“Keep, Stop, Start” is a useful format or formula for analyzing and evaluating any job, position, project, process or venture, or anything you’re doing, playing, possessing, owning or working on in your life.  For ease of discussion, let’s simply refer to all of these as your “things.”

Keep, Stop, Start is a handy way to deliver a quick, “on the spot” evaluation of yourself or of another person in your life, at their request.  This formula is also highly useful for “putting all of your things on the table” for a broader, deeper, more strategic evaluation.

Here is an overview of how Keep, Stop, Start works:

What things should you Keep?  Those you enjoy, that you’re good at, that challenge you and allow you to grow; those that represent your “highest and best use” and that, for the present time, only you can do; MOST IMPORTANTLY – those things that continue to add the maximum value to your community, family, and the most important people in your life.

What things should you Stop? – Those that are harmful to your health and well-being, or damaging to your community, family, and the important people in your life; those that are no longer challenging, that would provide a healthy challenge to others if you would “delegate” and hand them off;  MOST IMPORTANTLY – those that are keeping you from starting new things.

What things should you Start? – Those that will provide new challenge, that will allow you to grow and keep learning; those that you’re “ready for” even though you don’t feel ready, that are your “higher and better” use; MOST IMPORTANTLY – those that you’ve always dreamed about and wanted to do, but for “some reason” never seem to get around to doing.

While Keep, Stop, Start is simple in concept, most of us find it difficult to put into action for three reasons:  fear, ignorance and inertia.

Let me first explain inertia.  Sir Isaac Newton's First Law of Motion says that an object that is not moving will remain still until forced to move. Likewise, an object in motion will continue in a straight line, in the same direction and at the same speed until forced to stop or turn.  (I’ll bet you weren’t expecting a physics lesson today, were you?)

Because of inertia, keeping seems easy.  It is natural to keep doing and owning things that you have invested in over many years and worked hard at building; things that give you pleasure as you do them effortlessly, routinely, as if both hands were tied behind your back; things that bring admiration and cause everyone to speak highly of you for doing.

Likewise, because of inertia, stopping is hard.  It’s hard to stop, let go, or change anything. Stopping requires deep thinking about your fears and taking action to address them.  Who will take over for you if you stop? Will they do as good a job as you? Are you keeping things, because you don’t have a successor identified, qualified and ready?

Let’s now take a look at fear and ignorance.  Keeping seems easy and stopping is difficult due to fear of change and fear of the unknown.  Consider the following questions:

  • Is “keeping” your things “the way they are” even possible or realistic? As attributed to the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, "change is the only constant in life."  Change is the “energy” that will ultimately force you to let go, and not on your terms, unless you prepare for and embrace your need to change.
  • Does fear of letting others down cause you to avoid stopping things you know you should stop? Do you find stopping hard due to fear of the “unknown” of who you will “be” and what you will “do” when you stop doing the things you’ve been doing so well for so long?  A more hopeful outlook suggests the possibility that you could “be” and “do” even better by taking on new things.
  • In deciding what you will keep, are you ignoring the hidden costs? By keeping, have you limited your own personal growth?  Are you holding others back in their development and growth? Are you ignoring the critical need for succession and sustainability in your family and business?  Are you discounting the “opportunity cost” of “holding on to the end” which includes failure to leave a legacy or remain relevant?
  • By the way, is keeping or stopping really an “optional” exercise? Maybe you can “put it off” for a while, but don’t ignore the truth that none of us lives forever.  For more on this see my blog “We Don’t Have All the Time In the World.”

Starting is even harder.  Not only does it take effort and energy to make decisions and take actions on what you will keep and what you will stop, you must address fears, manage change, and invest time to start a new thing.  What happens if you keep everything and stop nothing?  You will either start nothing new, or start new things “on top” of everything else, so that the things you keep are no longer as enjoyable, and the new things are not much fun either.

While Keep, Stop, Start lays out a logical, orderly formula, I suggest “re-ordering” the steps as follows:

  • Stop - long enough to make a “possibilities” list of things you want to start doing. Include a list of the things that are holding you back.  Prioritize the things on your possibilities list and don’t try to address all of them at the same time.  Share your list with others and make it “real.  Use the list as your “vision” and motivation to do the even harder work ahead of you.
  • Start - to make plans to clear the obstacles between you and the most important thing on your possibilities list. If you can’t stop owning something now because you don’t have a successor, make a plan and set a goal to identify your successor and get them ready.  Then delegate and get out of their way.
  • Keep – your focus on your possibilities list and addressing the obstacles. Keep a “loose grip” on the things you want to stop. Keep being unreasonable (no excuses) and unstoppable.

To motivate your thinking about your “possibilities” list, here is mine.  I would like to start:

  • Going deeper in my relationship with God and my desire to serve him every day
  • Hanging out even more with my 88-year old parents in their remaining years
  • Devoting more quality time to my wife, kids, future grandkids, extended family, and friends
  • Entering running and biking events, planning and going on a cross country bike trip
  • Tutoring high school students
  • Mentoring the members of my men’s group at church
  • Following the Milwaukee Brewers on road games and “collecting” all the MLB ballparks
  • Working on home improvement and landscaping projects

We will continue to help our clients learn and grow and succeed at life as they keep growing every day, stop holding on too tightly, and start being better stewards of the many blessings we have been given in this life.  If you have ideas or experiences to share, please post them so others can benefit.

Best regards,