What Will You Stop Doing?

Are you an organizational leader drowning in a river of to-do lists? If so, perhaps it’s time to create a will-not-do list.

Leaders have no shortage of demands on their time and energy. As such, it’s easy to stick with “the known” – to continue following certain legacy habits even when they no longer benefit you, your employees or your overall firm.

There’s a reason why business leadership guru Marshall Goldsmith wrote a book titled “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” Because no matter your goal, navigating change and getting to that next level will absolutely require you to change and adapt. But “change” doesn’t always involve taking new actions; sometimes it’s simply about not doing things. Sometimes you add by subtracting.

So, as a New Year’s resolution, I decided to create a prioritized “stop list.” I blocked out some introspection time in my schedule and then carefully looked at the things I could quit doing that would have the biggest positive impact. In an effort to hold myself accountable and also provide some useful ideas to you, here’s an overview of my thought process and an update on how I’m doing thus far.

The No. 1 Item on My Stop List

After much consideration, I made this my top stop: I will stop influencing the outcome of conversations shortly after they begin.

Executives wield a lot of influence and their opinions can shape the way important discussions unfold. And I realized that by weighing in early on I was shifting the direction of group decisions too early in the game. At one point I believed this tendency helped speed things along. But now it seemed more like a mark of impatience than efficiency or decisiveness.

My hope is that by not piping up with my initial thoughts that others would voice their opinions more freely. That, in turn, would allow more ideas to germinate when brainstorming. In short, I set this goal to foster a more open and creative environment that could lead to more innovative solutions with employees contributing their best ideas.

Update: 5 weeks into this endeavor I think I’m doing pretty well. I have noticed a higher level of engagement by team members and more creative ideas are flowing. Shutting up has actually helped fuel better dialogue about things large and small.

That said, there’s still room for improvement. Old habits definitely die hard. I recently jumped into a group discussion but quickly realized I was the first to speak. I verbally hit the reset button by saying something like, “OK, so that’s my idea, but I want to take a step back and hear your thoughts.” And then I went silent. Long story short, while imperfect I’m making progress.

How to Start Your Stop List

OK, so zipping your mouth in meetings might not be the area where you want or need to work on. But surely there’s some behavior you could attempt to banish (or at least improve upon) that would help you make the highest and best use of your time. For instance, you might commit to one of these:

  • I will stop thinking about my next meeting/appointment/phone call and focus on being fully present.
  • I will stop having my time sucked up by social media.
  • I will stop avoiding crucial conversations I know I need to have.
  • I will stop complaining about things I can change.

As you think about potential targets, keep in mind that stopping something that seems small can actually yield big dividends. Also, don’t confine yourself to at-work activities. Everything is connected and what you do (or don’t do) in your off-hours can affect your on-the-job happiness and effectiveness. Here are some other things I had considered which might generate some additional ideas:

  • I stop checking my email first thing in the morning.
  • I will stop making excuses for missing exercise sessions.
  • I will stop eating after 7:30 p.m.

So, what will you stop doing? Feel free to email me at nathan.mersereau@planningalt.com and let me know.

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