Preparation Reduces Stress

Last week, a client retained us for an extremely urgent Strategic Planning project. We're already working on a number of other projects for this and other clients. This post discusses how we're managing the high workload and our stress.

Now most of our work involves a certain level of stress. And often the more work we have, the more stress we feel. This latest urgent project certainly is an example of that. So we need an approach to reduce the stress so that we complete the projects on time with the quality that will delight our clients.

In a word, our approach is: preparation.

I'm serving as the lead on this most recent project. What follows are the three steps I took to prepare for it:

First, I cleared my plate. That is, I organized my desk, files, and email, and completed a number of other personal and business items (e.g. prepared and filed our family April taxes, prepared our business monthly books, advanced other business projects to a state at which I can revisit them later, etc.)

With this clearing of my "to do list", the only things I really need to work on for the next two weeks are this new project and another that is also due in April.

Second, I made a commitment to go to bed earlier, so that I would obtain sufficient sleep, and also wake up earlier. My morning brain is the best version of itself, with the ability to understand and process complex information quickly. So waking up rested and earlier allows me to maximize the hours that I can apply my best brain to these projects.

Third, now being ready to start work on these early April projects, the first thing I did was to plan and prepare for them. That is, rather than jump right into the meat of the work, I spent the first couple of days reviewing, researching, making notes, and creating "straw man" deliverables.

Now I do these sort of preparatory actions on all of our projects. But given enough time, there usually isn't the need to bunch up all of them at the very start of the project.

I did so this time, however, because it allows me to get the work done sooner than later.

These three steps significantly reduced my stress about completing the work. Having taken these steps, I am fully confident in our ability to produce quality deliverables that will delight our client, even with the imminent deadlines.

I learned the value of planning and preparation long ago as a child. But the lesson was explicitly stamped home to me back when I was in law school. The professors advised us to spend the first full hour of a three-hour exam simply planning our answers — not writing them up.

It was great advice then, and is hugely helpful now.