Productivity exercise: For improvements in life and business

Productivity exercise: For improvements in life and business
Stuart Young
Stuart YoungStuart Young Consultancy

Posted: Tue 14th May 2024

That could be as simple as rethinking how you do things or how you think about things or even what things you are doing or thinking about.

I can hear a collective groan! “Not another exercise to do – I don’t have time!!”

I hear you, I’m a busy owner of an SME too. But from time to time, I realise I’m not being as effective or efficient as I know I can be. This little exercise acts as a reminder of what I could 'stop, keep and start' doing to keep the wheels of the bus going round.

Most importantly, it helps me identify the things I’m not doing right now, for whatever reason, that could really help move the needle in my business and potentially, in my life.

This could be the most productive half-hour you have spent so far this year. You may even get to Christmas and reflect on this being the best half-hour you spent all year.

Phil Daniels, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University, is credited with devising the core of this process and I have added four powerful questions and one clear action step to turbocharge its effectiveness and application.

The Process: Stop. Keep. Start.


  • Ask yourself: "What should I/we STOP doing?"

Multiple activities in our lives and businesses are directly detracting or hindering our progress. Think of the distractions in your day-to-day life, phones, fitbits, children, colleagues, social media – the list goes on and on.

Answering this question honestly shines a light on them so we can address them in Part 2.

For example, stop doing activities that aren’t part of your vision and mission.

  • Ask yourself: "What should I/we KEEP doing?"

Likewise, there are activities that we practise each day that are moving the needle and improving things. It’s good to understand what they are to ensure they happen in a predictable and consistent way.

Having good time management habits and practical task organisers helps keep us on track along with scheduling blocks of time for certain activities.

For example, keep delivering value to your core market and audience.

  • Ask yourself: "What should I/we START doing?"

Then there are those activities that we either know we should do but don’t, or we haven’t even thought of doing. We've all heard of chaos theory and the butterfly effect – stating that tiny changes can have a huge impact beyond our understanding.

History is full of small events that went on to make a massive difference, well that's what this third part is about. This question is usually the hardest to answer but often reveals the most important insights.

For example, start identifying those activities that could end up really moving the needle.

Write as many answers as you can for each.


Once you have written a selection of answers to the three questions in PART 1, choose the #1 answer in each case. It may be obvious or you might have to spend a few minutes prioritising them.

For each of those answers apply these four questions:

  • Why should you (stop, keep, or start) doing this activity?
    For example, why should you stop doing activities that aren’t part of your vision or mission?

  • How will you (stop, keep, or start) doing this activity?
    For instance, how will you keep delivering value to your core market and audience?

  • When will you (stop, keep, or start) doing this activity?
    For example, when will you start identifying those activities that really move the needle?

  • Who do you respect enough that you can ask to keep you accountable?

Ask these questions for those top three answers first, but then take the time to apply them to all your answers.


Identify what habits you can create and employ to help you achieve your 'Stop. Keep. Start.' goals. It’s these habits that will do the heavy lifting of changing your behaviour so don’t think of them as an afterthought or added extra.

As Dr Joe Dispenza says:

“Creating something different starts with habits. If you’re not defined by your vision of your future, you’re left with the memories of your past.”

Good habits have been shown to increase productivity, improve focus and reduce overwhelm and they can be created in as little as 14 days of repetitive behaviour. Start small, pick something easy and see how quickly you can start some new behaviour or stop a bad one. By the time you get to four months of repetition, it becomes harder to not do what's habitual.

When stopping a habitual behaviour ensure you know what you were benefitting from it, then find a new 'positive' way to get that benefit.

For instance, smokers often say: "It helps me relax."

So the positive replacement behaviour to help relax could be five minutes of reading, stretching or learning something.

I love this little exercise and I hope you do too.

Relevant resources

Stuart Young
Stuart YoungStuart Young Consultancy

Get business support right to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive business tips, learn about new funding programmes, join upcoming events, take e-learning courses, and more.