How to kill ‘zombies’ in the workplace – and take back up to 70% of your time


Those lingering projects that are sucking the life out of your organisation have to be stopped.
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Do you have zombies at your workplace? Are reawakened corpses that smell like rotting flesh stalking your office building?

Okay, so perhaps the walking dead haven’t literally invaded your workplace, but metaphorically, they might have.

Global Innovation Thought Leader and Senior Partner at growth strategy consulting firm Innosight, Scott D. Anthony, thinks a lot about zombies. More specifically, he thinks a lot about zombie projects.

‘A zombie project is like the walking undead,’ explains Anthony. ‘It is the shuffling, lingering project that, if you are honest about it, will never have material impact. But it’s the thing that is sucking all the innovation life out of an organisation. It’s the thing that’s killing your ability to do new things because you’re working on all these zombie efforts that are taking all of your time and all of your energy.’

So why are there so many zombie projects? Perhaps not surprisingly, research has found that people do not like to believe their past choices were misguided. We want to assume that we were indeed being clever to select the projects that now occupy our time. So when we discover that one of the projects we are working on is not particularly valuable, we convince ourselves that we simply need to devote even more time to this task or goal – because surely that will make it better! Psychologists call this escalation of commitment.

Anthony has found the zombie idea really resonates inside large companies because there is such a stigma about raising your hand and saying, “You know that idea that we’ve spent 12 months and millions of dollars working on? Well, it’s actually not producing any value and we should probably stop working on it.”

But putting zombies out of their misery is easier said than done.

As well as helping clients identify and kill zombies, Anthony has killed many in his own working life. Several years ago, he had the perfect opportunity to do so when he transitioned from being the Managing Partner of Innosight and handed the role to one of his US colleagues.

‘It was a great moment because it allowed me to step back and look at my calendar and ask, “Which of the regular standing meetings that I have with colleagues are really things that are great investments of my time for both me and the other person? Which are ones that have just become routines that we did because the calendar told us that we should meet every X number of weeks?”’

Through asking these questions, Anthony was able to remove between 50% and 70% of zombie meetings from his diary. What’s more: no one really noticed because the meetings were adding so little value to their work.

One such meeting that he was able to eliminate was a recurring operations meeting with a colleague with whom he had worked for over a decade. “We had a standing update call, and we would dutifully try to find agenda items to go through, but it turned out that Jeanne and I could handle those agenda items really well by email. So we stopped having the calls and we started doing email updates instead. It allowed both of us to save time and it didn’t impair the effectiveness of either one of us.”

To execute some zombie killing in your organisation, start by looking at your diary and work activities for the next fortnight. Alternatively, you might want to reflect on the fortnight just finished. Ask yourself: What are the projects that I’m working on and the routine meetings that I have that don’t have a purpose any more or are not creating value? For recurring meetings, ask yourself, “Does it make sense for us to be meeting at this frequency?” or “Can this meeting be done just as well via asynchronous updates (meaning non-live communication, such as email and instant messaging)?”

Next, kill your zombies by eliminating those projects, activities and meetings. And for additional zombie-killing tips or to help launch a zombie-killing campaign in your team or organisation, go to for more resources.

Dr Amantha Imber is the author of Time Wise (of which this piece is an edited extract), the founder of behavioural science consultancy Inventium and the host of How I Work, a podcast about the habits and rituals of the world’s most successful people.