“Stop Doing” Lists

I attended a two-day induction course last week. Whilst there were many useful “takeaways”, good ideas, common sense approaches, etc. the course leader presented us with a book: Good to Great by Jim Collins.

Naturally I skimmed through the table of contents, then skimmed through each chapter. One thing that I picked up from this brief read was the need for “Stop Doing” lists. These are the opposite of “To do” lists.

Since I am a great believer in lists, particularly To Do lists, I figured that Stop Doing lists deserve more of my time. We all spend a lot of time either floundering or procrastinating – we prioritise tasks based on their level of enjoyment (best tasks first), their ease of completion (low value tasks, completed before high value tasks that require longer to complete), etc.

In amongst all of the tasks that we “do”, there are activities that are of high importance (perhaps high value), those that are middle of the road and those that are of low importance (low value).

Q. How much time and effort are you putting in to service those low importance tasks? Probably more than you would like. And how much value are they bringing you?
A. Probably not enough.

Q. Are those low importance tasks impacting the service you provide to the other higher importance tasks?
A. It’s very likely that it is.

Q. If you stopped doing the low importance tasks, would the service you could deliver to the high importance tasks improve?
A. A resounding yes.

Earlier in this post, I mentioned floundering. It’s perhaps a little strong, what I mean by its use is to fumble or bumble about whilst endeavouring to complete a task. Personally, I notice that I flounder whilst trying to get out of the house in the morning (to go to work). Floundering manifests itself in many ways, in my case, I find myself making second and third trips back up the stairs – when I had previously thought that I my tasks/work upstairs was complete. It’s a petty example, but such floundering has major knock-on effects, the extra trip upstairs can mean missing a particular train, which in turn delays getting to the office by 15 minutes…

The same effect can be noticed during day-to-day project work. I’m sure that we’re all guilty of revisiting what we thought were completed tasks…or perhaps losing the focus slightly then engaging in either re-work or dilly-dallying to get things going again. I know that I find myself doing this, sometimes, I can’t be alone…and given the number of books that have been written about getting things done, I’m pretty sure that it’s not just me!

How can I identify the “stop doing” items?
I’ve seen people use the “red dot” technique, whereby they tag each work item or task with a red dot each and every time they touch it. Obviously the more often an item is touched, the more it looks like it has measles. However, whilst that method will identify some items, it won’t help you identify the low priority, low importance items, for it is these that you should be homing in on and weeding out. Everybody has a different definition of low priority, low importance, for me I’m trying to do fewer activities that impede my progress on higher value projects/items. This involves me being ruthless with any task that I believe is a time-waster, if there’s no value in it for me, it going on to the Stop Doing list.

In a nutshell, Stop Doing lists revolve around doing less of what adds little value (or little profit) to your activities whether business or personal. Instead, we should focus on doing more of those items that add more value (or more profit). By virtue of doing less (or no) low value items, we are free to spend more time concentrating on the higher value items. Those activities that we do spend time on will have more time spent on them, thus as a job, it should be done that bit better.

Food for thought…

Good To Great is also available as an audio CD.