Updated: Nov 17, 2022
In life, productive individuals use to-do lists and even create routines and space for brainstorming new ideas and strategies. At the end of every meeting, good leaders ask the question, 'what are our next actions?' In the third quarter of every year, leaders at the highest level of organisations gather in boardrooms to discuss what they need to start next year to move forward towards their goals.
But what if individuals, leaders and organisations don't need more ideas, actions or projects to move forward? What if those very efforts to do more and start the next thing with great intentions could actually move them backwards? Do you really need to do more or to start something new? Or would you actually be more productive by asking the question, 'what should I stop doing?'
I think so, and here are four reasons why a stop doing list may be just what you need:
1. You're over-committed, not under-committed. Ever feel like you're not making as much progress as you'd like and assume it's because you're not doing enough? 'I should do more!' you insist when you review the year. But I simply don't believe that's true. Not for the most part. I am more inclined to believe that we make limited headway because we are over-committed, not under-committed. Maybe that project might not be getting off the ground, not for lack of effort, but because there are too many other projects going on at the same time?
2. You don't know what's actually most important. I can't stand the fact that the word priority means one thing that's more important than others, and yet we constantly talk about (myself included) what our top 'priorities' are. It just doesn't make sense! There is one thing that's most important, one priority, waiting for you to identify it in your life or schedule or for your team or organisation. Writing a stop doing list helps you to identify what's actually most important. It's not easy, but it is possible. And identifying the priority brings clarity and focus.
3. You feel like you do lots of things, but not very well. Why is it that when we feel stuck in an area we can revert to brainstorming something new to try or add to what we're already doing? I know, for me, when I get spread too thin the quality I bring to each project decreases. As a result, writing a stop doing list helps to eliminate some of those projects and naturally leads to higher quality performance in the projects that remain. I love the ideology of 'less but better'.
4. You're exaggerating the fallout and underestimating the benefit of stopping something. What is it that you're scared of stopping? Maybe it's because you've invested time, money or yourself into it and it hurts to let go? Or you're scared of letting someone else down? Maybe it's all you've ever done and you don't know what you would do instead? Well, without knowing your situation, let me suggest that perhaps you're exaggerating the fallout and underestimating the benefit? Maybe you'll create space to pursue the thing you know you're meant to do? Or you'll free up the resources to ramp up that project that just nails the core passion of you and your organisation? Maybe you'll finally start that course or pick up that book that's been in your peripheral for the longest time?
So, join me in putting down the to-do list or productivity app for a moment and picking up a notepad and pen. Cancel that meeting next week about the 15 new ideas the team has and schedule a meeting to come up with a stop doing list for your team. Email the rest of your executive team to suggest an offsite one month before your annual vision and strategy discussion where you commit to come back with a list of projects, initiatives or budgets to cut. It might sound harsh, but when you sigh in contentment from the feeling that you're actually making progress on what matters most ... it will be worth it.