Monday, December 1, 2014

My Life Is A Gas

It’s that time of year again.  December is upon us and we are ready to take on the Holidailies challenge of writing a blog every day this month.  I got elected to go first so here goes.


Did you ever notice how most tasks, and especially the ones that we least like to do, always have the tendency to fill up whatever amount of time you give yourself (or others give you) to do them?  It’s kind of like a gas.  I remember once learning in science class that a gas will expand to fill whatever container it is placed in.  If placed in a small container, it is heavily concentrated.  If placed in a larger container, it will spread itself out to fill the entire space, just less concentrated.  Now a gas isn’t making choices to do this – it can’t just decide to hang out on the left side of the container and leave the right side gas free.  It doesn’t work that way.  It’s not in the gas’ nature.

In contrast, we all have free will and control over our actions. 

If we have (or someone else has) set a deadline for a project of thirty days, we can always say “To heck with that.  I’m going to do it in a week.”  We can but we rarely do.  How many of us chart a course to deliver early?  Not many.  Let’s call this Path A.

Some of us (many of us) are diligent.  We start the project, make a plan with milestones to complete all of the parts making steady progress.  We always finish in the amount of time allotted.  That’s great.  Let’s call this Path B.

Others of us (and you know who you are) are the procrastinating type.  Thirty days?  No problem.  Ten days go by.  We’re not worried.  Still have twenty more days.  Another ten days later.  Guess I should probably start that project.  Those last ten days are pretty hectic and we may worry for a moment or two about whether we’ll actually finish on time.  But by day 30, we’re done.  This is Path C.

In all 3 paths, the project got done within the time allotted.  We were given thirty days to do it and by God, by day 30 (or earlier in the case of Path A) we turned in the finished project.  We delivered as requested and right on time or sooner.  That’s good, right? 

I guess so.  But is one Path better than others?  Does one produce a better result?

Under Path A, sure we finished early.  So I guess that’s good.  But could we have done a better job if we hadn’t rushed through it?  Could we have made use of the rest of the time allotted?  Perhaps if we didn’t turn in the project so early, we could have completed it in a week, rested for a week, and then revisited it during our remaining 16 days to fix typos, refine our approach, and take the project to the next level?  Maybe.  Or would we just have procrastinated for the first 23 days and then ultimately use the same 7 days to complete the job?

Under Path B, we made methodical, steady progress.  We planned each step of the way.  There was never any question we would finish on time.  If we stayed on schedule, it was not an issue.  And by breaking the project down into bite-sized sections, we could focus on each section individually and give it our best effort without being overwhelmed by the project in its entirety.

Finally, under Path C, we basically squandered our time during the 30 days.  The good news is we got plenty of other things done.  The bad news is that the last 10 days were hectic, stressful, exhausting and we may not have put our best foot forward on the project. Under Path C, so much of our attention is focused on actually finishing the project on time that the overall quality of the project is likely to have slipped.

So back to my original question – which approach is the best?  I think the answer comes from each of us individually.  I know people who fall in the Path C camp who find they can’t do their best work unless they are facing down a looming deadline.  They get an adrenaline rush from working under those circumstances.  I also know some people who follow Path A, but many more who are in the Path B camp.  So maybe the correct question isn’t “which approach is best” – but rather “which approach is best for you”?

Thanks for reading.