Tip: It’s Not Preparation.
How much do you usually prepare for a meeting? For a customer meeting? For a speech in front of an audience?
I rarely heard an overthinker stating:
“Let’s not worry about it. I will wing it”.
Instead, they most often tend to over-prepare. After all, better safe than sorry, right?
The issue with this adage is that it lacks situational context, therefore, nuances. When we reduce the outcome to “good or bad” — “pass or fail”, we are oblivious of trade-offs and it impacts our performance.
Is it worth it to spend an hour more rehearsing this presentation? Or would our time better be spent on another activity?
In my book Act Before You overThink, I explain that overthinkers (especially the Maximiser type) over-prepare with an excess of analysis. They consume all information they can find to obtain a “perfect” outcome. They claim: “The more data, the merrier!” — misunderstanding the value of information.
If we want to bake a chocolate cake and find an online recipe, does finding a second one provide us with the same value as the first one? Certainly not. What about a third recipe? What is its value compared to the second and first recipes?
The reality is that information often offers a diminishing return, setting a tipping point where information value is not worth our efforts anymore.
And beyond the utility of information, overthinkers often don’t value their time judiciously.
A few months ago, I delivered a keynote at an IT conference in front of more than 60 people. Before stepping on stage, part of me wished I had more time to rehearse. I felt I hadn’t prepared enough.
In the back of my head, a little voice kept saying I would not make it. But I silence it with a quote I love from best-selling author Flora R. Schreiber:
It doesn’t mean we should not prepare. Just that we will never feel we have done enough, especially for the things that are important to us. This leads many to delay, postpone and ask for more time.
But when overthinkers over-prepare, they devalue their time and this issue is amplified when they have to handle several projects in parallel.
Overthinkers caught in this situation can experience high levels of anxiety and stress because they know they won’t have the “usual” amount of preparation they are used to for each of their projects.
So how can we better manage and value our time?
The first answer I always get during my performance workshops is prioritisation. A common approach is using the Eisenhower matrix, filtering our activities using two criteria: Impact and Urgency.
We want to do, right now, the tasks that impact the business the most and that are urgent. We schedule when to do the tasks that are important but not urgent. Then, delegate the ones with low impact and high urgency and finally eliminate the remaining tasks.
However, task prioritisation only tells us when to do something; it doesn’t help us to decide when to stop. The main issue with over-preparation is moving the goalpost from: “this is good” to “this is good enough”.
And to help us with this, we can use the Impact-Effort matrix to allocate our efforts better.
I believe we are all project managers in some ways. From making dinner, and organising our holidays to managing a multi-million dollar software development, we have to plan and execute tasks — and this quadrant can help us.
Although I could write several articles about this model, let’s focus on one essential notion.
Similarly to the Eisenhower matrix, we want to spend as much time as possible working on high-impact activities. But we can be tempted to over-prepare, overthink and spend too much effort on activities that should be ‘quick wins’.
And when we do, it doesn’t shift it to the right, making it a ‘major project’. Instead, we complete an additional “thankless task” and fail to seize other opportunities.
Let’s take the preparation of the slides for a customer presentation as an example. We might consider it as a quick win as a successful presentation could get the deal across the line. Now, after a draft and one revision — we are probably good enough — even if we feel it’s not ready.
If we keep updating and reworking it until we feel we are ready, we are just doing low-impact additional work. We are doing ‘thankless tasks’. The 10th edit to adjust the font size and colours is unlikely to make much difference, and we could have better used this time on something else.
The answer to “is it good enough?” will vary according to the task, the situation and many other criteria — but there is one constant.
Good enough happens before fully ready.
Good enough happens way sooner than we expect. Usually, there are still plenty of unknowns and uncertainty, so moving ahead can be scary. But as counterintuitive as it might be, this act of bravery is also one of efficiency.
It is the realisation that action is the final step of preparation.
So, what will you start doing to feel ready?
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To your success,
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