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Quitting as a Productivity Tactic

Life is too short to do things you don't like.

Check your to do list. See that one item? The one that’s been there for weeks? Before you beat yourself up about how yet again, you haven’t done something you’ve been dreading, ask yourself the question: Do I really need to do this?

If the answer is “no,” drop it from your list. Most productivity advice focuses on managing your energy to tackle the tough stuff. However, some things we make “tough” when they don’t need to be. Sure there are some activities in life that you must do—if you don’t get your tax documents in on time, bad things could happen. But there are many, many other parts of your life where you have a great deal more control than you think. 

Instead of continually trying to force yourself to do things you don’t want to do, let them go. Without the emotional weight and mental clutter of keeping things on your agenda that don’t absolutely need to be there, you’re much freer to rapidly move forward on what you really do want and need to get done.

Some things we make “tough” when they don’t need to be.

As your time coach for the day, I’m giving you full permission to stop telling yourself that you need more discipline. Start getting honest about what brings you joy and what is aligned with your priorities. Maybe you won’t totally reorganize your photos folder. Or redo your website. Instead of making your to-do list an exercise in guilt, waving the white flag can free up mental energy for the stuff you love to do, the stuff that really matters, and the stuff that moves your career forward.

This, of course, isn’t a pass to sit on the couch all day. But it is a call to wake up and consider critically analyzing your tasks and asking: Does this make me happy? Do I need to do this?

Here are some key areas where you may want to do some spring cleaning:


Have you had projects sitting on your list for months or even years? If so, and you have the option to drop them, consider consciously choosing to take them off the to-do list, undone. If it must be done and someone else on your team could do it,  delegate.

If it is a client project that you just can’t get yourself to do, consider going back to the client and recommending they find someone else. Sure that will hurt your pride a bit, but it’s better to be open and honest to allow them to find someone who is a better fit than to simply drag out the time of feeling badly about not doing something that you really, really don’t want to do. 

It’s better to be open and honest than to simply drag out the time of feeling badly about not doing something that you really, really don’t want to do. 

Clients/Contractors/Team Members

It’s true that everyone has an off day now and again. But if you have a constant aversion to interacting with someone, it may be time for a change of personnel or staff. If you’re a business owner, you can decide not to take on more projects for a client if they’re not a good fit for you and for your team. Your time is precious and should be spent with clients you love to work with. This reduces the stress around serving them and opens up space for clients that fit with your culture. If you have people working for you who act like you’re working for them, you may want to consider getting different help. You should not have to feel badly for asking someone to do their job or for holding them accountable to commitments. You also don’t want yourself in a situation where you avoid communicating with them. If you’re not the business owner, you may want to consider looking for a new job or role. Working in an environment where you feel safe and have good rapport with those around you is important. 


Ever suddenly realize something you used to do for pleasure now feels more like an obligation? Sometimes you join a group and really resonate with the group members at the beginning, but then later find that you no longer enjoy participating in events. Or other times you never really like certain functions but keep going just because you think that you should. If you notice that you arrive late, leave early, look for any reason to skip, or resent the time you spend somewhere, it may be time to call it quits. Just because a particular group or association worked well for you at one time, doesn’t mean you have to keep going when you don’t want to anymore. 

If you resent the time you spend somewhere, it may be time to call it quits.


As a creative, there’s a never-ending stream of ideas that you come up with or others recommend for you. Whether it’s reading a book, doing a training, starting to blog, or developing a side project, there’s never a lack of things that you could do. However, just because you could do something, doesn’t mean that you should, and it definitely doesn’t mean that it’s something you have to do.

If you notice yourself avoiding a to-do item or simply making no progress, let it go. I’ve had books sit on my shelves for years, and it was unlikely that I would ever read them. Eventually, I donated them—without any guilt. When I’m really motivated to read a book, I make it a priority. When I’m not, I don’t. When I admit that something isn’t a priority for me to read or do and let it go, I literally feel lighter.


I’m a huge advocate of habits so I don’t recommend that you drop them carte blanche. However, I do recommend that you let go of the ones that don’t work for you. If you can’t stand working out in the morning, stop trying to set your alarm for 5 a.m. and then hitting snooze for an hour. In the case of habits, step back and think about the end goal of each task. For example, with the morning work out, you’ll feel much better if you simply set your alarm for 6 a.m. and work out after work. The result is the same: you get exercise, but the guilt is far less.

If you don’t like journaling, stop it. Doodle instead or do whatever else helps you clear your mind. If sitting meditating isn’t your thing, try to go on a walk instead. Yes, you need habits. Yes, you need to get things done and have self-care, but no, everything shouldn’t be a constant struggle.

