Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
A great quote, isn’t it? It’s the opposite of what many people do. When they have a project to work on, many people just work on it directly with little or no preparation. To the contrary, smart people prepare things well in advance and that way they outperform those with little or no preparation. They accomplish the job in less time and with less stress. That’s what I call working smart.
Preparation is essential to work smart. At a glance, it may seem like a waste of time. Isn’t it better to use the time to get the job done? Isn’t it better to get to work directly? But preparation can make the difference between being productive and just being tired.
Here are three ways preparation can help you:
- Preparation helps you find if something is worth doing. Few things waste your time more than working on the wrong project. So it’s wise to check first if something is worth doing. Is it the best use of your time and resources? Is there other project that can give you better return for your investment? Spend time to find out whether or not the project is feasible. The time saved from not doing the wrong project far outweighs the time spent to research it.
- Preparation helps you find the most efficient way to do things. Once you decide that a project is worth doing, the next step is finding the most efficient way to do it. Those with no preparation will use the first method they can think of or the one they are familiar with. But chance is there are other methods out there that can do things better and faster. Do some research to find them. One good way is by watching how the best people in your field work. Find several models and observe the advantages and disadvantages of their methods. Pay special attention to methods that are radically different from what you know. Then combine the best methods to create something that suits your style and situation.
- Preparation makes you ready when opportunity comes. You shouldn’t prepare yourself only when you have a project ahead. Even when there is no project, you should keep building your skills and knowledge. Keep learning, keep growing, and open your eyes. That way when opportunity comes you will be ready to grab it. As Seneca said: Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
There is a danger though: you could be over-prepared. Being over-prepared is dangerous because you may then take action way too late or never take action at all. Even worse, some people use preparation as an excuse not to take action. Don’t let this happen to you. Do only the preparation that significantly contributes to your project and your personal growth. Prepare well but don’t over-prepare.
Photo by erix!