The Business Case for the Stop Doing List

Are you a “to-do” list person?

For each leader reaching for higher levels of productivity and accomplishment, a “start doing” list can be a friendly companion or a demanding task master – sometimes both at the same time. But what about a “stop doing” list?

Whether you have an aggressive new initiative or are simply looking to streamline your effectiveness, a stop doing list may be the very thing you need. Here are six reasons why.

Time Scarcity

The most scarce resource anyone possesses is time. Everyone has the same amount of hours in a day. Once used, they can never be replaced. Each individual activity you engage in requires your time. Adding anything to your stop doing list immediately frees up time that can be invested elsewhere.

New Initiatives

When new opportunities present themselves, high achievers have a tendency to cram them on top of everything they are already working on. The result? Sometimes they succeed unscathed. Other times, this tactic adds stress and decreases the level of attention given across the board. Quality suffers. Finally, after a few less than stellar experiences, they begin to drag their feet when new opportunities present themselves.

A healthy stop doing list can break this cycle. New initiatives present the opportunity to let old ones go.

Add Value

Peter Drucker famously said, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” A stop doing list provides the opportunity to distinguish between which activities add value and which ones simply take time.


As innovation in technology continues to change how tasks are completed, there is a very realistic chance that what required human activity yesterday can be automated today. Being late to adapt can significantly set back your effectiveness, individually and organizationally. The best stop doing lists have a bias for automation.


Just because you stop doing a task shouldn’t mean it doesn’t get done. If you are a leader, a stop doing item could be a delegation opportunity for you and a growth opportunity for someone on your team. If your attention isn’t focused on the activities only you can perform, you may need to start a stop doing list.

Your Replacement

If you were fired today, what would your replacement continue to do? What would she stop doing? No worthwhile replacement picks up legacy tasks simply to fill time. If you have doubts that a reasonable replacement would continue a task, it may be a good candidate for your stop doing list.

The concept of a stop doing list can feel intimidating on the surface, but when used intentionally, it is one of the most freeing exercises any leader can complete. If you’re stressed, overwhelmed or unsatisfied with your performance, a stop doing list may be the breakthrough you need.

Nathan Magnuson is an executive leadership consultant, speaker and author of the books Stand Out! and Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to see the exciting ways Nathan is helping organizations and teams become more effective with Leadership-in-a-Box.