When I worked as a digital producer at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, I was part of a team reimagining our digital strategy. We had no shortage of ideas, but felt like we couldn’t experiment because we had too much on our plates that was getting in the way.

Out of desperation, we pulled up a Google Doc in the meeting and just started listing all  the stuff we felt  we needed to give up — all of the things within our control that we could stop doing to make time to try new things. We then turned that into a to-do list to prioritize what to give up. It was a really effective exercise, and a framework I’ve since used to train many journalists.

A “less is more” approach, especially when it comes to addressing a problem or taking on a project, tends to go against our instincts. Researchers have found that most people tend to solve problems by adding things instead of subtracting or removing — for example, when an incoming university president solicited ideas for improvements, only 11 percent involved getting rid of something.

The media industry has already seen a tumultuous start to a consequential election year. And as news teams begin thinking about their election coverage plans, it may feel like adding more tasks to an already full plate, with a fraction of the staff and resources they once had. But that doesn’t have to mean figuring out how to do more with less — maybe it’s doing less with less.

During this series, I’ll walk you through the steps to effectively stop doing. People often have a good idea of what isn’t contributing value, but they might need that push or permission to give those things up.

The goal should be to return some time to your news team that can be reinvested in preparing for the marathon that 2024 is already shaping up to be. Maybe it’s space to start learning what your audience wants from your election coverage. Or maybe it’s building in time and resources to prevent burnout among your team.

Next week, we’ll take stock of the things you’re doing that aren’t a good use of your time. That could be the types of reporting or projects you take on, or the amount of meetings your team has or cumbersome editorial workflows. But for now, read more about what happened after we made that Google Doc in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newsroom, the surprising things we got rid of and how our staff and audience responded.

– Emily Ristow, API Director of Local News Transformation

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