more than three key things to do each day
  2. Never schedule a meeting when it can be accomplished via email or phone (or not at all)
  3. No more than 2 hours of scheduled time per day
  4. No business or obligations with people I don’t like or trust
  5. Never give up ownership without my value understood and reciprocated.
  6. Never do a task later that takes less than two minutes to do now.
  7. Never schedule evening meetings.
  8. Never end a day without recording wins and things to be thankful for.
  9. No drugs or alcohol until work is done for the day.