Several years ago, I heard Jim Collins, author of Good To Great and Build To Last, give a speech to a couple thousand ambitious young leaders.

As an aside in his presentation, he paused and asked the audience:

"How many of you have a to do list?" Thousands of hands were earnestly raised. "That’s what I thought. You’re all productive, ambitious people. You’re getting things done. You’re intentionally moving through tasks and initiatives. So you have a to do list to help manage your days."

"But now let me also ask this question," he continued. "How many of you have a stop doing list? That’s a list of the activities or tasks that you regularly perform, but you have identified them as things you will intentionally stop doing."

No hands were raised. But we all realized the brilliance in the idea.

I Stopped
On the drive home, I developed a stop doing list. This wasn’t a vague list of new year’s resolutions. This was a list of specific activities — habits, really — that consume my time and talent — that I would commit myself to stop doing. Two examples:

Quicken. Quicken is a wonderful product. I had used it for years to identify how our household was spending money. Every credit card, every stock was kept up to date and accurate. I could calculate our net worth with one click of the mouse. But I stepped back and calculated how much time I was investing in keeping my finances in the computer. It was nearly an hour a week. That’s 52 hours a year. That’s a week’s vacation from work.

Then I had this vision: I was 120 years old on my deathbed. The nurse was plugging the last bottle of juice into my IV. And I have to ask her, "Can you give me a receipt for that? I need to plug it into Quicken."


I’m a big fan of Quicken. (If you are the marketing manager for Quicken, please contact me. We can talk about this.)

It’s good to have good household economics, to know where the money is being spent. But it doesn’t need to be down to the penny. And it can be sampled for one month every couple of years. That’s home economics. (Whatever happened to the class called Home Ec?)

The New York Times. I spend approximately 30 minutes a day reading the Times. That’s in addition to The Columbus Dispatch and other news. But, wait a minute — that’s 180 hours per year. That’s a lot of time. You might say, "The New York Times is worthy reading." And I would agree. But can I cut back to 90 hours, reading more selectively? I can. I have.

I’m a big fan of The New York Times. (If you are the marketing manager for The New York Times, please contact me. We can talk about this.)

I don’t want to die balancing my checkbook. And, right now, I’d rather live than count my shekels. So, I haven’t spent time in Quicken ever since Mr. Collins suggested a stop doing list.

However, I would be OK with dying while reading the Times. That would be a great way to go. (Plus, if I fall forward, I’ll land on the newspaper and am less likely to muss the carpet.)

When "No" Means "Yes"
Saying "No" is a beginning, not an end. It’s the beginning of greater focus and fewer distractions.

One of the best salespeople I’ve ever met always said, "The selling starts when the prospect says, ‘no.’ Because that’s when he is finally indicating that he’s actually listening. And that’s when you can start to overcome his objections. A continuous ‘Yes’ means, ‘I’m not listening.’"

I think this is true when I’m am talking to myself, too. When I go through life saying "yes" to mindlessness, I’m not living up to my fullest potential. I am likely to be doing things that aren’t important to me. Perhaps I’m serving others and neglecting myself.  (That, in the end, makes me less helpful to others.)

I need to ask myself, more often: "Do I really need to be doing this?" And: "Will I be glad on my deathbed that I spent even ten minutes of my life doing this?"

Corporations Are People, Too
Of course, all of this is true to corporations, too.

In marketing strategy at Young Isaac, we have to ask our clients: "Who are you?"

And, as we keep learning, companies can’t express who they are, unless they can express who they aren’t. In positioning, we call that The Law of Sacrifice. Tell me what you aren’t, so I can understand who you are.

A management consultant we know and like, Mike Figliuolo of thoughtLEADERS, LLC, describes the discipline in his blog here. Here’s an excerpt:

I can’t emphasize enough the need to stay focused and ignore distractions. Good strategic execution is about making smart choices and decisions. Not saying "no" means you’re either easily distracted, indecisive, or not willing to make the difficult calls. Give "no" a try sometime because by doing so you’re implicitly saying "yes" to the initiatives you’ve already chosen.

Again, to read his entire post, click here. (One of the things I like about Mike is that he let me talk him into blogging. He has a great voice. It’s worth reading.)

So, What’s Isn’t It Going To Be?
Can you do fewer things better? Sure you can.

If you do too many things not so well, you’re drowning in opportunity. That’s a hard way to go.

What aren’t you going to do anymore?