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Do More by Doing Less

I recently read the book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't by Jim Collins. The book is the outcome of a simple question: how can a good or even mediocre company achieve enduring greatness? A research team worked for five years to answer this question, and Good to Great provides the results of this analysis: the key factors that determine greatness. I was impressed with the book, and recommend it to anyone in management.

While the research for this book was performed on larger, publicly traded corporations, I believe the same principles apply to smaller companies, non-profit organizations, and even to each of us as individuals. One factor of greatness I found particularly interesting was the concept of a "Stop Doing" list. To quote the book:
"Most of us lead busy but undisciplined lives. We have ever-expanding 'to do' lists, trying to build momentum by doing, doing, doing - and doing more. And it rarely works. Those who built the good-to-great companies, however, made as much use of 'stop doing' lists as 'to do' lists. They displayed a remarkable discipline to unplug all sorts of extraneous junk." (page 139, Good to Great)

This quote resonated with me. Several months ago, I implemented a new organizational system (see my article Getting Things Done for the details), which improved my ability to manage my tasks - my 'to do' lists. I found myself becoming more aware of everything that was on these lists. I realized that I was great at generating ideas for tasks to do, but I would automatically add these ideas to the appropriate 'to do' list. As a result I would become busier, yet accomplish less of what I really wanted to do. The solution slowly crept into my awareness and then finally crystallized when I read the above quote: I need to do less in order to do more.

In order to make a 'stop doing' list, you must have a clear, focused goal of what it is you do want to do. Then to actually stop doing the items on the list requires discipline, as the quote above states. Clear goals and a culture of discipline are two of the other distinguishing factors of greatness discussed in the book. These need to be in place before a 'stop doing' list will work.

So here's an assignment: stop reading and take two minutes to think of one activity in your life that you can do without, then commit to not doing that activity for 30 days.

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