By Jeff Davidson
The two most common mistakes that professionals make on the path to accomplishing short-term tasks are overpreparing and at the same time, strangely, underestimating what will be necessary to succeed.
Overpreparation has stopped many would-be get-it-done enthusiasts right in their tracks. Consider, for example, the sales professional who makes fewer sales calls per week, and as a result closes even fewer sales, because he or she gets stuck in the semiperpetual state of overpreparation. This involves doing excessive research on the client, the product, the presentation techniques, and so forth.
The overprepared local government manager means to do well. His or her anxiety level, however, might prompt the individual to unnecessarily complicate one task after another en route to actually completing the overall job.
This is the person who, on the day when a project is finally ready to be finished, is distracted by five other tasks to handle. Why? He’s soooo wound up, that he can’t focus on the task at hand.
Less Is More
If you can, forsake the crutches that seemingly aid but often impede your progress. The crutch that frequently impedes most individuals is information. Too often, many people want to have a broad swath of information, data, figures, statistics—you name it—all assembled before launching a task. More data is not always the answer, especially in a society where we’re deluged with information.
Forsaking crutches simply means you will not allow extraneous factors to impede your progress. If you have five magazine articles that support your argument, having an additional four or five articles is not going to make that much of a difference.
You don’t want to fall into the trap of rounding up resources that, in retrospect, will prove to be only marginally helpful and unnecessarily draw from the time you expend on completing the task at hand.
Underestimate No More
On any project or task, big or small, it pays to total up what it will cost in terms of time, energy, dollars, or other resources. The paradox faced by otherwise competent managers is that they often underestimate the time that it will take to complete a task, even short-term tasks.
This is the individual who is perpetually racing the clock. His or her to-do list grows longer and longer because this person is inappropriately optimistic about how much can be accomplished in a day, an hour, or other short time span.
In the information-based society engulfing us, it can be difficult to estimate how much time it will take to complete a particular task, especially in those cases where we’re undertaking a task for the first time. You might ask yourself:
• Who might know how long it’s going to take to learn a new software routine?
• Who can say precisely how much time it will take to complete a particular form?
• How much time will be needed to review a team member’s first interim report?
• How long will it take to respond to the three critical e-mails that just arrived?
You can make a strong case that a large proportion of the tasks you face on any given day are “first-time” type tasks, and the time to complete them in is not abundantly clear at the outset. That’s why it’s useful to establish benchmarks and set reasonable time limits.
A Good Habit to Acquire
Ultimately, our habits define us, especially on the job. Reputations can be enhanced or diminished largely as a result of the work habits we exhibit. Once you develop the habit of taking a task to completion, you find that your ability to get things done consistently improves.
You become the opposite of a procrastinator, which is a self-starter. You get better and better at jumping right in without a lot of mental claptrap. Unlike the legion of people who might engulf themselves in endless numbers of short-term tasks, you rise above it all to recognize that get-it-done-now types of individuals are in demand, and sleep better to boot.