This spring, stop doing what you don’t want to do so you can start doing what’s right for you. 

How about you?

What have been the results when you stopped forcing yourself to do excess things that you didn’t want to do?

More Posts by Elizabeth Grace Saunders

Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training and author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress and How to Invest Your Time Like Money. Find out how you can accomplish more with peace and confidence at

Comments (30)
  • simon

    I happen to believe, all the things you put for later, have to be done later, much later or after that, but they are there by your choice and they have to be done.

    • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

      Hi Simon-

      I completely respect your right to believe whatever you choose to believe. But in my experience as a time coach and trainer, I’ve discovered that many people have ideas of many, many things that may or may not ever need to get done.

      Just as they chose to put these items on the list initially, they can choose to take them off the list without completing them.

      To your brilliance!
      Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • clover

    So timely. Today I’m leaving a company I’ve been with for eight years because, in a nutshell, I have other options and this one no longer brings me joy or motivation.

    I don’t think commitments should be abandoned lightly or carelessly, but sometimes they should be abandoned gracefully and after appropriate consideration.

    • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

      I completely agree!

      We all have an off day once and a while but if for months or years an activity doesn’t bring you joy, it can be time to move on.

      Good luck with your new opportunities!

      To your brilliance!
      Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • BMone

    Couldn’t of said it any better. Spring Cleaning for the soul. I wish I knew this when I was in my twenties. It is much better to do something great that you love than to do something okay that you cannot stand. Everybody has that something that they just love to do, it’s all about finding it.

    • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

      Amen. I love that phrase “spring cleaning for the soul.” That’s definitely what I’ve been going through recently!!

      To your brilliance!
      Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Boško Škrbina

    +1 for your article. The best advice ever is: be honest with yourself, so checkout your schedule, habits and focus in do what you really love… 😉

    • Elizabeth Grace Saunders


      There shouldn’t be a disconnect between your inner and outer worlds. They should both be congruent in terms of your motivation and priorities.

      To your brilliance!
      Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Amy Butcher

    I think this is a problem with the overachieving mindset, it that life only has meaning when do “more.” More projects, more tasks, more ideas, more connections, perhaps from some inner impetus that the empty spaces in life have to be filled. What I get from your post is that doing these things isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just that what you do has to come from an internal impulse and desire, not from external pressure.

    • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

      Yes, that’s part of the concept.

      The other part is that many times you can’t-or don’t want to-do more but because you’re not consciously letting go of things, you’re constantly feeling guilty about not getting them done.

      By making a concrete decision to not do something, you free yourself from that pressure and guilt.

      To your brilliance!
      Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Alex Owen-Hill

    Thanks for this post, Elizabeth, I can totally relate to it. I’ve become hugely more effective since I started implementing productivity techniques. But, the natural hoarder in me keeps adding ideas, tasks and books-to-read to my piles that I’m realistically never going to complete. My “Someday/Maybe” file just gets bigger and bigger. So, yes, I know I could do with letting some of them go. It’s hard though, especially when part of me still wants to do the thing or honour the original idea.

    • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

      Putting them on your “Someday/Maybe” list is a perfect way to give yourself the psychological safety that you can go back to them if you want to–but you don’t have to.

      There should be no self judgment about the Someday/Maybe list getting longer and longer since these aren’t must-do items.

      To your brilliance!
      Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Lucy

    Elizabeth, your post couldn’t have come at a better time! Doing (or putting off) something you dread comes at a pretty heavy expense – usually involving lots of mental baggage.

    What haunts me though are the ‘could of’s and should of’s’. I can’t count how many times after dropping a project or client, do I beat myself up for the missed opportunities. “If I had just pushed myself harder to do this, maybe A, B, or C what have happened…” Whether that’s aligning a new career opportunity or making a stronger contact, I’m still trying to justify the tradeoffs of personal growth and happiness. I’d like to think that all the (good and bad) decisions made until this point has credited to my current day success. It kills me to not know where the road not taken could have taken me. Any thoughts on how to remedy this kind of FOMO behavior?

    • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

      I think you should look at this as a risk assessment.

      If you overcommit and constantly feel guilty for not doing everything you give yourself a 100% chance of being unhappy and 0% chance of being really happy with your choices.

      If you have reasonable expectations and choose to feel good about accomplishing the top priorities, you give yourself a less than 100% chance of being unhappy and a greater than 0% chance of being really happy.

