It’s a day like any other at her credit union. Melissa gets to her corner office an hour before everyone else to check messages, review the day’s calendar and get started on her too-much-to-do list. Focused on how she’ll get it all done, she fails to notice that her team members have started trickling in.

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In a few minutes, she’ll give them a half smile and a quick “good morning” as she rushes past them all gathered at the coffee pot on her way to the first of today’s three meetings.

Like many executives (and many others in the organization), Melissa will spend a good part of her day doing things she should have stopped doing a long time ago. Some of them she probably shouldn’t have started doing in the first place.

Sound familiar?

I think we can all agree that a small part of her (or maybe even a big part) represents every one of us and our decision to either start doing things or continue doing things that don’t matter to the success of our organization.

The truth is that they only serve to limit our effectiveness in whatever position we hold.

As leaders, we all accumulate things that we do, including things we never should never have started doing and things we should have given up long ago. We hold on to them for various reasons. Some because we like to do them, others because we are good at them, and others because we are too lazy to train someone else to do them. And sometimes we keep doing them because it feeds our ego and makes us feel important, or we just feel like we can’t say no.

It’s especially easy to fall into this trap when you go to work for a small credit union that grows significantly during your tenure. The things that needed to be done when you were a team of one or two don’t seem to leave your hands when you become a team of three, four or five.

That’s why you MUST to start saying no and ask yourself a question that truly can change your life: What should you stop doing so you have more time to do more of what matters?

One of my favorite exercises to use with strategic planning teams is the Stop Doing Brainstorm. It’s a tool that can and should be used by individuals as well, and I strongly encourage you to give it a try.

The context is simple. Brainstorm a list of things you should stop doing in your current position, without regard to how big or small the impact will be (and what other people will think).

It sounds simple, but the outcome is significant, because you start giving yourself permission to think seriously about whether all the things you do actually need to be done – by you or anyone.

It also plants the seed that it’s OK to stop doing certain things in order to make time for more important things.

There’s one caveat: The first time people do this exercise, they tend to focus on those tasks that seem to be the most insignificant and make the smallest impact.

That’s exactly the point. When you start examining those areas that frustrate you and get in the way of producing more significant results, you start to recognize how they keep you from focusing energy on more important things.

Here are some questions to help you dig deep and really focus on the big impact items that should be on your Stop Doing list:

  • What are you doing in your job today that you would not start doing if you were not already doing it?
  • If you were creating your job description from scratch, and your credit union had the same priorities it has today, what would you not do that you are currently doing?
  • If you could do anything you wanted to improve your position in the credit union, what would you stop doing immediately?
  • Ignoring any (real or perceived) obstacles (including your credit union culture, seniority, what other people will think, your past habits, and so forth), create a list the items you think YOU should stop doing.
  • What types of expectations or stresses should be eliminated from your job?
  • What would someone who has the same job title in another industry suggest you should stop doing?

Action Advice: Focusing on what matters has never been more important than it is today. Use the Stop Doing process to identify what you should stop doing, then teach it to leaders at all levels of your credit union and challenge them to do the same. Track the progress and celebrate the shift of responsibilities that frees you up to do the work that really matters.