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The art of abandonment: Don’t let projects go the way of The New Day

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Analysts were quick to call the closure an embarrassment, while shareholders called the failure demoralising. However, if Simon Fox, chief executive of Trinity Mirror, had recklessly ploughed further millions into the publication, paying no attention to all indications the paper was failing, that would truly have been embarrassing and demoralising. Instead Fox had the acumen to shut down the experiment as quickly as it had started.

Persisting with a project and fighting to overcome all obstacles is the natural instinct of most human beings and often exalted as the ultimate business virtue. However, abandoning a project is a rare and difficult management skill and in fact just as valuable as the former. Knowing when to hit the red “stop” button can be the most strategically sensible options and could open the door for new genuine successes.

Here are my five tips of how to identify when abandonment is the right course of action.

The fun has gone

Although, starting a project takes a lot of effort and a huge investment of your time, you should eventually end up enjoying the project and feeling a sense of accomplishment as you tick jobs off your list. However, if you keep working on the same task list and don’t experience any reward or appreciation, it may be time to consider quitting before it consumes any more of your time.

When you take on a project it is reasonable to expect a certain element of fun and enjoyment. When this is missing and you begin to dread your work, remember, just because you started a project doesn’t mean you have to finish it. Quitting early can often be the most strategically sensible option.

Diminishing worth

If you’ve extracted all the value you can from a particular pursuit, spending additional energy on it can produce very little value and end up being a large waste of your time. Take, for example, reading a book or article. Often you won’t need to finish the text to its completion to take out what you needed. Ask yourself what else could you be doing. Smart quitters understand that leaving a project before it’s completion can free up an astounding number of resources towards a more enjoyable or productive focus.

Stress

There are times you need to push yourself and it is normal to feel exhausted and taxed. However, this should be accompanied with a sense of achievement and that what you are doing is worthwhile. When your strivings lead to more incapacitating consequences, you’ll want to take a moment to step back, slow the pace or stop the work. At cartridgesave.co.uk we use “The 80:20 Rule”. If a new system or way of doing things is 80 per cent finished, we send it live and come back and fix the final 20 per cent at a later date.

The stress symptoms to watch out for include: insomnia, agitation, depression and anxiety. When stress becomes enough of a problem to affect your ability to carry out your work or other aspects of your life, take it as a sign that you should perhaps invest your time in other less taxing pursuits

Recognise negative feedback

Optimism is a crucial business skill to get a project off the ground and projects depend on this vitality to flourish. However, there can be a fine line between optimism and delusion as executives convince themselves that a project will pull through and success is just around the corner.

Business owners tend to be biased toward positive feedback and overlook more negative criticism and external pressure. However, in many instances these represent warning signs that can help you recognise when a project is doomed to failure. Those who are attuned to negative feedback and external pressure are more likely to know when to cut their losses on a project before it turns catastrophic. Ensure methods are in place to channel internal feedback and take the time to seek objective outside views.

Escalating commitment

Fox would undoubtedly have loved to have turned The New Day into a permanent feature of British newsstands but he failed and, instead, he took the strategic action to curtail production and quit before things got out of hand.

The longer a project goes on and the more effort you invest, the more you tell yourself you can’t quit and you’ve passed the point of no return. Fear of quitting should never be a factor in taking the right decision for yourself and your company. If more leaders planned for projects to have a finite life, this would allow for a greater opportunity for genuine enduring successes.

Ian Cowley is managing director of cartridgesave.co.uk.

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