How to Get Things Done

Unfinished Project

Tackling a big project can bring a variety of emotions. We may feel excited about a promising outcome or anxious because we aren’t sure how to proceed.  But whether you are looking to build the house of your dreams or simply complete a school assignment, it is important to always approach a task with the following:

Often we jump into a project without a clear idea of how we will finish. I had a friend who finally got fed up with the ugly carpet in her living room one evening, and in a burst of frustration, jumped up and began ripping. As you can imagine, this resulted in a half-destroyed room, and no simple way to restore order.

With almost every project, preparation is about 70% of the job; before painting a room, you have to tape up the edges, seal off the outlets, move the furniture, put down the drop cloth, etc. Before writing a research paper, you have to gather resources, conduct interviews, take notes, and assemble information into an outline. This is the situation with almost every project! Unfortunately, preparatory work is often dry and unrewarding… but stay strong! It must be done, and if you work a carefully laid a plan, your progress will most likely be smooth.

I remember watching Martha Stewart on TV one day and she said that for every job there is a perfect tool. And you know what? She’s right! Have you ever tried to…

…remove wallpaper without a paper tiger?
…conduct online research with a poor internet connection?
…make muffins without a muffin tin?

No matter the job, it is critical to first gather the best tool(s)… it might save you literally hours of time. If you don’t know what the best tool is (e.g. when you are doing something for the first time), take a little time before hand to ask around. And remember, sometimes the right tool will be a person rather than a physical item. Be sure to include the cost of these tools when deciding when to start a new project.

This one is a little less obvious. Most of us are tempted to take shortcuts when working on projects: skim the book we’ve been assigned to read, fudge the numbers to get the right answer, paint a bench without first roughing up the surface.   It is human nature to want to jump to the end result. Periodically, we can get away with a less than stellar effort. However, a slipshod life approach will eventually exact revenge, and could end up costing a lot of time and money (as anyone who’s had a second-rate contractor knows!)

Anything worth doing is worth doing right. That doesn’t mean you need to be a perfectionist… we can’t do our best on every single task on the “to do” list. Rather, it means listening to the inner voice that tells you when you are “cheating” yourself, and then choosing to go the other way.

Do you have a project you are determined to tackle this year? What will you do to make sure you “get it done”?