December 17, 2011

Don’t Get Things Out Early

When you’re getting ready to work on a project, like baking a pie for a Christmas party, it seems as if you can save time by getting the materials out in advance. You know you need to bake the pie tomorrow, so you put the flour, pie pan, rolling pin, and all the other things you’ll need out on the table. Then, you think, when you’re ready to start on the pie, all you need to do is show up and start baking.

This doesn’t work nearly as well as it seems it should. It ends up taking more time when you try to save time this way.

When you take things out early, they can get moved, used for something different, or covered up by something else that was also taken out for something that isn’t happening yet. You can lose track of things. They might even get thrown away. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spent five or ten minutes looking for something I need, only to realize, “Oh — I already put it out on the counter.” It actually takes less time to find things if they are put away where you expect to find them than if they are sitting out somewhere. Things can get dirty if they are sitting out, and then you have to clean them before you can get started.

It is helpful to take a look to make sure you have all the materials you will need. If you have run out of flour and the mixing spoon is broken, that is a problem you can solve more easily if you discover it more than half a day in advance. And, often it makes sense to get things out for the very next thing you will be doing, or something you will be starting on almost right away. Other than that, getting materials out in advance can turn into an unnecessary and unproductive waste of time.

Instead, prepare for something you are about to do by putting things away. If you have time to prepare, start by clearing the space you will be working in, and not just by sliding things out of the way, but by finishing the actions that are left hanging there. Then, when you start on the pie, or whatever project you’re getting ready to do, you’ll have space to work in, and you’ll have an easier time focusing on just the one thing you’re doing.

December is the busiest month for many people, and most of the time pressure that people face is unnecessary. During December I’ll be offering several ideas of simple ways to be less busy.

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