If you were only going to read two books to improve your productivity and general quality of life, I’d make this one of them.
(I’d make the other one Mastery by Robert Greene.)
Things need to end. Sometimes the thing that needs to end is a habit or a project. Sometimes it is a relationship or a career path.
Being alive requires that we sometimes kill off things in which we were once invested, uproot what we previously nurtured, and tear down what we built for an earlier time. Refraining, giving up, throwing away, tearing down, hating what we once cherished—all are necessary. Endings are the reason you are not married to your prom date nor still working in your first job. But without the ability to do endings well, we flounder, stay stuck, and fail to reach our goals and dreams.
I’m big on growth. Growth is what life is all about, in my opinion. And letting things end, or, at times, decisively ending them, is necessary if you want to be free to grow.
Growth itself demands that we move on. Without the ability to end things, people stay stuck, never becoming who they are meant to be, never accomplishing all that their talents and abilities should afford them.
Life has a way of ending things for us, if we’re not willing to end them ourselves. Those endings can be drawn-out, messy, and painful. When you see that something needs to end, you have the power to end it.
…both businesses and individuals will begin, gather, and have more activities than they can reasonably sustain.
Some of those activities may be good, but they are taking up resources that your best ones need. So you always will have to choose between good and best. This is especially tough for some creative people, causing them a lack of focus. They create more than they can focus on and feed, they are attached to every idea as if they were all equal, and they try to keep them all alive. Instead of a to-do list, they have a to-do pile. It goes nowhere fast.
Ending things that need to end allows you to focus and make progress on things that matter more to you. Things that you want to put your time and energy and creativity into. And yes, sometimes it isn’t a “Love This” versus a “Hate That” pile. That’s the trickiest part, when there are many things that appeal to you and you have to choose between them.
All of your precious resources—time, energy, talent, passion, money—should only go to the buds of your life or your business that are the best, are fixable, and are indispensable. Otherwise, average sets in…
What kills productivity most isn’t a lack of resources or lack of skills or procrastination or disorganization. It’s a ratio. A bad ratio. A ratio of “TOO MANY OBLIGATIONS” to “TOO LITTLE ENERGY AND TIME.” You have more to do than you can do, you commit, you start too many projects, you end up stuck in indecision because you don’t know what should get your attention first, and the indecision makes you frustrated and depressed, which feeds your self-doubt and feelings of inability, and then you resist doing anything, and then hours and days go by and the obligations continue to pile up and you want to hide in a corner and cry.
To be more productive, sure, learn how to label and organize and use a to-do list and stuff. That’s good.
But first learn how to see what needs to end and end it. This is the first, primary, foundational, most important skill of productivity.
We are not prepared to go where we need to go. So we do not clearly see the need to end something, or we maintain false hope, or we just are not able to do it. As a result, we stay stuck in what should now be in our past.
Also by Henry Cloud (and highly recommended): Boundaries
A few more quotes from the book, and some related reading (linked):
Today may be the enemy of your tomorrow. In your business and perhaps your life, the tomorrow that you desire and envision may never come to pass if you do not end some things you are doing today.
Rel: Some Basic Propositions of a Growth and Self-Actualization Psychology (A. H. Maslow)
…executing the three types of necessary endings described above is what characterizes people who get results. (1) If an initiative is siphoning off resources that could go to something with more promise, it is pruned. (2) If an endeavor is sick and is not going to get well, it is pruned. (3) If it’s clear that something is already dead, it is pruned. This is the threefold formula for doing well in almost every arena of life.
Rel: The outwork myth
They have realized that their success depends on having the time and energy resources to go deep with a few relationships, and they have to end the wish to go deep with everyone, as it leads to skimming the surface with almost everyone.