Over Thinking: 3 Questions that Eliminate the Problem

“Over thinking an issue”—it’s an axiom that’s probably overused, but a truism nonetheless.

Most items in business and project management are over thought. Over sights and assumptions are certainly project killers, but how much time do we waste by analyzing things that have already been sufficiently analyzed?

The question “What’s the action item?” can certainly get old, but we need to keep asking it. Meetings that result in more meetings are a complete waste: of dollars, of time, and of creativity. So let’s find another method, so that we can all start doing more of what we really care about.

I’m convinced that projects are simple. And I don’t think I believe so out of naïvety. Projects always come down to three things:

  1. Budgets
  2. Schedules
  3. Doing the work

Notice that planning is not in my list. Because if we have a budget and a schedule, we have a plan. The budget and the schedule, together, are the plan.

Budgets. None of it matters if you don’t know how much the project will cost. (That’s how companies go bankrupt.) You can only do what you can afford. So figure out what you can afford, and then initiate what seems worthy of the investment. If not, stop now.

Schedules. Every item on the project’s task list must be scheduled. Do you know what all the tasks are? If you even remotely wonder if you missed something, keep working on the schedule/task list until you figure it out. And then give yourself a little extra time, because, yes, you missed something that won’t surface until later.

Doing the work. The rest is about doing the work, and making the best decisions you can in real-time. That’s leadership, and something that we all have to learn–in real-time with real decisions. It’s in doing the work that you figure out if you, and the people you work with, have what it takes. (I know, it sounds a bit boiler plate, and perhaps even cheesy, but it’s an overused phrase for a reason.) Getting stuff done is what matters; not spending yet another hour in your inbox or in meetings. If your email or meeting doesn’t result in things getting done, then you’re not spending your time wisely.

We spend too much time over thinking the details. We need to spend more time focusing on what matters: the work we’re doing (and going to do). Most of the time, by just getting to the work, we will work out whatever is left. But this is only true if all three parts are working together. Without the right schedule, you won’t get to all the work. Without the right budget, the schedule doesn’t matter. And without the right people doing the work, who cares about budgets and schedules?

So the next time you’re tempted to ask yourself what you should do next, or what really matters, ask three questions instead: Is this about the budget? Is this about the schedule? Is this about the work? If it’s not about one of those three, then it better be about selling or marketing the project, or creating the next thing that you can offer to the world. If it’s not, it’s not worth your time, or anyone else’s.

What do you do to stay focused on the right things? Do you have a set of questions that you ask?

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