Quitting Responsibly: 4 Signs It’s Time

​Quitting is usually seen as a sign of failure. If you start a project and give up halfway through, ...

​Quitting is usually seen as a sign of failure. If you start a project and give up halfway through, the fault lies with you—not the project or the obstacles surrounding it. After all, patience, persistence, and grit are highly prized at the office.

But sometimes, quitting isn’t synonymous with failure. It can be the best choice for you, your team, and your employer. Deciding to walk away before you’ve reached the end may save you precious resources, energy, and time.

How do you know when you’re prematurely cutting your losses versus quitting while you’re ahead? Read on for four signs you should call it quits.

1. If your priorities have changed

Every time your priorities shift, you should reevaluate how you’re allocating your efforts. The highest-priority items should receive the most effort. If you’re working on something that’s no longer a top priority—and you don’t have the bandwidth to do it all—drop the least important or least-timely projects.

For example, maybe your manager asked you to spend 20% of your time mentoring junior developers. Two months into your consulting job, your deadline to complete a redesign moves up. To meet this new, more ambitious due date, you need to stop working with the less-experienced developers (at least temporarily).

2. You don’t know the purpose

Occasionally, we get stuck in autopilot mode. You might keep plugging away at an initiative simply because at one point it seemed like a good idea. However, if you don’t know why you’re still working on it, it’s probably not worth investing in.

Ask yourself these questions:

What’s the outcome I’m aiming for?
How does that outcome play into my larger goals?
Will this project or task affect my success in this role?

Unless you have compelling answers to at least two of those, quit the project.

3. The costs don’t justify it

Thanks to the sunken cost fallacy, quitting once you’ve begun is irrationally hard. For example, if you’ve read 200 pages of a book, you’re likely going to finish it—even if you don’t like the book.

Try to fight this psychological bias by looking at the additional investment required to complete the project compared to the ROI. To give you an idea, maybe the best-case scenario is wrapping up the campaign in three months. You’ll probably generate half of the cost of your time in revenue. It’s clearly not logical to continue.

4. If you haven’t made any progress

Have you been unable to make any headway? That’s also a red flag. Without any momentum, your project will stall indefinitely. Not only is that undesirable in terms of results, it’s also bad for morale.

Review how much progress you’ve accomplished recently. If you’ve hit at least one milestone, ruled out a potential idea or avenue, acquired new, important information, and/or solved a problem, then you’ll probably continue to move forward. On the other hand, if you’ve applied elbow grease and gotten nowhere, consider doing yourself a favor and quitting.

While quitting is always hard, sometimes it’s the right thing to do. If any of these four signs are evident, consider walking away.