WatchI have to confess, I am not great at saying ‘no’ and I don’t like giving up on things. I have always thought of ‘no’ as an ugly word, but the more I read, the more my mind is changed. When it comes to doing things, ‘no’ and ‘yes’ go together.

If you say ‘yes’ to one thing, you are saying ‘no’ to another. This is also true for beginnings and endings; Sometimes you have to stop one thing in order to start another, you have to consciously give up. Having spent a bit of time studying procrastination, it seems a very good idea to look at what to do when you actually want to stop doing something.

I am currently reading the Laurie Beth Jones book “Jesus Life Coach“, I’ve not got to the end, so the jury is still out. However, in one of the chapters she writes about planned abandonment, pointing out that it is not the same as false abandonment, that is ‘just quitting’.

To some extent the second habit in Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People hints at the idea of endings with “Begin with the end in mind”, as do many other productivity books. The idea of planning to, and including, the end, or  ‘outcome-based planning and doing’ is something I want to come back to in a future post. For now let’s take it that there must be a planned end.

“If we are to remain mission focused, as we must if we are to be relevant in an uncertain age, then abandoning those things that do not further the mission is a leadership imperative.” Frances Hesselbein

Frances Hesselbein worked for the Drucker foundation and was the former CEO of the Girl Scouts, discusses the principle in her book Hesselbein on Leadership. Peter Drucker recommended it as best practice for businesses. It seems it would be a good thing for people too.

Planned abandonment is about learning when and how to say ‘enough’, and planning for it. The idea is used in town planning and in the lifecycle management of products. When entering into a commitment, determine how long that commitment will be for. Create some bounds on it, “I will help you with this for the next three months, then let’s work out what happens afterward that”. One of the most major dimensions of a commitment or a task is its duration. If we are able to understand and control that, we have made a great leap forward in creating enough time to get the right things done.

Why is planned abandonment such a good idea? Quite simply because sometimes things we have done for years are just habits, rather than real priorities. They might have been a priority at one point in our lives, but that has changed and we haven’t stopped to reevaluate them. We need to set our priorities above our habits, or looking at it another way, we need to make a habit of our priorities.

By adopting the idea of planned abandonment, we create a review mechanism. There is a point in time at which we say “I can stop this now, without disappointment or guilt.” It might be that we get to that point and decide that we actually want to carry on, and that it fine. To be clear, there are lifelong commitments, such as our mission, our values and aims that we don’t abandon. I don’t want to abandon being a father or husband. However, there are also finite commitments, where we review our aims. It is sensible to understand how long a task or project is going to take before taking it on. Likewise, before starting something, make sure there is enough time and resource to finish it. One achieved goal is much better than a dozen that are 98% complete.

The great thing about planning an ending, is that it makes room for new beginnings. As one thing ends, another one begins. It keeps focus on ‘the main thing’, sometimes it can even help us discover a new main thing, our mission, by stripping away all else. Look at what not to do, as well as what to do.