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How to Find Your Project’s Sweet Spot

I thought this was a great article on finding your projects sweet spot. Just as Project Management is a process science, its also an art. It’s funny, not only have I experienced the two approaches the author articulates, but have seen the chaos they can bring to a team. Therefore, I thought this would be beneficial for my readers.

DF

How to Find Your Project’s Sweet Spot
By Steven DeMaio. Steve teaches English and math to adults at the Community Learning Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Somerville Center for Adult Learning Experiences in Somerville, Massachusetts.

When it comes to doing a long-term project, most people follow one of two paths: saving the heavy lifting for shortly before the deadline or making an initial big push right out the gate. After years of doing and assigning projects in business and academic settings, I’ve found a better way. First, let me explain the dangers of the two more-common methods.

The 11th-Hour Approach. When you wait too long to do the bulk of the work on a project, your best ideas percolate beyond the point of effervescence. Allowing a delay between when an idea is freshest and when you give it your most concentrated attention takes the juice out of the creative process. In effect, you’re working hardest at a time other than when you’re at your creative peak. That mismatch isn’t necessarily a recipe for disaster, but it does diminish your potential for top performance, especially with the deadline breathing down your neck.

The 1st-Hour Approach. You’re also vulnerable to underachievement if you dive into a project before it has had a chance to stew in your brain. If you find yourself saying “I just want to get this done” and rush to begin, your work will be bland because you haven’t given it time to simmer. You may tell yourself that you’ll revisit the task later, but your “clear-my-desk” attitude will prevent you from ever really seeing the completed work with fresh eyes. “After all,” you’ll think, “the meal’s already cooked. Why should I cook it again?” The reality is that it hasn’t been cooked enough.

The Optimal Approach. Closing the gap between the quality of what you can produce and what you do produce is all about where you place your pressure point. After you officially take on a project, give yourself a brief window during which you’re actively thinking about it but haven’t yet begun the work in earnest — that all-important “stew” time. Just as your ideas begin to bubble up and give off their heady aroma, that’s your creative sweet spot. It’s precisely when you should initiate your highest-intensity activity. If you wait too long, you’ll squander your creative moment and have a tough time recapturing it later. Instead, use the jolt of early curiosity to gear you up and carry you through the longest stretch of hard work. You’ll put in long hours as if the deadline is approaching, but you’re being motivated internally by your own creativity rather than externally by the clock. If you seize the moment in this way, you can finish the heavy lifting for most projects not long after the halfway point.

What do you do with the time that remains? Revise, revise, revise. True “re-vision” — seeing your work anew — requires the space to start fresh each time you come back to the task. That means sleeping on your refinement decisions several times, which you can’t do when you’re right up against a deadline.

Does this approach to long-term projects guarantee top performance? Of course not. There are always project-specific contingencies, including when other people are available to do their parts. But insofar as you have some control over a project’s trajectory (let’s face it, you often do), you should exercise it so that your creative impulse is in sync with your execution. Starting too soon smothers that impulse; starting too late lets it rot on the vine.

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Written by David Frederick

September 15, 2009 at 7:41 PM

Posted in General, Management, People

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