Every Leader Needs a ‘Stop Doing’ List

The best strategic plan addresses what you can stop doing. That’s counterintuitive, especially for small businesses who grasp at any shiny object to bring in revenue. But it’s not until you simply focus that you gain the clarity and strength to leverage your time, talent, and treasure.

My ‘stop doing’ list became a lifeline in my business not long ago.

At the time, I was having a stress meltdown. No surprise, given the way I ran myself ragged. Spent way too many hours in front of the computer, the phone and other people. Not enough hours resting, exercising, trusting. Meltdowns feel like a mini-volcano: the anger, stress and frustration start to rise in my body, beginning somewhere in my stomach, like a lava flow about to erupt through my throat. I’m simultaneously pulled in all directions, yet too paralyzed to move in any one of them.

Then a colleague turned me on to Jim Collins and the quiet wisdom of “less is more.” Suddenly, I was whisked into the world of the “stop doing” list.

This is the basic premise.

You receive two phone calls:

  • The first says you’re about to receive $20 million dollars. No strings attached. No taxes. It’s enough money that most of us would never have to work again (if we chose not to). Whee!
  • The second phone call says you have only 10 years to live. No bargaining. No miracle cures. No extra wishes from a magic genie. Every moment has to count because now they are numbered.

Here’s the $64,000 question:

Assuming you choose to continue working, what would you stop doing?

Think about that for a minute. Most strategic plans are about what you would start doing–like a series of flimsy New Year’s resolutions for your company, most of which drop off after the first few weeks. This gets you to think about what you would stop doing. If you have only a finite number of moments, what would bring you the greatest joy, fulfillment, or positive impact on your communities? What among those things brings in the greatest revenue? Are you doing any of that now?

What would you like to stop doing?

Once you identify that, you can create a viable plan for letting it go.

(This may not happen overnight, so be prepared for a transition period).

What can you delegate? Automate? Or eliminate altogether? What is truly necessary?

Following the Meltdown of the Century, I took a good, hard look at my business. I asked: Which clients did my company serve best? How did they cross our path? What kinds of engagements did we enjoy most? Where did we see the most opportunity for growth? What was truly necessary to make that engine hum? (And not the Frankenstein’s monster of different initiatives we had in play).

Based on that, we pulled back, cut staff, retooled. Found new and different strategic partners. Used technology more effectively.  It let us lay the foundation for a stronger, more scalable company.

Looking at my business through the lens of the “Stop Doing” list makes it a lot easier to say “no.” We’re no longer pulled in 17 directions. With a streamlined focus, we can more efficiently design the systems for a business that, ultimately, won’t need me to run it.

And that puts me on the path to the most wonderful gift of all: freedom of choice in how I spend my time.

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq. is a small business champion. Award-winning attorney. Trusted thought leader. Podcast host. Bookworm. She’s been a passionate advocate for small businesses for over 20 years. Her consulting firm, Business Exponential, works with knowledge-based business owners who want to tame the chaos, improve profits, and build the company they always dreamed of. Find out more at www.BusinessExponential.com