I am constantly amazed by people’s mentality – some people seem to have an infinite capacity for work. I don’t know about you, but my productivity tends to decline after about 27 hours per day! As CEOs and executives we are running a marathon, not a 100 yard dash, and we have to pace ourselves to make it to the finish line without collapsing.
We tend to add new tasks and priorities all the time, setting ourselves up for potential failure and burnout. I have written a lot about the criticality of setting and sticking to a finite number of priorities (3 to 5). But it seems that the current economic cycle has caused CEOs and executives to set priorities and then get dragged into all sorts of fire-fighting and crises that put them back into overload mode. We constantly need to have and demonstrate the discipline to realize that we all have finite capacities and that while we can sprint for short periods of time, we cannot continue at that pace forever, since we will do our organizations a disservice if we collapse.
So why don’t executives, and for that matter all employees, develop “stop doing” lists at least annually? Every one of us needs to think not just about all the additional things we need to do and how much more time it will take out of our already overloaded day. We also need to realize that the way to find this additional time is by stopping doing certain things that won’t be missed or that we can do without. Such decisions don’t have to be forever but based on our current set of priorities and other stuff, for the time being that report, that activity, that meeting, that convention will have to be eliminated.
A recent Harvard Business Review article (The Acceleration Trap, April 2010) by Heike Bruch and Jochen I. Menges suggests a great way to start a stop doing list: “Regularly ask yourself, your managers and the whole company: “Which of our current activities would we start now if they weren’t already underway? Then eliminate all the others.”
We all know there are reports and activities that people expend significant time preparing or doing that if stopped, no one would ever miss! And what is the worst that can happen? If someone demonstrates a true need to continue the report or activity, then put it back on the list to continue. But my experience says that few activities will make the cut, and few reports have such significant and material value so killing them makes sense.
I recall one of the companies I led where we were implementing a new, major ERP system, and the IT Director had put out a survey asking users for the reports they would need from the new system. Of course, users chose all the existing reports plus all the new ones they could dream of ever needing requiring hours of coding effort by developers. My answer was to change the focus, and we recrafted the question: what are the three reports each department must have and cannot live without and those will be created for you. It was amazing which critical few reports people chose, and it reduced the programming effort by about 75%!
So what is on your stop doing list?