Last week, Royal Dutch Shell abandoned a 9-year, $7 billion effort to find oil in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea. The decision was made in the face of tumbling oil prices and unrelenting pressure from environmental groups. The decisions you and I make are probably not of this magnitude, but in our world, no less important.

Think about the decisions you make: to enter a new market, to launch a new product, to embark on an unproven strategy, to hire a staff member, or to let one go. All of these decisions have consequences. However, some of the most important decisions you’ll ever make are the ones to stop doing something.

The Stop Doing List is an idea introduced to the world by Peter Drucker (He called it “Planned Abandonment”) and popularized by Jim Collins. The idea is both simple and complex at the same time…

The simple part – Stop doing the activities that add little or no value or those activities requiring time and energy that could be redeployed to more value-added activities.

The complex part – Trying to decide what to stop doing, overcoming the emotional attachment to current work and mustering the courage to make the call.

[tweet_box design=”default”]There are no great leaders without great courage.[/tweet_box]

How do you decide what to stop doing? Here are four questions that may help:

What is the real value of the activity?

Sometimes this is a hard question to answer. However, my assumption is the work we do, and the activities of our organizations, should add value. If there is no value, why would we do it? What you may discover is that as the world changes, what once added value may add less today than in the past. Regardless, the first step is to assess CURRENT value. At this point, you can have a more thoughtful conversation about value-adding alternatives.

What are alternative uses for the time and resources?

This is the fun part of the process. Let’s say you are evaluating something you do that requires four hours a week of your time. Make a list of alternate uses for those four hours. Let your imagination run wild. On a macro level, what could your organization do with the dollars and people currently assigned to a major project if it were discontinued?

What are you afraid will happen if you stop the current work?

This question concerning our fear is not intended to surface our own frailty as much as it is to help us see reality more clearly. Confronting our fears is rarely fun but often profitable. One popular fear associated with stopping work is the reaction from others. My experience is when we discontinue activities we perceive to have little value or impact, many will actually agree with our decision. Many times our fears are unfounded and the risk of stopping a program or activity is minimal.

What are the likely benefits, tangible and emotional, for stopping the work?

The answer to this question requires judgment on the part of the leader. You know as well as I do, the future is a tenuous place. There are no guarantees our actions will have the desired effect. This lack of certainty cannot discourage or dissuade us. Leaders are paid to see the unseen. What benefits do you believe you will accrue if you stop doing the work in question? Do your homework, look at the data, seek counsel from trusted advisors and then trust your gut.

There are no great leaders without great courage. A Stop Doing List is an outstanding tool to strengthen our courage and our leadership.[GLS_Shield]

What’s on your Stop Doing List for 2016?

Author: Mark Miller

Mark is a business leader, author, communicator, photographer, husband, and father. He spends his time helping leaders grow.