There are different ways to approach making your stop doing list. You can treat it as an individual exercise, set a timer and start listing all of the things on your plate you might want to give up. You can make it the topic of your next team meeting. Or you could do an open call across the organization and solicit suggestions for items to give up. Within any of these options, you can also pick a focus. Do you want to focus on editorial projects and coverage, or workflows and processes?

As you’re having those conversations, be sure that you are testing your assumptions about why things are done and who they’re important to. Are we doing this stuff because we’ve always done it that way, or we think that thing is really important to someone in our organization or our audiences? Really investigate whether your assumptions are actually true. Ask the right people the right questions. Pay attention to your data and metrics.

I’d also encourage you to be aware that giving things up can be a big cultural shift. People feel an investment in their work; there will be feelings. Be aware of that as you’re formulating your lists, and include the people whose work is affected in the conversations. Perhaps they have ideas for how it can bring more value. Maybe they have ways they can make it easier to do. Let them test those things out so they are involved in its ultimate fate.

— Emily Ristow, API Director of Local News Transformation

Make your stop doing list

Over the next week, start writing down projects and tasks you could stop doing. What are you doing that isn’t a good use of your time? What isn’t contributing to your organization’s mission value or business value?

If you’re unsure whether something should be on your list, run it past a list of qualifiers such as:

  • Does it provide value — information, context, accountability — to our larger community?
  • Does it serve specific target audiences?
  • Is there a way to change it to make it serve our larger community or target audiences?
  • Does it contribute to our mission in another way?
  • Does it contribute to our business strategy?
  • Do we still have the expertise on staff to accomplish it, or the time and energy to re-develop the expertise?

If the majority of your answers are “no,” add it to the list.

Just because something is on the list doesn’t mean it immediately has to be abandoned. Next week we’ll talk about interrogating and prioritizing your list based on ease and impact.

If you’re a manager leading your team through this exercise, there are some additional considerations to keep in mind. Employees may hesitate to speak up about work they want to shed for fear of being perceived as lazy, or that it means their job is disposable. People may also hesitate to give up work that is familiar and comfortable for them. Proactively address these concerns by communicating the following:

  • Shedding low-impact work is just as much an accomplishment — and cause for celebration — as, say, launching a new product or reporting series.
  • Giving up certain work doesn’t mean it was poorly done or never important, but that your audience’s needs are evolving.
  • Doing this helps everyone become more aligned on mission-critical work.
  • This helps reduce workloads and prevent burnout.
  • If employees need help phasing out projects or tasks, they will get it.

How others stopped doing

  • The Chattanooga Times Free Press set up a stop-doing team of five staff members who were familiar with newsroom analytics. The team identified topics that weren’t driving traffic and started experimenting with topics they believed would attract readers. “Remember when, Chattanooga?,” a nostalgia photo feature inspired by the Columbus Dispatch’s work, replaced the weekly auto column, and they discontinued a weekly Facebook Live show, putting their efforts toward more engaging food content, which they’ve recently expanded into a subscriber-only food newsletter.
  • Blue Ridge Public Radio’s stop-doing efforts focused on how they worked together. They shortened staff meetings from one hour each week to a monthly one-hour strategic “Town Hall” and limited other meetings to just key stakeholders. And rather than having everyone be in charge of their digital transformation, they adopted the DACI method to designate specific roles (Driver, Approver, Contributor, Informed).

Share with your network

You also might be interested in: