Create a “Stop Doing” List

Posted on by in Goals, Personal Development, Planning, Time Management

Do you ever get frustrated with feeling like there’s too much to do and not enough time to do it?  Well, if you have,  Jim Collins just might have a possible prescription for you.  As i mentioned last week, Amazon had a number of their favorite authors record something as a "bonus" for their 10 year anniversary.  In the case of Collins, he chose to expand on an article he had written back on December 30, 2003. 

The basic storyline is that early on in his twenties, Jim took a course in creativity with Rochelle Myers at Standford.  Afterward he stayed in touch with her.  As a young, energetic and driven individual, Jim regularly planned out his life.  He had his fifteen year BHAGs, then his five year goals, and then his top three one year goals that he used to guide his daily life.  Yet in the midst of all that organized planning, Rochelle said to him, "Jim, I notice that you are a rather undisciplined person."  Obviously, that shocked Jim.  However, she continued,  "Your genetic energy level enables your lack of discipline.  Instead of leading a disciplined life, you lead a busy life."

She then challenged him to what Jim now calls the 20-10 assignment. "It goes like this: Suppose you woke up tomorrow and received two phone calls. The first phone call tells you that you have inherited $20 million, no strings attached. The second tells you that you have an incurable and terminal disease, and you have no more than 10 years to live. What would you do differently, and, in particular, what would you stop doing?"
That assignment was the turning point in Jim’s life.  In fact, it’s what led him to make a right corner turn in his life and leave HP and take a job as a teacher/professor/researcher (since he is, as he says, "constitutionally unemployable"—I love that phrase)—and we are all the better for that choice. 

Since that time, the most important question Jim asks of himself each year is, "What do I need to stop doing?"
I love that question.  It has a very Pauline ring to it, doesn’t it?  For Paul regularly argues that for change to occur, you first need to "take off" the old and "put on" the new.  Or, to put it in more mathematical terminology, "You need to subtract, before you can add."  Anyway you put it, the question that Collins asks is a question all of us, as leaders, need to regularly ask, "What do I need to stop doing, that I’m currently doing, so that I can focus more of my time and energy on the things that matter most and will create the greatest impact over the course of my life and time?"

So how are you doing?  If you were to do an inventory of your time, what percentage of your day or time, would you say, is spent on doing those things that matter most?  That have the greatest impact?  That you’re passionate about? That fit your genetic encoding?  If, according to Collins, you’re spending less than 50% of your time in those areas, then your "Stop Doing" list, may be the most important list you could make this year—or today!  In fact, don’t go to bed tonight without making one up.

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