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How Focussing On Project Failure Can Lead To Success

How Focussing On Project Failure Can Lead To Success

Our first instinct when we look at a new project is to dream of its potential success. If you’re writing a book, you dream of Oprah one day calling and whisking you off to her show. You’ll be on the bestsellers lists for months, and it’s all about beaches and vintage typewriters, doing your craft in between swimming in warm waters.

While this is certainly an entertaining dream, it quite obviously bears no relation to reality and it harms your project more than it helps it succeed. Instead of dreaming about that fanciful day of success, start by digging into how the project could fail. Here’s how this mindset can help.

It resets your happiness level

The first thing that thinking about failure in your project does is to reset your level of happiness. It’s much too easy to fall into a spiral of doom and gloom. You think that if the project fails, it all ends with you on the street, living in a fridge box because everyone has seen you for the fraud you know you are.

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This is a lie of course, and by planning out failure we inoculate ourselves against this doom-and-gloom mentality. You realize that if your book doesn’t launch as you dream, the worst that will happen is that only a few people will purchase it and you’ll have added to the endless amounts of unknown books out there. You’ll have to keep your current job, but that’s not so terrible, it’s just not the ideal dream. I’ve had products that no one bought, and I’ve had products since that many people have purchased. In both scenarios, I was totally fine and kept going.

It helps you build a good plan

The second big benefit of planning for failure is that it helps you plan for the things that could go wrong. Your product may not sell well because not enough people know about it. The solution to that is a good marketing strategy, not just something thrown together haphazardly after you’ve got the product finished.

Maybe no one will purchase it because it’s just a bad product. You can find that out if you do a bit of market research first.

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Way too many people start a project with only optimism and then don’t have a plan for the things that might go wrong. By thinking about as many of these potential issues as you can up front, you’ll be much better prepared when thing start to go poorly. No, you won’t catch every bad thing that could happen, but even having 20% of them covered up front will go a long way to helping the project succeed.

It helps you find out where to learn more

Another benefit to planning for the failure of a project is that you figure out where you need to go to learn more. In our example above, as you start to plan out a proper marketing strategy, maybe you find out that you really don’t even know what that looks like.

With that knowledge in hand, you can either find someone that does know what a good marketing plan looks like to handle it for you or dig in and learn how to put together a good marketing plan yourself.

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This is also true at the end of the project when you do a post-mortem. You can look back and see where the real trouble came from and then go back to your original failure planning to see why you missed these areas. Then, the next time you start a project and plan for failure, you’re going to have a better idea of what may fail and you’ll be able to plan for it accordingly.

The longer you keep up this cycle of planning for failure, the more likely it is that your projects will succeed. The longer you keep planning for the failure of projects, the less you’ll be affected when the odd project does fail — it won’t be the end of the world.

Take a look at what you’re working on right now and start planning how it could fail so that you have a higher chance of success.

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Featured photo credit: aigle_dore via flickr.com

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Last Updated on October 15, 2019

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

Why we procrastinate after all

We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

So, is procrastination bad?

Yes it is.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

How bad procrastination can be

Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

Procrastination, a technical failure

Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

Reference

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