Create a STOP DOING List

April 23, 2016

From time to time, we all get overwhelmed with activities, and most of us turn to a “To Do” list to manage the priorities. There are several systems that help keep people organized and assist them in making the most of their time. In this article, I suggest that having a specific “Stop Doing” list can be just as helpful at managing time as having a “To Do” list.

Time is the most precious commodity we have. What makes something precious is comprised of two factors. The thing must be of intrinsic value to us and it must be scarce.

Diamonds and coal are chemically identical and both have intrinsic value to us, but diamonds are very hard to find, so their value is infinitely higher.

Time has value to us because it is all we have to live with, and nobody can get more than 24/7 each day. Therefore, time has extremely high value; it is both important and scarce.

The world serves up a huge smorgasbord of activities every day. I am sure that each person reading this article has a huge number of things to do today. Carving out a couple minutes to absorb this information means that something else is not going to get done.

We normally make decisions on our use of time thousands of times a day. Most of these decisions are unconscious. It becomes more critical to make the right decisions in times of peak load.

I am pretty sure you have not had a day this year in which you could just kick back and do whatever you wanted for the entire day. So we manage the time by prioritizing the things we must do or want to do.

Rarely do we take an objective look at the time-burning habits that are not really logical. Sometimes we do these by rote and don’t think about it. An example of this might be putting on makeup. For me, I have a habit of checking my blood pressure ten times in a row each morning and average the numbers to arrive at a data point for today. One time would probably be sufficient.

If we had a system of bringing our time-consuming habits up for conscious decision often, we might be able to purge several things off our list. It is a gut reaction to sort the things we want to do in terms of priority, but it takes specific effort to focus on time wasters and cull out the ones we can live without.

In the past month I joined our local Rotary Organization. It has been on my agenda to get involved in Rotary for a long time because I believe in their work, and it is in my DNA from my father and great uncle.

The problem is that Rotary takes a lot of time if you are going to be fully involved, so before joining, I stepped off a Board of Directors that I had been active on for the past decade. I have a firm rule not to serve on more than three boards at any time. So now I am on two boards and have added Rotary. Time will tell if I can handle that load with my regular business demands, teaching, and personal life.

Try this experiment. Sit down in a quiet place and try to identify at least 10 things you could stop doing this week. If you find the exercise helpful, you might want to make a date with yourself a couple times a year to hone your “Stop Doing” list. You will have a wonderful feeling of really managing the most important commodity in your life: your time.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Your “Stop Doing” List

August 16, 2014

BankruptFrom time to time, we all get overwhelmed with activities, and most of us turn to a “To Do” list to manage the priorities. There are several systems that help keep people organized and assist them on making the most of their time.

In this article, I suggest that having a specific “Stop Doing” list can be just as helpful at managing time as having a “To Do” list.

Time is Precious

Time is the most precious commodity we have. What makes something precious is comprised of two factors.

The thing must be of intrinsic value to us and it must be scarce. Diamonds and coal are chemically identical and both have intrinsic value to us, but diamonds are very difficult to find, so their value is infinitely higher.

Time has value to us because it is all we have to live with, and nobody can get more than 24/7 each day. Therefore, time has extremely high value: it is both important and scarce.

Numbers Game

Most professionals are in a perpetual state of overload. That is because in the pressure cooker of day to day activities, more items come onto the plate than can possibly be accomplished.

If you doubt that, just take a look at your e-mail inbox. In every meeting there are new action items to be accomplished and precious little time to do them. It is a habitual problem that leads to burnout and even death due to stress.

People watch the incoming texts and activities closely trying to manage the load. The common refrain is “I have no time to deal with that now.” They often forget to cull out the non-essential things that take up their time. Anything taken off the plate is a reason to celebrate.

Modeling Prioritization

Individuals who focus on stopping things show others that time utilization needs to be managed from both ends. Leaders are used to making tough decisions with budgets and other resources, but they sometimes fail to see how their most precious resource (their own time) is being squandered.

Those who manage time actively and vocally send a clear message to the entire organization that seconds really do count.

10 Tips to manage your “Stop Doing” List

1. Keep track of what you are doing.

If you have a mechanism to actually see how your time is being spent, you can manage it better. I like to think of colors.

When I am doing “green” things, it means I am using my time wisely. “Yellow” things have marginal value, and “red” items are really wasting my precious time. Just keep looking for the color. It can be a kind of game as you sit in a meeting and watch the air turn from green to red before your eyes.

2. Delegate more!

This has a dual benefit because often people are eager to help out if only given the chance. There is always some risk when delegating, but the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Learn the skill of good delegation and press yourself to apply it more than you currently do.

3. Finish things.

Don’t dabble in work. Be crisp with completing assignments so your inbox is clear for new items.

When something is completed, celebrate for a second because you now have that off the plate.

4. Brainstorm

Spend some brainstorming time with your inner circle cleaning house of useless activities.

5. Create a “Sacred Cow Pasture.”

This is a visual board where you post paradigms that have been broken where you no longer have to do what used to take up your time. It is refreshing to fill up a “Sacred Cow Pasture.”

Everybody benefits! For example it takes courage to admit we no longer need the quality report because our systems have reached a higher standard.

How about doing away with the “cost” meeting and substitute an efficient dashboard? The possibilities are endless.

6. Challenge everything.

Try a zero based approach to your day where you come in as if you were a new employee. Ask “why am I doing this and what could be done to eliminate the need for it.”

7. Handle your time like a budget.

Think of your task list as a fixed number of things – like say 50 things. In order to make room for a new activity, you must take at least one old activity off your prior list.

