My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.
We all have different ways of working and the first challenge is to find what works best for us as individuals. Yet we can always learn from the experiences of others.
Last spring, before sailing from Toronto to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, I spent more than two months busily refitting my sailboat “Kuan Yin”. I won’t bore you with details of the rewiring, replumbing, sea chest, new chain locker, lots of paintings etc. but I will share 10 tactics I’m learning about project management:
1) never cut wood after 4pm. No matter how much thought and planning, no matter how many times I’ve measured and double-checked, if I cut a piece of wood or commit to major piece of work it always goes wrong wafter 4pm. Even when the cut is correct and the piece fits first time, I’ll wake up the the next morning and realize I could have make a better job if I’d done it another way. So now, post-4pm is reserved for contemplating, planning, measuring, drawing out, running to suppliers, cleaning, painting, sanding, but NEVER cutting a piece of wood.
2) be grateful for your support team. We never work alone. Always there are friends or family who are supporting us – preparing meals, loaning a vehicle, running an errand, giving a hand when we need it, listening to our plans and stories of hard luck. We may think we’re doing a project on our own but in reality everyone around us gets involved. (So I’d like to acknowledge Madla Krondl, Thong Cheng, Jiri and Simone Skopek, Eric Tay, Dan and Kong Kie.)
3) work to your strengths. We’re all better at some things than others. So it makes sense to do the things we can accomplish easily and either hire someone else to do what’s hard for us and easy for them; or accept that we need to take the time to learn a new skill and that the pace of work is going to slow down. This one can be a hard lesson to accept.
4) no-one cares as much as you do. You will always be the person who cares the most about your project. This can be frustrating sometimes, when standards slip or stamina is lacking, but it’s a fact of life. (Do you care as much for a friend’s project as he or she does?)
5) remember the WHY and not just the HOW. It’s easy to get so caught up in the details of how to get things done, how to make something work, how to solve problems, that we forgot why we’re working so hard in the first place. I like to take time every day to think of “Kuan Yin” already sailing down the St. Lawrence river and the exhilaration I’m going to feel when I spot blue whales from her decks this summer.
6) life comes in waves, so float up and down with them. Sometimes we’re full of enthusiasm; other times we’re tired of endless insoluble challenges. Recognizing that both enthusiasm and discouragement come in waves allows us not to get too downhearted or too carried away when things are going well. Chinese proverb: “Things are never as good as you think they are, and they are never as bad.”
7) divide big jobs into small tasks. When to-do lists get too long the work becomes overwhelming and I slow down instead of speeding up. By giving myself smaller, more immediate goals, I maintain that important sense of getting things accomplished.
8) rewards are important. Small rewards make light work. Every 100 metre dash of a long project deserves it’s own mini celebration.
9) take short breaks often. When there’s a lot of get done, the temptation is to keep slogging on. But taking a short break every couple of hours actually keeps me working for longer. More gets done in the end.
10) keep a notebook. Don’t rely on your memory (whatever your age) or worse, pieces of paper. When you get distracted, the details go out of your head. Better to keep it all written down.
© 2009 Dennison Berwick. This article may be republished for noncommercial purposes, with full copyright attribution and notification to the author. Any other use is a violation of copyright.