Stopping Before Starting

lonely travellerWhether it’s strategic planning or personal planning, work always outstrips capacity.  And whether it’s corporate growth or personal improvement, there’s always a desire to do more.  But the more-with-less and it’s-never-good-enough paradigms have overfilled everyone’s plates, and there’s no room for more. There is no more time to double-book and there are no more resources to double-dip.  Though the growth-on-all-fronts will not stop, more is not the answer.

Growth objectives and BHAGs are everywhere and there are more than too many good ideas to try.  And with salary increases and incentive compensation tied to performance and the accountability movement liberally slathered over the organization, there’s immense pressure to do more. There’s so much pressure to do more and so little tolerance for a resource-constrained “No, we can’t do that.” the people that do the work no longer no longer respond truthfully to the growth edict.  They are tired of fighting for timelines driven by work content and project pipelines based on resources.  Instead, they say yes to more, knowing full well that no will come later in the form of slipped timelines, missed specifications and disgruntled teams.

Starting is easy, but starting requires resources.  And with all resources over-booked for the next three years, starting must start with stopping.  Here’s a rule for our environment of fixed resources: no new projects without stopping an existing one. Finishing is the best form of stopping, but mid-project cancellation is next best.  Stopping is much more difficult than starting because stopping breaks commitments, changes compensation and changes who has power and control.  But in the age of growth and accountability, stopping before starting is the only way.

Stopping doesn’t come easy, so it’s best to start small.  The best place to start stopping is your calendar.  Look out three weeks and add up the hours of your standing meetings.  Write that number down and divide by two.  That’s your stopping target.

For meetings you own, cancel all the status meetings.  Instead of the status meeting write short status updates.  For your non-status meetings, reduce their duration by half.  Write down the hours of meetings you stopped. For meetings you attend, stop attending all status meetings. (If there’s no decision to be made at the meeting, it’s a status meeting.)  Read the status updates sent out by the meeting owner.  Write down the hours of meetings you stopped attending and add it to the previous number.

If you run meetings 3 hours a week and attend others meetings 5 hours per week, that’s 8 hours of meetings, leaving 32 for work. If you hit your stopping target you free up 4 hours per week.  It doesn’t sound meaningful, but it is.  It’s actually a 12% increase in work time. [(4÷32) x 100% = 12.5%]

The next step is counter intuitive – for every hour you free up set up an hour of recurring meetings with yourself. (4 hours stopped, 4 hours started.)  And because these new meetings with yourself must be used for new work, 12% of your time must be spent doing new work

The stopping mindset doesn’t stop at meetings.  Allocate 30 minutes a week in one of your new meetings (you set the agenda for them) to figure how to stop more work.  Continue this process until you’ve freed up 20% of your time for new work.

More isn’t the answer.  Stopping is.

Image credit – Craig Sefton

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Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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