So you’ve got your list of tasks and projects that it might be time to stop doing. Maybe this exercise already spurred some conversations about priorities and alternatives. There are probably some items on your list that might be a relief to stop doing — and there might be some that make you nervous or uncomfortable to change up or ditch.

Below, I’ve shared a framework you can use to prioritize your list. It looks at how easy something is to do — how much time it takes, how many resources it draws on, how much mindshare it takes up, as well as its impact. How does it contribute to your organization’s mission or North Star? How does it contribute value to your business or your bottom line?

Remember that things that are hard to do can also be harder to stop; they might involve more people or be more complicated to sunset. You can gain a little momentum and avoid discouragement right at the start by stopping things that are both easy to do and not bringing value.

— Emily Ristow, API Director of Local News Transformation

Interrogate and prioritize your list

Take each item on your list and add them to the appropriate quadrant of the table below, based on their ease and impact.

In the top-right quadrant are items that are both easy to do and drive revenue and/or are aligned with your news organization’s mission — reporting that is shown to engage readers and drive subscriptions, for example. Things that fall into this category are worth continuing.

In the bottom-left quadrant are items that bring in a lot of value but are harder to do and time-intensive. For these items — perhaps data-intensive investigative pieces or laying out a revenue-generating print publication — you might look for ways to lower the effort. Can a part of a process be templated? Are there AI solutions for time-intensive or repetitive tasks?

In the bottom-left quadrant are items that are difficult to pull off and neither drive revenue nor are central to carrying out your mission. Consider this category the main target of your stop-doing list.

Things that fall into the top-left quadrant — they are easy to do but don’t drive revenue or aren’t “mission-critical” — may be worth continuing if you can increase the value, or they may be some of the first things to stop doing.

This exercise should give you a better picture of how to move forward with the items on your stop-doing list. Make sure you’re on the same page as your team about what will go by the wayside, and choose a few items in the lower-left or upper-left quadrant to sunset.

Note: People at smaller organizations or on teams that have recently faced big cuts can have trouble coming up with a list of things to stop doing. If that’s the case, start with this matrix and list your recurring weekly/monthly tasks as a first step — it forces you to really examine the value of something.

The matrix might tell you something your team doesn’t want to hear, and taking the plunge can feel intimidating. If that’s the case, keep the following in mind:

  • People who complain about the “busy” work don’t always want to get rid of the work.
  • You may hear that something only takes a short amount of time. Remember, that time multiples over weeks and months and years.
  • Be prepared to explain the metrics and reasons behind a decision.
  • Be open to suggestions on how to bring more value or make something easier to do. Set a clear marker of success and a strict time period to test out the ideas.

When you do come to the conclusion that it’s time to stop something, be sure to surface and share those lessons so you don’t repeat your mistakes, and because the learnings can be part of the project’s contribution and help people appreciate the time they invested in it.

How others stopped doing

  • At Triad City Beat, publisher Brian Clarey stopped writing his weekly metro column — something he’d been doing since 2001! — because it fell in the easy-to-do, low-value box. That freed up his time for more high-value activities, including applying for grants to support TCB’s journalism. The altweekly also reduced its print frequency to every other week, cutting its biggest expense in half and freeing up valuable time for the editorial staff to publish more stories on the website.
  • At the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which we talked about in Week 1, business reporters and editors met every two weeks with digital leaders to go over their analytics and coverage, focusing on the questions: 1) What worked well, and why? 2) What didn’t work as expected, and why? Right away, the team discontinued a “promotions and new hires” feature that was hard to do and low value. Over time, they shifted some items that were easy to do but low value into the high-value category by writing better headlines and paying more attention to publishing times.

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