How setting “anti-goals” can keep work from being miserable

Don’t hate your office.
Don’t hate your office.
Image: Reuters/Stefano Rellandini
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If you’re lucky, you have a job you love. But even if you do—and particularly if you do not—there will be elements about it you hate. Be it awful bosses, obnoxious coworkers, or brutal commutes, almost everyone’s workday has elements they can do without.

One strategy for improving the work experience is to identify the aspects you least like about it, and deliberately avoid them. By creating a list of  ”anti-goals,” you can develop strategies for eliminating them from your life, Andrew Wilkinson, a tech entrepreneur, wrote on Medium.

Wilkinson, founder of startups MetaLab and Flow, said he was inspired by Charlie Munger, the business partner of Warren Buffett, who talks about inversion, or reversing problems to solve them. “A lot of success in life and business comes from knowing what you want to avoid: early death, a bad marriage, etc.,” Munger said at an investors meeting in 2000.

Or as Buffett said, “Charlie and I have not learned how to solve difficult business problems. What we have learned is to avoid them.”

Wilkinson and his business partner Chris Sparling mapped out what their worst possible day might look like. The anti-goals included:

  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

Then they devised ways to avoid them:

  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 

Of course, it’s easier to set the terms of your work when you’re the boss. Even if you can’t avoid all of the unpleasantness at work, devising strategies to deliberately avoid what you can makes sense. Yet most people have more control over their workday than they realize.

And if your day is packed with anti-goals you can’t avoid, it might be time to set the positive goal of finding a new job.