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How To Relieve Stress AND Improve the Quality of Your Work

quality and productivityStart early, revise often. That’s the secret.

One I learned the hard way.

Too many times, I’ve waited until the last minute to complete something.

Cramming is stressful, but it does work.

Compressing all of my effort and energy into the work so that it can be completed just-in-time is an effective style.

It forces focus. Focus fuels concentration and deep thinking.

The results can be good.

That’s how I got through most of college, and it’s how I’ve done many things in my work life.

Until I learned the power of iteration.

That’s when I learned how to relieve stress while also improving the quality of my work.

Iterating does both. It can make results much, much better. And it can make the work to get those results much less stressful.

Now, whenever I’ve got something important to work on (which is most of the time – why work on something unimportant?), I start early.

It’s always rough in the beginning. The first try is often light years from where things need to land. But there is power in simply starting. A lot of power.

Being Bad is Good

As Anne Lamott so eloquently puts it, we need to create shitty first drafts. Quality isn’t important on the first run through. It’s important to get started and to compose a complete set of thoughts.

Once we do that, we can simply set it aside. That’s why it’s important to start early. We need to let our subconscious chew on the thing for a bit. And, rest assured, it will.

Ideas, insights, concepts will emerge when you least expect them, usually while you’re occupied with something else. That’s why we get so many good ideas in the shower, while mowing the lawn, or during our morning run.

The important thing is to provide some fuel. That fuel is a first draft, a sketch, a model, a prototype.

Don’t put off thinking something through. Don’t make a big deal out of it.

Don’t plan to cram. Plan to let it stew.

Get Your Ideas to Simmer

Cut up some raw materials, throw them together, and let them simmer for a while. Allow yourself to come back and make adjustments over time, even radical ones like completely re-arranging things or starting over from scratch.

You might throw out some stuff along the way, change your mind about certain aspects, or decide to completely re-approach the matter. All of that will make the final product better.

But you’ll never get there if you don’t allow for it. If you plan to cram, you’ve likely eliminated lots of possibilities, and chances are some of those possibilities would be great.

Try this technique out with something you need to be working on right now. Create a rough draft or outline your thoughts . Take a simple, but concrete action. Just thinking about it is not enough. Actually write something down.

Then, set it aside. Think about it intentionally here and there, but also let yourself forget about it and see what pops into your mind over time.

Revisit it later on. Revise it. Let is simmer some more. See how it looks.

See if it starts to take shape better than if you had waited until the last minute and crammed.

I bet it does.