The Stop Doing List

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Oct 08, 2011

"The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say 'no' to almost everything."
Warren Buffet

In the hustle and bustle of a busy life, I don't think Evie and I could survive without lists... all kinds of lists. We make lists when we go to the grocery store. We make lists when we are getting ready for an extended trip. We make lists when we have a busy day ahead with more things to do then we have hours to complete them. 

At my office I am constantly editing my "Things to Do" list. Sometimes it takes on the urgency of a day or two. Sometimes I frame a week around it. Sometimes I may even include an entire month or college semester or even an entire college year. 

Lists help us make sure we don't forget anything that needs to be done. Lists help us prioritize the sequence of what we need to do. We may choose to go from the most important to the least important or we may choose to go from the least important to the most important. Lists help us move methodically through our short term and long term responsibilities. 

Lists also help us with our long term goals. We have all heard of the "Bucket List," the list of things we want to do before we "kick the bucket." If we don't get specific about things we always wanted to do before we die, we may never get them done. Is there something you always dreamed of doing? If we write it down we know we will be more likely to do it. 

Years ago a friend challenged me to write a personal mission statement. I had often heard of institutional mission statements and their value but at no time had I ever considered doing it for myself. Some months later I decided I would try it. Over the years that has become one of the most important disciplines in my entire life. From the ever evolving personal mission statement come my short term and long term goals. Each year I review them and each year I reset them for the coming year and beyond. 

But one of the most challenging articles about lists that I have ever read was written by business leader guru, Jim Collins. His books Built to Last and Good to Great have made a profound impact on my life. Just recently I came across his article in USA Today 
(12/30/2003) titled "Best New Year's Resolution? A 'Stop Doing' List." Now there is a thought I had never had before. 

In the article Collins is challenged by a colleague who said, "I noticed, Jim, that you are a very undisciplined person." The observation startled him. But as he looked more closely at his life, he had to agree. Out of that brief exchange came a process of prioritization but also of elimination of unnecessary clutter in his life. 

He asked these questions: 1. What are you deeply passionate about? 2. What are you genetically encoded for - what activities do you feel just 'made to do?' 3. What makes economic sense - what can you make a living at? 

Collins' colleague also challenged him about "making your life a creative work of art." In his article he said, "A great piece of art is composed not just of what is in the final piece, but equally important, what is not. It is in the discipline to discard what does not fit - to cut out what might have already cost days or even years of effort - that distinguishes the truly exceptional artist and marks the ideal piece of work, be it a symphony, a novel, a painting, a company or, most important of all, a life." 

If I am ever going to finish everything on my "Things to Do" lists, I must also balance them with some "Stop Doing" lists. What a great insight! 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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