Not Enough Time? Claim Some Back With This Simple Activity

One of the greatest productivity hacks is to stop doing things that no longer matter. We all have the same 24 hours available. If you want more time for the things that matter, stop spending your most precious resource (time) on things that don’t matter.

The activity

This weekend, spend 20 minutes to detach and make a stop doing list. Look at the calendar, your list of projects or commitments, and your tasks. Follow these three steps: 1) Ask what you can stop doing 2) Decide and make a list 3) Stop doing those things You might be able to stop some things immediately. Others might take some time, for example, you may need to delegate to other people.

Some common candidates for your stop doing list:

  • Recurring meetings that happen just because they always have

  • Meetings that drag on too long

  • Hour-long meetings that could be 30 or even 15 mins

  • Commitments you have (work or personal) which you are no longer actually committed to if you were honest with yourself

  • Mindless scrolling on social media or email snacking

  • Emails/newsletters that no longer serve you

Your meeting doesn’t need to be an hour long just because that is your calendar’s default setting.

What an experiment with monkeys can teach us about human behaviour

Human beings are creatures of habit. We often keep doing the same thing over and over, just because it’s the way it has always been done.

Are we that different from monkeys? Gary Hamel and CK Prahalad, famous business academics during the 90s, included in their book Competing for the Future the story of four monkeys and a ladder. They report:

“4 monkeys in a room. In the center of the room is a tall pole with a bunch of bananas suspended from the top. One of the four monkeys scampers up the pole and grabs the bananas. Just as he does, he is hit with a torrent of cold water from an overhead shower. He runs like hell back down the pole without the bananas. Eventually, the other three try it with the same outcome. Finally, they just sit and don’t even try again. To hell with the damn bananas. But then, they remove one of the four monkeys and replace him with a new one. The new monkey enters the room, spots the bananas, and decides to go for it. Just as he is about to scamper up the pole, the other three reach out and drag him back down. After a while, he gets the message. There is something wrong, bad or evil that happens if you go after those bananas. So, they kept replacing an existing monkey with a new one and each time, none of the new monkeys ever made it to the top. They each got the same message. Don’t climb that pole. None of them knew exactly why they shouldn’t climb the pole, they just knew not to. They all respected the well-established precedent. EVEN AFTER THE SHOWER WAS REMOVED!”

While the source was never identified to confirm that this was an actual experiment (which never would happen today), it does illustrate the point that we can tend to follow traditions mindlessly.

The most powerful list you might ever have

Most people I know are exhausted and overcommitted. It doesn’t have to be that way forever. Create a list called Someday. Give yourself permission to say no, or no not right now. Put all kinds of things on there to get them off your mind. I’ve kept both personal and executive team someday lists for years. It’s very powerful. The result is you have more time to focus on what really matters, and all it took was taking a little bit of time to detach and decide to stop doing some things.

What's one thing you can put in your stop doing list?

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