The Power of Anti-Goals

How I designed my perfect day by fixating on what I hate

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Last year, my business partner Chris and I sat down to think about what we wanted to achieve at Tiny. We thought up all sorts of lofty goals, but when we really got down to it our true goal was actually pretty simple. We wanted to do something many successful business people seem to struggle with: we wanted to actually enjoy our time at work.

Too many of our friends, while wealthier and more successful than us, had objectively shittier lives. Calendars packed. On planes all the time. Marriage in shambles. Not enough time with their kids. 4 hours sleep per night.

Subjectively: Awesome. Rich and successful. 
Objectively: Feeling like crap all the time.

We’ve always been contrarians and in many ways have managed to avoid the usual trappings of running a large company (meetings, bureaucracy, set work hours, etc). But over the years, we noticed that our days had started filling up with things we didn’t want to do.

We were living to the relentless beat of our calendars and feeling stretched. We were doing business with people we didn’t like and doing everything on a schedule which was dictated by other people’s needs.

Earlier this year, we decided to figure out how we could make our days consistently more enjoyable. To get there, we used a little trick that we learned from Warren Buffet’s business partner, Charlie Munger, who is fond of saying “tell me where I’m going to die, so I’ll never go there.”

He’s talking about inversion, the idea that problems are often best solved when they are reversed. That it’s often easier to think about what you don’t want than what you do. In his own words:

“Problems frequently get easier if you turn them around in reverse. In other words, if you want to help India, the question you should ask is not ‘how can I help India,’ it’s ‘what is doing the worst damage in India and how do I avoid it?”
“A lot of success in life and business comes from knowing what you want to avoid: early death, a bad marriage, etc.”

So, instead of thinking through what we wanted our perfect day to look like, we thought about the worst day imaginable and how to avoid it. We inverted and came up with what we call Anti-Goals.

Our worst possible day looked like this:

  1. Full of long meetings
  2. A packed calendar
  3. Dealing with people we don’t like or trust
  4. Owing people things / not being in control / obligations
  5. Having to be at the office
  6. Travel
  7. Tired

Working backwards from there, we made this set of Anti-Goals:

  1. Never schedule an in-person meeting when it can otherwise be accomplished via email or phone (or not at all)
  2. No more than 2 hours of scheduled time per day
  3. No business or obligations with people we don’t like—even just a slight bad vibe and it’s a hard no
  4. Never give up voting control of our businesses, no favors from people who could need something from us (ensure the rule of reciprocity doesn’t kick in)
  5. Work from a cafe across from a beautiful park where we can come and go as we please with nobody to bother us
  6. Video conference or pay for people to come visit us
  7. Never schedule morning meetings, sleep in when needed

Problem solved.

Of course, we still have the odd unavoidable crappy day, but these simple Anti-Goals have made our lives immeasurably better by setting an Anti-Goal instead of a goal. Try it sometime, it’s insanely simple and strangely powerful.

“It is remarkable how much long-term advantage we have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.”
Charlie Munger