Its hard work, but it doesn’t need to be so difficult

It is a simple truth that anything worth doing is hard work. Though I’ve tried repeatedly, I haven’t discovered any shortcuts. If fact, I've often found that when I try to skimp, it ends up costing me in time or quality. So I don’t. Because for me, time is a very, very important commodity.

I have found that the difficulty is never the actual work. In almost every situation it is the work that brings joy, especially when you get to work with great people. Once completed, a warm, comfortable sense of accomplishment follows any well-done project and re-charges me for the next one.

In my experience, the difficulty comes from over-working because you're always playing catch-up. The difficulty comes from not knowing where to start, or what you’ll need, or quieting the loud, emotional voices that feel it’s their duty to make comments (including your own).

The difficulty of any project is feeling of being out of control.

So when I commit to a project – whether it be hosting Thanksgiving dinner or spearheading a marketing initiative – I have a standardized mantra that I follow. It is simple, but easy to remember.

1. Have a target – This is where you describe, as simply as possible, what you want to accomplish. I usually state it in a declarative, positive manner. Some examples may include:

  • I will launch an updated website with new branding images and messages (professional)
  • I will host Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people (personal)

Never describe your target as a negative such as I don’t want to miss the deadline or burn dinner. Always describe something in the positive because it will subtly influence your thoughts in the proper direction.

2. Have a plan – At home I call it my list, at work I call it key imperatives. It is a combination of tasks, deadlines and ownership. There are three key elements:

  • Action item – a brief description of what needs to be done
  • Start date/time – built into this element is knowing how long it takes and when it needs to be finished. I believe that knowing when to start is more important than knowing when to finish. If you miss the start time you’ll miss the deadline.
  • Owner – clearly identify who is responsible for completing the action item. It's best to only have one owner for each, specific action item. This helps you avoid work duplication or even worse, no accountability.

3. Be flexible – Even the best made plans experience bumps due to unforeseen circumstances. Be open knowing that you’ll have to make adjustments when something goes wrong. So that when the twist comes, you know that you can handle it. Also important is keeping your perspective. As we’ve all learned, it is very, very rare that any one problem will completely sabotage a project. No one can prevent problems from occurring – even when you plan for contingencies – but just knowing that you can handle any potential problem that comes your way gives you a better sense of control.

4. Get better – Commit to continuous improvement. Though I don’t believe in shortcuts, I do like to save time by learning how to do something better. I do this by documenting repeated procedures, necessary tools and then evaluating how to make the process better. At home I call them recipes. At work they are called operating procedures. These documents list, in the correct sequence, who does what step and with what tools. I review and update these when there is a new tool available or a break-down in the process.

Having procedures also helps with training new team members. My daughters like to cook with me and are very adept at finding and following new recipes. New employees (especially those with little work experience) find it easier to transition to a role when they know what is required of them.

There is a difference between hard work and difficult work. Hard work can be energizing while difficult work is draining. Having a predictable approach does not take the joy or spontaneity out of a job or life. In fact, I’ve found that it contributes to my happiness because the tasks that need to get done, get done properly, with less effort. It helps me influence the elements I can control. And that leaves me more creativity-time…or even better, more free-time.