Start, Stop, Continue — how to get less of the wrong things and more of the right things done

Struggling with your workload? Failing to deliver? Frequently saying “I don’t have time for that”? then read on…

In 2011 I was in this situation and discussing what I could do with my then Redgate co-worker @theagilepirate. He suggested I do the Start, Stop, Continue activity…

How it works

Take a piece of paper, or open a new document on your device.

Write 3 headings — Start, Stop, Continue.

Think about your work. What are the different tasks you undertake on a day-to-day or occasional basis. What are you supposed to be doing or what do you think you should be doing but never do?

For each of these tasks,

  • write them under Start if you should do the task but aren’t getting around to it at all or not frequently enough,
  • write them under Stop if you should stop doing the task or
  • write them under Continue if you should continue to do the task.

Keep the piece of paper (or document) to hand. Either revisit it regularly and add tasks into the relevant headings or, as you’re doing a task, put it into the appropriate category.

How to use it?

Easy. Start doing the things in your Start list, stop doing the things in your Stop list and continue doing the things in your Continue list.

Well, maybe not quite so easy.

A first tactic is to look at each item in the Stop list and figure out whether the thing can be stopped completely. It might just be habitual work that no longer makes sense or it could be work due to failure demand — work you have to do due to failures elsewhere in your processes. Eliminating failure demand will enable you to stop the thing. Another thing to think about is whether you could recast the work to get 80% of the benefit from 20% of the effort? (The Pareto principle).

The next thing to think about is whether you are the best person to be doing the work or whether someone else is better-placed to do it. Have a discussion with your colleagues about how to handle this — it could involve them stopping some of their work or passing it to other colleagues or it could involve outsourcing the work completely, for example to a supplier. If people external to the organisation are the source of work that you are stopping you’ll need to let them know that someone else is handling it now and it may take a while to transition them to the new arrangements.

For items in your Continue list you could think about whether you want to continue but do less or more of the work. The 80/20 rule comes in handy here again. Alternatively, maybe you can also split a task so that you continue to do part of it and a colleague picks up the rest of it.

You can also challenge the presence of items on your Start list. Are they there because you genuinely do need to start them or just because you think you ought to. Is the real reason they haven’t been started yet more to do with lack of time or a lack of motivation. Are you the right person to be starting them?

If you are the right person then think about the minimum viable way of starting those items. You may have grand dreams of how you’re going to use all the free time you’ll gain from Start, Stop, Continue but in practice freeing up time takes time and effort. Best to start small on new activities and avoid disappointing others when grand dreams are unrealised. You’ll soon get a sense of how much time you’ve freed up.

How I’ve used Start, Stop, Continue

When at Redgate, me and @theagilepirate used the activity to reorganise my work and help free up some of my time so I could do 1–1s with my 1st line reports more frequently and start doing them with my 2nd line reports. I still look back on that as my best time investment at Redgate and I know my team appreciated this extra time with me.

I also use the activity in my Software Acumen work. I have a Google Doc, which I share with my Operations Manager Emilie, and update that occasionally.

Me and Emilie review the document now and again and we look at options for stopping, starting and continuing work. Over the 4 years I’ve worked with Emilie, and my growing events team, I’ve moved away completely from day-to-day running of the business and taken on a more strategic role. Of course, I like being busy and my workload is often still high but that’s now more by design than by accident.

We’ve also used Start, Stop, Continue in job design. In 2015 the team was very stretched and we knew we had to make some changes. We did Start, Stop, Continue and decided that with an extra event producer, rather than someone who would be a generalist supporting the whole team, we could continue to support our existing events.

Postscript

I hope this helps you manage your work more effectively. If you use this activity then please let me know how you get on.