      The only way to win is to redefine the game not as taking advantage of every opportunity but as defining a reasonable scope and then going for it.

      To your brilliance!
      Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Joelle

    Elizabeth, thank you so much for posting this article, it really helped me out. I have a question though, how could we differentiate between what is really not necessary to do and doesn’t serve us, and what we really must do, but we’re just not working on time management correctly and procrastinating…. or more importantly, how do we know the difference between we’re not supposed to be doing something/quitting or are we just doing other things to make excuses to not do what we’re supposed to do (self-sabotage, resistance)

    • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

      Hi Joelle-

      Great question. There is obviously nuance to every situation but here are some basic principles.

      -Self care: You choices should make it possible to get adequate sleep/exercise/self care

      -Goals: You should have clearly defined professional goals that help you know what are the “must do” versus the “would like to do.” These goals should also lead to certain measurable results.

      -Performance: If you work for someone else, then there should be some performance expectations outlined. You’ll need to consider those within the “must do.”

      Beyond that, there is a lot of variance depending on the situation.

      To your brilliance!
      Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Adam Thomas

    Thank you Elizabeth, once again spot on!

    Learning how to fire your tasks is important, because our time is surely a resource we can never recoup.

    One of the things I learned from starting to say no is how much time I had for the non urgent but important things that seem to make life hum! when you get them done. Organizing your life, building systems, reaching out, helping people with that expertise… All these things get the time you are willing to let go from the mundane.

    Now I am curious, what was the last thing/habit you had to “fire” from your life and what was the result on your time?

    • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

      My latest major up-level in efficiency is to hire an assistant that will be taking care of a lot of necessary tasks (scheduling, bookkeeping, standard e-mails, etc) that can be done by someone else. Very excited to have this reduce my processing and paperwork time!

      To your brilliance!
      Elizabeth Grace Saunders

      • Adam Thomas

        That sounds like a plan – I see nothing but more work coming your way in the future. I know how hard it can be to let go of a lot of that stuff, especially to mavericks like yourself.

        Thank you for sharing that with me! Was brilliant meeting you last year, and I can’t wait to get more of your stuff in the future!

      • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

        Sounds great! I’ll be the time management coach in the mentor booth at the 99U conference next week so if you’re there, we may meet again.

        To your brilliance!
        Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Kevin Van Lierde

    Today I told the uni assistant coaching me for the final paper that I would give up on (or at least postpone) a second bachelor’s degree. I tried to persuade myself that I would, in the end, be able to pick it up and work hard on it, but I just couldn’t. Instead, I was working at student jobs and doing personal web-related (and open-source) projects. After 5 years in post-highschool education, I don’t want to wait another 2 years to start working, or move in with my girlfriend (we’ve had a relationship for 6 years). I feel like I’m stagnating. This paper was the task I had on my to-do list for over 3 months, made me feel guilty towards myself, my parents, and others who expect me to do this, and I couldn’t get motivated to even read literature on the subject. I get told all the time that I will regret this decision later, and yes there’s a chance; but at least I won’t have wasted 2 (or more) years hating what I do to get a degree which might eventually add a little more value to my previous degree and personal assets.

    • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

      Hi Kevin-

      You made a very brave choice. I’m proud of you and based on what you shared, I believe it was the right one.

      It’s OK to not force yourself to do something that you really don’t want to do. Doing things you want to do is hard enough!

      Now that you’re released from that pressure, get really, really clear on what you DO want to do with these years in front of you and go for it. You’ll go a lot further a lot faster, and people will forget about the fact that you decided not to go for a second bachelors degree because you’ll be doing so many other awesome things.

      To your brilliance!
      Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

    So true! I always feel lighter and more free when I get rid of clutter.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Elizabeth Grace Saunders


  • Veronica Pacini

    I love this article because I think that so often we allow the “should do’s” and “have to’s” to control us. It can be very liberating to look at what’s been hanging out there and ask the question – does it really matter? And if it does, maybe there’s something else I need to let go of to make room for it.

    When I have been able to do this, I find that there is a huge mental and emotional release for me. It’s as if a huge space opens up and I can see more clearly and have more energy for those things that are most important.

    Thanks for a great perspective!

  • Sara Kok

    I’m a big fan of to-do-list, however i keep fail to get all done. I change the tactics a bit and it worked quite well.
    I think the key here is be realistic. If you have use three hours to do the same task before, its OK to try for two hours thirty minutes, but its unrealistic to try to do it in one hour.
    Before you add something to your to-do-list, ask yourself questions: Do this really necessary? Do i have enough time to finish it?

    Sara Kok

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