By Keith

I’ve been really productive lately. As such I’ve had little time to devote to many of my pet projects. I’m finding out that it’s much better for my overall stress level to drop some things. In essence–to quit. Even if I wasn’t devoting time and energy to them, they were there, weighing on me in the back of my mind, nagging at me for attention.

It’s hard for me to give up on good ideas, but I feel that in order to do something great not only do you need a good idea to start with, you need to be able to focus on that idea and execute. It’s hard to focus when you have so many things going on. Sometimes you’ve got to let things go.

h3. Prioritize Then Quit!

I recently went through an exercise that I found took a huge weight off my shoulders. I made lists of all the things that take up my time. My work, my blogs, my commitments, my hobbies…everything. I then went through and prioritized within those lists. It was hard, but it had to be done. Without getting into detail, my “professional” list looked something like this:

# My new business (Blue Flavor for those who don’t know)
# Asterisk – My “personal” professional site
# Upcoming speaking gigs. (SXSW being the most important to me)
# Lifehacker and (Because they are keeping me afloat right now)
# To-Done
# Community writing (I do a bit pro-bono writing)
# My Travel site project
# My book on blogging
# My Web design book
# My blogging site
# Etc.

I then went through my lists and made notes that gave me an indication of how much time I was spending on each item. I also noted how much focus I had to use. For example, when I’m working on client work for my new business, I often have to put all my focus towards that while I’m doing it. That means closing e-mail, not answering the phone, etc.

The lists and notes gave me a good idea of where I should be spending my time. For example, Asterisk is a high priority that doesn’t take a ton of time and needs focus at times, but not all the time. That’s good! My travel site project was taking a ton of time and focus and it’s not a high priority. That’s bad.

I did the same thing with my personal life. I then merged the lists and re-prioritized, trying to do my best to be honest with myself about what was important. Importance was guaged on many factors and with work/life balance in mind. Something that was fun might be more important than something good for my career, for example. When this was done I had a pretty good idea of what I felt was important and how much time and focus I was spending on each item in my list.

Then I started making cuts. I completely stopped working on several side projects. I filed a few book outlines away for a possible revisitation in the future. I quit playing X-Men Legends 2 and Guild Wars in favor of Age of Empires 3. I said no to some writing gigs I’d been mulling about. I stopped watching What Not To Wear with Staci. I did all of this to try and free up time and more importantly focus on the things on the top of my list.

There were a few things I couldn’t just cut. For those I set aside time to wrap them up and finish them off. Vowing to be more selective about what I agree to in the future.

At first I felt guilty. Guilty! Now that I look back a bit, I think that’s kind of silly. Most of what I quit were things I’d brought on myself. If anyone was being let down it was me and as I’d just shown myself–I had bigger fish to fry. After a few days though, I felt really good about the decisions I’d made. I felt physically lighter. Heck, I feel even better just writing about it here. I’m a quitter and I love it! ;0)

I did all of this a few weeks back and the last two weeks have been, for the most part, really good! My stress level is lower. I feel much more on top of things and I’ve managed to get a ton of good, important, things done. The hardest part was getting past that guilty feeling, but that went away once I realized how much better I was feeling and how much more focus I was able to put into things that really mattered to me.

19 Comments on Knowing When To Quit

  1. Rick says:

    Great post.

    Like many who will read this, I think this is what I needed to hear. I am consistently over worked due to not ever saying “no”. Mostly, this is because I want to do everything and hate to pass up on great jobs or opportunities.

    However, because of a ridiculous work load, I often get to the point of burn-out quickly and the stuff that is most important gets thrown to the wayside.

  2. Silvia says:

    Recently, I’ve lost a big file, full of texts, on my desktop. I could not decide what to do with most of things there. Since then, I have being doing much more! I’ve also spent a lot of time searching about GTD and novelties on the web. I’ve decided these are not my priorities. I will select a few sites and two wikis.
    Keith, I hope you keep this wonderful page that is in my Front Page on My Yahoo!(even if you do not post so frequently)This is among those I like most. Thanks!

  3. Keith says:

    Silvia — To-Done is something that was pretty high on the list. Also, by adding other authors and becoming more of an Editor In Chief as opposed to a “blogger” I can keep it going while not getting burned out on it.

