What are you currently doing that is no longer serving you? What are you doing that makes you feel tired or stressed instead of energized and invigorated? It’s time to make a “Stop-Do” list.



Photo by Stuart Mudi. Creative Commons License



Today I start teaching for the second time now, a cutting edge online course, Designing Your Life. Innovating From the Inside Out for the UN-mandated University for Peace, Centre For Executive Education. This month-long course aims to give students the space, structure, support, and motivation to answer some very fundamental questions regarding their passions, strengths, goals, limiting beliefs (yes, everyone has some), priorities, comfort zone, and key relationships. The final project, due after four weeks is a Personal Work-Life Balance Design Plan.


As I sit down and get ready to welcome my new students and dive into the Week 1 course materials largely grounded in the research-based field of Positive Psychology, I think back to exactly one year ago when I was a student in this very same course while earning my UPEACE Diploma in Social Innovation. Taking UPEACE courses was part of my very early research into 21st century teaching and learning methods which later helped launch my own foray into online teaching. (Yesterday I celebrated the milestone of getting my 16,000th online student.) 

16K Online Students

stats from Udemy.com

This morning I am thinking about the single most important exercise I did all last year from the Designing Your Life course: The humble little “Stop-Do” list. Not only did I make this list for myself, I also ended up acting on it and can happily feel its cathartic effects a year later. A life-long perfectionist, mild-mannered people-pleaser, and nicknamed “Lisa Simpson” by my husband, this list badly needed to be made.
 In his article “A Stop Do List” Jim Collins brings up two provocative questions: “Suppose you woke up tomorrow and received two phone calls. The first phone call tells you that you have inherited $20 million, no strings attached. The second tells you that you have an incurable and terminal disease, and you have no more than 10 years to live. What would you do differently, and, in particular, what would you stop doing?

What would YOU say? As I get my online UPEACE classroom and discussion forums into shape, I found my own answer from January 22, 2015:

Let’s see. If I had inherited millions but had only ten years to live… I would most decidedly STOP being the dependable workhorse that I am. I do everything so well at work, that I am rewarded with… more work. I have earned more title, somewhat more pay, etc… but with those things have come many more tasks… These tasks keep me away from the things I love the most: teaching, telling stories through my art and films, and service to people in need.


That said, after 15 years of teaching in universities, I am leaving in May 2015 to go on an adventure in Tanzania? Panama? Zimbabwe? NYC? (already lived there for 7 years, but at least it’s close to family.) I will start my own enterprise teaching online, possibly adjuncting in physical universities wherever I live, consulting, and creating art and design. As long as that list seems, I hope to only do the things I love and never too much at once or anything rushed.


So in the scenario where I have lots of money and limited time, I would travel, let loose a little bit, and unwind first because I’ve been SO productive. I really deserve it and would not feel guilty. I would focus on creating educational opportunities for children and adults in developing countries without access, but I also care about the state of public education in the US. I would make more art, in particular art that creates positive social change. I also think I can help the Ashoka Foundation with their goal of teaching empathy as a 21st century skill to school children.

Well, it turned out that we didn’t end up moving in May after all. We are still in Rome and await news on the UN’s World Food Programme duty station and country myself and my family will be moving to along with the time frame, length of stay, etc. All my grand plans and lofty goals above were tied to this move so I felt the Earth drop out from under my feet when I learned we would stay in Rome a bit longer. There was still talk about a sudden move anyway so to be safe, I took a yearlong Leave of Absence from my university which started last August.

So, stop being an academic workhorse (at least for now). Check.



Photo by Bethany Legg


Another thing I stopped? My eleven year stint running the pre-crowdfunding era grassroots website, Aura’s House. Along with my partners there, we had successfully raised over $100K for 90+ housing, health, education, and income generation projects for needy children in developing countries. My big gripe? A large number of people who set up projects on the site were not doing their fair share of fundraising and getting the word out. Completing these projects successfully often fell on my weary shoulders and I was becoming exhausted and resentful. So I finally archived the site. My “Stop-Do” list assured me that this was OK. We have to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others right?

I ended up creating an online course and wrote an easy-to-follow crowdfunding book to teach others how to successfully raise money for causes online. I decided to STOP chronically fundraising for other people and instead provided tools so dedicated people could do it for themselves. Ahhhh. What’s that? That’s the sound of monkeys getting off my back!

It’s easier to start small. Another item on my “Stop-Do” list was to stop saying yes to things when I really meant no. Could you start with this one too? I admit, the people-pleaser in me is still working on this one which is why it’s also good to think of the list as a work in progress. No need to get it 100% right. Just start.

So have I convinced you yet that you need to make your own list? What are you currently doing that is no longer serving you? What are you doing that makes you feel tired or stressed instead of energized and invigorated? Making the list is the easy part. The harder part is having the courage to act on your list. It’s scary to make changes, particularly in a world of limited time, money, and resources… but do you really want to wait for an announcement that you have just 10 years to live to finally… LIVE?

Read the original “Stop Do List” article by Jim Collins. Also have a look at The Practical Dreamer’s Handbook for further ideas and inspirations.