Slow Down to Finish First

Preparing is just as important as doing.

The Allstate Insurance Company recently published their list of the cities with the Safest Drivers, which also reveals the cities with the WORST drivers. I was amused to see that Washington DC topped the list of accident prone. As someone who grew up in the NY area, I am pretty familiar with what people say about bad drivers. “You’re from New York?! Everyone there drives crazy.” (NY was ranked 20th on the list of Worst Cities).

I don’t consider myself a crazy driver. I don’t ride other people’s bumpers or cut people Slow downoff or make right turns from the left lane. But I do like to get where I am going without dawdling behind the folks with nowhere in particular to be. I am person on a mission and I need to get there. Now. Stuff to do, boxes to check, things to get accomplished. Doing that in a place with a lot of traffic and people on the move means you make choices.

Like playing chess, you need to see where you want to be and figure out how to get there. See where openings are going to be and situate yourself to take advantage of them. To get in position to capitalize on open road, and get to your destination sometimes means slowing down. It requires a little foresight to recognize how a traffic pattern is going to develop and then waiting for just the right opportunity. Who knew!

At one point in my life I drove I-95 from NY to VA on a weekly basis. I discovered that racing to the door to get going didn’t work. Leaving at 5 p.m. got me to NJ, not my final destination, after 1 a.m. I found that by leaving at 7 p.m. also got me there about 1 a.m. Rush hour traffic is real!! So I began to look at my timeline and route more carefully. On the weekends, you have to plan for baseball and football games. There are stadiums dotted all along that route. By checking schedules and game times I devised a plan to avoid the people coming into or getting out of those venues. Sometimes the most prudent thing to do was wait.

Waiting in order to get there faster initially made no sense. See above where I mentioned that I am person with stuff going on. There is no time for patience.

But the reality is there has to be time for it. Would I rather spend 10 minutes checking schedules to plan my travel time or sitting in traffic for hours? Would I rather bide my time behind a tractor trailer for a few miles and then be on my way or constantly be yelling at the car in front of me to move to the right? In all cases it was a more enjoyable and lower stress ride when I took time to plan.

Isn’t that the case with projects too?

Way too often I get invited to work on a project that seems to have started – right in the middle. Processes and people are zipping along by the seat of their pants, with no real understanding of their destination. The excitement of getting to the “doing” part of the project overshadows the benefits of completing the “planning” parts of the project.

Going at 80 mph on any initiative is exciting and invigorating and feels like you are making huge progress. Until you hit that bump in the road. That first missed milestone because you hadn’t estimated your resource needs very well. That first big budget overrun because you hadn’t done enough research on alternative solutions or hidden expenses. That first approval point that you don’t pass because you didn’t have the right contingency plan in place. It is these painful moments, when you find your project stalled and your stress level climbing as your project overheats that you find yourself saying, “Next time I will do things differently.”

I get it. Planning and strategizing aren’t the fun sexy parts of a project. But they are the parts that make executing a project fun and sexy. Without it you are just breathing exhaust fumes and spinning your wheels. So go ahead and do things differently. Take the time to plan your course, look at your map, get everyone else to read the directions and know what the alternate routes are. Yes, it will add a little time to the preparation phase of your project. Yes, you will have to show some restraint and patience. And yes, you will be better prepared for whatever you encounter on your project roadway.

So lesson learned. That quick start may wind up slowing you down in the end. If you want a smoother project, take the time and plan for it. It’s up to you whether you wind up on the list of people with the worst performance records or on the list of people who drove their projects home safely.

Wondering what you could do differently on a project or in life?  Take time to journal it at

Originally published on September 8, 2011

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