    So far, thanks to my guest authors and wonderful readers, it’s gone very well!

  4. Mary says:

    One of the things that I have found helpful is watching silly TV that I like, but is a time-waster, in the morning. I TIVO it and then have it running while I eat my breakfast. Good Eats and Clean Sweep are two other morning shows for me. These shows also have a set format, so that you can just watch the good parts. (The first day of shopping on WNTW is usually a waste, and I skip men’s haircuts.)

  5. Keith says:

    Mary — I’m on an Anti-silly TV kick. I don’t like WNTW at all, but my wife loves it. She also likes all sort of other silly shows. Drives me nuts. ;0)

  6. Oh no, you stopped watching What Not to Wear! :) Actually, that’s one of the few shows I try not to miss (and I don’t really watch that much TV). I just make sure to get up and do something useful during commercials (I don’t have a TiVo), like loading and running the dishwasher.

    Prioritization is a very good and important skill. Luckily, I’ve never had a problem turning down projects or responsibilities that are very low priority for me!

  7. Gino D. says:

    I have WNTW down to a efficient science. Fast-forward through the repetitive hidden video stuff, watch the three 360 mirror sequences and the “rules” discussions (but not the “throwing out the clothes” segments.) Fast forward to the second day of shopping, watch through to the haircut, then jump to the final 3 (or 4) outfits. I never watch the “homecoming” because it depresses me – I never like the comprimised outfit the person chooses that suggests maybe the whole week was a lost cause.

    That said, my Tivo has about six men’s episodes stored, which I watch entirely.

  8. This is the advice I’ve been needing for 3 years. I keep trying to do this, but I think your method is ultimately the best way to handle overload. What is up with the guilt anyway! I hate feeling guilty about stuff I bring upon myself. I’m going to force myself to finally make this list tonight! Thanks for the motivation.

  9. Bob Walsh says:

    Great psot! Besides doing major “priority reboots”, I find I do an Uncurrent All in my personal copy of MasterList Professional for just that momentary feeling of lightness.

    [Disclosure: I wrote MLP, and I use it too]

    “Priority Paralysis” can be as productivity-crippling as as no priorities at all.

  10. Thanks for the good ideas ! I was gonna do such an exercise, but now, I now how is gonna look the table I am gonna draw. I need to see all my processes and to kill some of them… :-)

  11. Knowing *when* to quit is just as hard as knowing *how*

    Continuing on from “How to resign” a few days ago and from The Reason Why You’re Here about 3 weeks ago, we present a great rundown on “Knowing When To Quit” by D. Keith Robinson, a great primer on organizing and preparin…

  12. Brad says:

    I do this every so often with my RSS subscriptions, but I never thought to prioritize and selectively throw out current projects. Thanks for the great idea!

  13. sebastien says:

    it’s time for me to decide what i really need to acomplish and this article is been great for me. Tomorow , well later today I’ll start figuring out my priorities and start working on them.

  14. jethro. says:

    Keith, this is a terrific post. It calls to mind two of the aspects of GTD that I’ve found most useful:

    1) EVERYTHING on your to-do list is a commitment to someone, whether to you or to others, and it needs to be treated as such.

    2) The Someday/Maybe file is the perfect spot for those actions or projects that may be good ideas, but you simply can’t commit to them right now.

  15. Max Leibman says:

    Great post. This is an awesome blog!

    Priorities are key. There’s more than enough time for what really matters, but not enough time for everything.

    I find its useful–and guilt reducing–to spend some time thinking about values and long-range goals. Makes it easier–and less stressful–to drop things when you can see them with a bigger perspective

  16. CareerNiche says:

    Managing to-do lists

    I maintain many to-do lists. Some might call this overdoing it, but it really helps me. I have one to-do list for every area of my life- reading, crafting, writing, personal website, professional web site. Each area’s to-do list is

  17. The moment of truth arrived when I thought to myself, “Great idea, but I can’t start that. I have too much to do!”.

    Rubbish bin and delete key at the ready.

  18. Rick says:

    I have this rule, No new till I finish two!

  19. leigh says:

    It’s really an awesome idea..and I will surely start doing the same as soon as possible.

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