catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 13, Num 2 :: 2014.01.24 — 2014.02.06


Everyone needs a to-don’t list

Several months ago I attended a three-day training on community organizing and leadership. 

Our trainer quoted Jim Collins’s book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t. According to Collins, all leaders have to-do lists, but truly effective individuals also have stop-doing lists. These are tasks that someone else should be doing or tasks that don’t have much impact in the long run but keep us busy and make us feel useful. They take up our time to the point that we have no energy or mental bandwidth for the deep thinking or creative work that is essential to move an organization forward.

There was a definite buzz in the room when the trainer dropped this tidbit on us. One pastor couldn’t contain herself; she stood up and said, “My name is [Kate], and I’m going to stop photocopying the bulletins!” The room erupted in cheers, applause and nods of recognition. (We also recognized that she has some calling, training and equipping work to do before she gets to that point.)

As a Sabbath-minded gal, I am totally on board with leaving stuff undone — but I’m mainly good in the short term. When break’s over, I try to pick everything up again rather than acknowledging that making time for Sabbath means less time for other things. 

I routinely complain about our family’s crazy schedule, which often leaves me little time to think. But the truth is, I bear some responsibility for that. I’ve been holding on to (and committing to) too many things. 

The training gave me permission to create a to-don’t list, not because I’m a slacker or unconscientious, but because there’s a bigger goal in mind. Granted, you have to be smart about what gets delegated to another person or dropped off the list entirely. But there’s something liberating about saying, “I’m going to get to that…never.”

Here’s a big one for pastors: newsletter articles. Virtually every pastor I know detests writing them. Most people don’t read them, and it’s a chore to come up with compelling content each month. But just enough people read them that we keep on doing this thing that saps our energy.

Of course, not everything we do is going to be fun. And Jesus does call us to care for the one wandering sheep over the 99 safe in the pen. But sometimes our time and energy gets held hostage by two or three people.

In fact, when we’re trying to decide what to stop doing, the question isn’t whether people benefit from the activity. The question is whether the activity is central to our mission as an organization, and whether the benefit is worth the cost to us personally, given other creative options we have for our time. 

Immediately following the training, I had a great time eliminating the low-hanging fruit. Now, several months later, I feel called deeper into this practice, which is proving to be tougher. To-don’t means some agonizing decisions. To-don’t means disappointing people.

And to-don’t means going beyond activities and into attitudes. Yes, I should really stop picking up after my children when they’re capable of doing it themselves. But how about a goal to stop comparing myself to others? To stop living other people’s lives instead of my own?

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