Why it’s lousy to be as spontaneous as me (and a tip on fixing it)

Last night, I was wrapping up a certain portion of a project and was reminded again of one of my weak points: spontaneity. I was ten minutes from finishing up before I started to think about what the next step should be, what tools and materials I’d need, and who would be involved. This is a bad way to be delivering on promises (in another post I’ll brief you on my over-promising issue).

I’ve talked a bit about delivering (or, as Seth Godin calls it, shipping), but I want to go in a little deeper to show you some of the troubles I’ve had with it, and some ways I’ve come across to fixing it up.

Recognizing the heart of the problem took me a while. I’d get frustrated with people when they couldn’t take what I was delegating, or couldn’t come that day, or didn’t have a sense of urgency like I did. I’d end up ripping my hair out when it came to scheduling people, getting jobs done, or even getting done with my yard work. Consistently late. Never enough hours in a day. Ever feel like that?

At long last, a generous soul pointed out the root of my problem. I am a self-identified One-More-Thinger. “Just going to do one more thing.” Spontaneous. If I’m mowing the lawn, I’ll see some weeds that need pulled. When I’m pulling weeds, I’ll remember something about my sprinkler system. I’ll get sidetracked with that and end up soaking wet, scrubbing vinyl fence with my poor wife on the patio gently reminding me that we have a wedding to be at in twenty minutes. Story of my life.

When we think about delivering a project, we often think that the only way we’re not going to ship it is if we don’t start. The whole ‘journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’, right? But, if we take the yard work example, my thousand mile journey was mowing the grass. So instead of just going from Portland to LA, I also went to Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota (remember that song?)…

I recently heard a podcast that talked about shipping projects. The guy laid out a fool-proof system for delivering on time, on budget, every time. Here it is: Identify what done looks like, and work your way backwards. Write down every step, every expense, every day you’ll need, every person involved. If we keep going with this landscaping story (boy, really running with this one), if I wanted to get the whole yard done, just come out and say it. Start with the goal of pulling the weeds, washing the fence, etc. Estimate how long that’s going to take, calculate the hours between now and the wedding, and the answer is evident to whether I can finish or not. It’s not rocket surgery.

This is especially important if you’re going to be making promises to people. “We’ll be reopening March 1st” should mean you’ll be there on March 1st with banners and party hats. And if it’s October, you’d best have that list all wrote out, and be getting things done.

Delivering is all about promises. If you need more time to deliver, that’s fine. Just don’t tell us it’ll be March if it’s going to be May. That wrecks trust, which is the heart of every transaction.

I’m going to give this system a try on an upcoming project, and will let you know how it goes! Until then, keep delivering.

Have a method that’s worked for you? Let us know below!


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