Stop Doing That

Ever since mid-August I have been thinking about what to stop doing. It is easy to write about eliminating low value asks from your work day but in practice it is really quite difficult. Does personally stopping something mean that I am passing that work to another? If stopping something is not delegating, but rather truly ending the service provided, how do I make a rational decision aboutwhat to NOT do.

Law librarians reading this will all know the sick feeling when someone asks for that textbook that they deselected, eliminated from the collection, recycled, tossed, weeded, in all otherways made unavailable. For some reason it always happens that a book that hasn’t moved for a decade is urgently needed within 3 months of chucking it. I am not talking about stopping in the context of collecting though, rather stopping a service.

In working through the problem I am trying out an acronym of STOP to help decision making about, well, stopping.

START with why you began the service – if it wasn’t you who began the service or process, ask questions – lots of questions, about the history of the task. Understand why you are doing what you are doing. How does your piece of regular work fit into the flow of your organization.

TREAT the service unemotionally – services aren’t your children. Just because you started something that brought you accolades doesn’t mean it is still needed. This is the hardest step for me as I take pride in all my work. Though I have built my career by working every day to make myself completely dispensable (which was intended to make me indispensable), it is still very difficult for me to detach my ‘self’ from ‘my’ work. There is no I in a process even when there is an inflated sense of ownership over it. Apparently I also enjoy sharing my character flaws with Slawyers!

OPEN your mind to the idea that nothing remains essential – we like to think that all of our work is crucial, and each piece was at the time we started it or we wouldn’t have begun. Time passes – yesterday’s solution may not be today’s problem, but it also may not be today’s solution. The problem we were solving with the work may no longer be a problem. If everything we did was essential we would have no capacity for change.

PUT yourself in the customer’s shoes – what is the value that they place on the service. Our raison d’ĂȘtre is to serve customers, be they internal to our organization, external, or both. Is the thing that you are considering still valuable to your customer? Do not assume anything. Either ask the question directly or infer the answer by analyzing a pattern. For example, the question, “Is this email newsletter ever opened?” could be analyzed by throwing a read receipt on the email for a month to evaluate.

It is important to make room for new things that will delight your customers and respond to today’s needs. What are you going to stop doing?


  1. Funny that you should write this now. This summer I (finally) stopped collecting print newspapers. In the 4 years I’ve been at this firm, I’ve only been asked for an old copy twice, and both times it was for personal reasons. I figure if I can’t find it online, I can go to the public library where they archive it. It’s a small thing, but it’s a step in the right direction.