Why You Need A “Stop Doing” List

They say quitters never win, and winners never quit. But that statement really depends on what you’re quitting and why. Quitting smoking, for example, is a great idea.

What about quitting a volunteer position, professional commitment or even a friendship? The sad fact is that all sorts of obligations can linger past the point where the activity is interesting or of value. It’s hard to stop doing stuff, so instead of pruning “busyness” out of our lives, too often we fill up our schedules like we fill up our attics.

We can’t climb to our full potential when so many unfulfilling tasks, obligations, and even relationships are dragging us down.

That’s why every year I evaluate my obligations, focus on what’s most important to me and create a “stop doing” list. This amazing exercise really frees up time for reflection and long-term planning, the very activities most likely to propel your life — and your business — forward.

Here are five tips for creating your own “stop doing” list.

1. Have a firm grasp of your core values.

The easiest way to know what to stop doing is to get clarity on your core values. Then, begin your stop-doing list by cutting out activities that don’t support your values. Typically, such activities will just not feel productive or inspiring to you.

Personally, I am driven to find a better way to do things. I therefore prefer to work with smaller organizations where I can apply my experience to drive improvement. I tend to avoid projects that are mired in politics, ones where the organization is not likely to improve, or where involvement requires a lot of meetings and formal processes.

If you want clarity on core values, check out my new course on the topic, available on-demand now.

2. Develop 10-year, five-year and one-year plans — in that order.

Before you can set priorities for the short term, you must understand where you are going in the long term. A 10-year plan might seem ambitious, but that big-picture thinking will help you to set midterm goals and, in turn, determine what you need to do this year to progress toward your vision.

For example, a few years ago I began pulling back from many of the operational functions I once oversaw in my company, in order to focus on areas of higher value activities. As a result, I cut out about 70 percent of the meetings I used to join and everyone is better off for it.

3. Learn from the Pareto Principle.

The Pareto Principle holds that 80 percent of results come from 20 percent of effort. That means you are probably spending 80 percent of your time not accomplishing much.

Use this knowledge to refocus your schedule. You can populate your “stop doing” list from the 80 percent area and concentrate on the effort that is bringing real results.

For example, chances are high that 80 percent of your customers are driving 20 percent of revenue but taking the lion’s share of your time. Shifting your energy to the top-performing 20 percent will have a major impact on your bottom line.

4. Resist energy drains.

You only have so much energy. If your primary motivation for seeing certain people is a sense of obligation or guilt, this is not a wise use of time. As self-development expert Dandapani puts it, some people are “energy vampires” who will drain your energy as well as your time. Watch out for them.

Know the people and activities in life who bring you energy and prioritize spending time with them. You will feel completely different after spending even a few minutes with someone or something that gives you energy rather than drains it.

5. Determine the return on investment for your to-do list.

Every item on your to-do list can be thought of as having a return on investment — whether that be in emotional or financial capital. If your task can be delegated, and that time is better allocated to more value-aligned endeavors, it’s probably a good candidate for your “stop doing” list.

It can be hard to stop doing. We live in a culture where being “busy” is often equated with being important and productive, so it’s easy to mistake motion for action. But if you aren’t making progress toward your long-term goals, you’re really just spinning your wheels.

By keeping my “stop doing” list in focus, I find I can reach my goals while spending more time doing what I love.

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