One of the nice things about living here in New Hampshire is that it doesn’t take long to get outside of the fairly small cities, and into a semi-rural suburban setting. The downside, however, is that it means most of the yards are fairly large and require quite a bit of work. Around my house, Memorial Day weekend usually means it’s time top take the cover off the pool and get the filter running. That usually comes with its own set of trials and tribulations, as there is, inevitably, a part on the filter that wears out that requires a trip to the pool store in order to diagnose, repair, and/or replace.
This year, however, the fence that surrounds the pool and the backyard is due to be painted. This is a substantial problem, since the fence covers over 240 linear feet, is picket-style, and is 5 feet high. To get it ready for painting requires renting a pressure washer and blasting off the loose paint. While I was at it, I also needed to clean up the cement surrounding the pool by blasting that with the pressure washer, as well as the siding on the house that needed some sprucing up, too. On top of that task, I also needed to take the dogs to the vet, mow the lawn, open the pool, see the Memorial Day parade with the kids, pick up my son at his friend’s house, and clean out the garage.
Accomplishing all of this meant that I would be up at 6:30 all three days of the Holiday weekend, and would work until it was too dark to see. The only way I could possible get it all done was to have a plan and stick to it.
Life at home is usually full of interruptions. ”Can you get me a” and “I can’t figure out the” or “Can you watch the kids while” are all normal ways of impeding progress, and that doesn’t even begin to take into account the requests for information and attention that come from the kids, too. It’s hard to focus on a single thing when you have a family to take care of, and that doesn’t stop being your family just because you’re busy.
So, I made a plan every morning of what I wanted to accomplish that day, and had a rough idea of what order I would do those things in, and gave myself a lot of extra time for each activity. The end result? I got it all done. I returned the pressure washer on time, enjoyed the parade with the kids, made the icky-looking yard into something a little more presentable, prepared the fence for painting, and even had time to run to the pool store, the home improvement big-box, and enjoy dinner with my family on Monday night.
The key? Discipline. It’s really that simply – Planning and discipline. Whether at home or at work, we find ourselves with plans that are obsolete the moment they are created. We abandon them when something we hadn’t accounted for pops up, which we somehow believe means the plan is invalid. Odds are, it is not. It might need to adjust a bit to establish flow, but it shouldn’t be thrown out entirely. Also, unless the unexpected thing is a catastrophic failure for your entire plan – ignore it. If it’s important, it will become a critical interruption soon enough. If it is not important, it will resolve itself or just go away entirely.
Simple rules for productivity apply everywhere. If you are working at home or working hard for someone else – the rules don’t change. When you run to the store for a wrench – go in, get the wrench, and leave. Don’t browse the power tools, pick up a pack of widgets because they are on sale, wonder what it would cost to replace the whatever – just take care of whatever it is that helps you accomplish your plan. The rest is just noise, and it can get deafening.
Projects at work require the same kind of focus. Rarely is it a good idea to incorporate additional work into a perfectly good plan. It just slows down everything, calls into question the validity of all other plans, and all but assures everyone involved that the original project won’t be finished, won’t be finished on time, or will have to de-scope so significantly that it becomes unrecognizable (meaning it is watered down to the point that nobody wants it).
The best way to get things done is pretty simple, and sounds an awful like one of those things your Dad told you when you were a kid when didn’t feel like getting your work done: Think ahead, and stay focused.