8. Reward people who bring up ideas for your “Stop Doing” list.

If you reinforce this behavior, you not only help yourself, you help the entire organization because everyone will get the bug to eliminate marginal activities.

9. Go on a “Safari”

Hunt down and kill at least 3 unnecessary activities. It can be a fun activity once you get into it.

10. Go away!

If you are not there to do things, they will get done just fine most of the time. Go out and visit some customers or attend a seminar for your own development.

While you are away, have an administrative person keep track of the things that you would have done if you were there. These are all items you can challenge in the future.

Your “Stop Doing” list is as important as your “To Do” list. Don’t neglect it.


Load Rage

May 1, 2011

As organizations wrestle with global competition and economic cycles, the pressure on productivity is more acute each year. I do not see an end to the pressure to accomplish more work with less. There comes a point when leaders ask people to stretch beyond their elastic limit, and they burn out. As the constant requests for more work with fewer resources starts to take a physical toll on the health of workers at all levels, people become justifiably angry. I see evidence of what I call “load rage” in nearly every organization in which I work.

An interesting flip side of this problem is the observation made by many researchers that working human beings generally operate at only a fraction of their true capability. I have read estimates of organizations extracting on average something like 30-50% of the inherent capability in the workforce; some estimates are even lower. It would be impossible for anyone to continually operate at 100% of capacity because that would require the adrenal glands to secrete a constant stream or adrenaline that would kill the person. However, if the estimates of typical capacity used are accurate, there is still a lot of upside in people, so why the “load rage”?

The reason is that we base our perception of how hard we are working at any moment on a sliding scale. We base our feelings of load on how busy we are, not on what percentage of our capacity is being consumed. Many of our activities are simply traps that we invent because of habitual patterns in our daily work. We tolerate a multitude of inhibiting actions that steal seconds from our minutes and minutes from our hours. We excuse these diversions as not being very important, but in reality they are exceedingly relevant to our output and to our stress level. Let me cite a few examples.

Look at the inbox of your e-mail account. If you are like most people there are more than a few notes waiting for your attention. We have all kinds of reasons (really rationalizations) for not keeping our inbox totally cleaned out each day. I will share that at this moment I have 5 “read” notes and no “unread” notes in my inbox, and it is driving me crazy. I need to get that down to zero within the hour, but right now I am consumed writing this article. If we are honest, it is inescapable that having more than 2-3 notes waiting attention will cause a few milliseconds of search time when we want to do anything on e-mail. That time is lost forever, and it cannot be replaced. We all know people who have maxed out the inbox capability and have literally thousands of e-mails to chew through. These people are drowning in a sea of time wasters just like a young adult with 20 credit cards is drowning in a sea of debt. It is inevitable.

You know at least a few people in your circle of friends or working comrades who spend a hefty chunk of their day going around lamenting how there is not enough time to do the work. Admit it – we all do this to some extent. Have you ever heard anyone say, “Looks like I have plenty of time and not much to do.” OK, old geezers in the home have this problem and so do young children who are dependent on mommy to think up things to keep them occupied. For most of us in the adult or working world, our time is the most scarce and precious commodity we have, yet we habitually squander it in tiny ways that add up to major stress for us. I suspect that even the most proficient time-management guru finds it possible to waste over 30% of his or her time on things that do not matter.

One healthy antidote, especially at work, is to have a “stop doing” list. Most people have a “to do” list, but you rarely see someone crossing things off a “don’t do” list. Think how liberating and refreshing it would be if each of us found an extra hour or two each day by just consciously deciding to stop doing things that do not matter. Whole groups can do this exercise and gain incredible productivity. The technique is called “work out,” where groups consciously redesign processes to take work out of the system. If you examine how you use your time today, I guarantee that if you are brutally honest you can find at least 2 hours of time you are wasting on busy work with no real purpose. Wow, two hours would be a gift for anyone.

Another technique is to really load up your schedule. You think that you are overworked now, but just imagine if you added 5 major new activities that had to be done on top of your present activities. That would feel insane, but you would find ways to cope. Then if you cut back to your current load next week, what seemed like an untenable burden a few weeks ago would feel like a cake walk. I can recall a time in the Fall of 2004 when I was teaching 11 different courses at the same time. That was in addition to writing a book and developing a leadership consulting practice. I will admit that was a little over the top, but did I ever enjoy the load when I cut it back to only three courses at a time.

Another huge time burner is conflict. We spend more time than we realize trying to manage others so our world is as close to what we want as possible. When things are out of kilter, we can spend hours of time on the phone or e-mail negotiating with others in a political struggle to get them to think more like us. The typical thought pattern going through the mind during these times is “why can’t you be more like me.” The energy and time to have these discussions can really eat up the clock time during the day.

Dither is another issue for many of us. I already shared that while I am writing this paper, I am really procrastinating from opening up and dealing with the 5 notes in my inbox (oops – now 6) (now 7). I typically get between 100-150 e-mails a day. There are other things I must do today, but I am having fun writing this paper, so the “work” is getting pushed back. I will pay for this indulgence later, but at least I do recognize what I am doing here. The point is that most of the time that we lose is unconscious. We have all figured out how to justify the time wasters in our lives, and we still complain that there are not enough hours in the day.

There is no cure for this malaise. It is part of the human condition. I think it helps to remind ourselves that when we feel overloaded, particularly with work, it is really just a priority issue, and we honestly do have plenty of time to do everything with still some slack time to take a breath. If you do not agree, then I suspect you are in denial.

Now, I need to be excused to go clean out my inbox!