Where do you start a painting project? Or any type of project?
I was refinishing some furniture recently, and found myself thinking about the three classic mistakes that people make when managing project workflow.
Mistake #1 – Starting with the most visible parts first
Years ago, whenever I was doing a project I’d start with the most prominent part first. For example, wen my husband and were putting up wallpaper in our first home’s foyer, I couldn’t wait to get it up. So we started with the big wall immediately opposite the front. Which is why for several years the most visible part of our home had a line of crooked wallpaper right in the middle of it. We should have started in a less prominent place to build our skills before we tackled the big showy part.
When I work with clients, I advise starting projects with a few easy backstage action items first. You want to be able to get your feet wet on the less critical parts, so that you have skills and confidence before you tackle the largest most visible elements. But don’t wait too long
Mistake # 2 – Saving the hardest part for last
Building up your experience works, but only to a point. If you save the hardest parts for last, you’ll find yourself running out of time and energy. Exhibit A for this classic mistake is the dresser I refinished where I saved the top part for last thinking that by the end, I’d have perfected my glazing technique. Wrong. I peaked midway, by the end, I was tired, it was late and I was just slapping glaze on the thing like a drunken housewife trying to douse a cheap ham. Which is why there is now a lamp and a book sitting at odd angles on top of said dresser to cover my sloppy late night work.
When you’re planning workflow, put the most important elements in the middle. You’ll be experienced enough to do them well, but not so pushed for time that you rush. For a recent client project, we scheduled the high profile all hands meeting for the mid point. We had some quick wins we could share, and we generated internal enthusiasm to carry us over the finish line.
Mistake #3 – Not starting because you don’t know how it will end
I know, Stephen Covey says, start with the end in mind. It’s good advice that can keep you from aimless endeavors. But you don’t have to know exactly how things will turn out to start. The best advice I got on this came from Meryl Streep, well, actually her husband. Meryl Streep was doing many films about foreign women with heavy accents and dramatic stories. A reporter asked her, how do you get into the character, what do you do first, the accent, the movements, the backstory, what? Streep said, “I learned from my husband who is a sculptor, just start. Pick whatever place seems the most interesting, or doable, and just start.”
I’ve followed this advice for years. I don’t start my book in the beginning, some I’ve started in the middle, others with the end. I start projects with the parts that seem manageable. I advise clients to start with the places they find interesting. Because here’s the thing, once you start, you’re in. If it’s the right project, the work itself will give you energy.