Pile of notes

One of my favorite exercises is to identify unproductive things that we can eliminate from our routines. I often talk about lack of focus being the number one killer of startups. Continually checking off noncritical items from a todo can feed your brains pleasure center, but it also contributes to a lack of focus. Ultimately this behavior can lead to the downfall of your company or your project.

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old” — Peter Drucker

There are two methods I like to use for identifying things you might eliminate from your task diet.

The Calendar Audit

In the Effective Executive, Peter Drucker reminds us that the key to success is the ability to “get the right things done.” Focusing on the right things is impossible without avoiding what is unproductive. When working with executives, he would ask them what their most important priority was at the moment. Every executive quickly rattled off their most critical tasks.

Drucker then had them shift their attention to the executive’s calendar. Invariably, the executive was spending 20% or less of their time on these critical functions, and the other 80% of their schedule consisted of less essential tasks.

“Tell me what you value and I might believe you, but show me your calendar and your bank statement, and I’ll show you what you really value” — Peter Drucker

Take a look at your calendar and see what it tells you about yourself.


TRIZ is my favorite structure from the liberating structures repertoire. The purpose of TRIZ is to stop counterproductive activities and behaviors to make space for innovation. If we were to ask ourselves, “What should we stop doing to make progress on our deepest purpose?”, We often overlook or dismiss things because of our bias, assumptions, or politics. TRIZ makes it safe and comfortable for us to be vulnerable and therefore allows us to expose more of these counterproductive behaviors.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Pick a goal or objective you are currently focused on
  2. Write down anything you can do to make sure that you achieve the worst result possible towards your goal or objective
  3. Review this list and circle anything that resembles anything that you are doing today. Be brutally honest!
  4. Go through the circled items and determine how you might take steps to eliminate these activities or augment them to be more aligned with your goal or objective

I invite you to challenge yourself to explore what you might stop doing.

“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.” — Peter Drucker

Voltage Control facilitates innovation workshops and we specialize in Design Sprints. Contact Douglas at douglas@voltagecontrol.co if you are interested in having us facilitate your Sprint, coach your team on how to run an effective Sprint, or are curious to learn more about how to adapt Design Sprints or other workshop techniques to help your company grow.

If you are in or near Austin, come visit us at the Austin Design Sprint meetup. Each month we have a guest speaker share their experience participating in a Design Sprint. If you would like to be a future speaker please email me.