Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Pay it Forward, or Pay Back With Interest

This phrase is the message that greets me every morning when I come into work. It's the headline of our Kanban board, and it's a very simple reminder. Things may take great up front effort, they may be frustrating, painful, and difficult to deal with, but they will invariably be less difficult and less painful than doing something expedient and deciding to "deal with it later".

I had this driven home to me over the course of the past week as I tackled my ever recurring "New Year's Day Project". It's been the same project every year for the past decade or so. On New Year's Day, the Christmas decorations get taken down, put back into storage, and then the process of cleaning out the garage to put everything back occurs. Every New Year's Day it's the same. I wake up, I clean, I sort, I throw away, I organize, I de-clutter, I de-junk, and somewhere around midnight, I crawl into bed with a clean garage and an orderly life... which proceeds to succumb to entropy within a few days, weeks, months, to the point where I have to do it all over again the following year.

This time, I tried something different. I decided to tackle the job early, as in day after Christmas early. Once I knew what we had, and what we were going to use and keep, I went medieval and decided to do my best to downsize as much as humanly possible. Go for broke, get rid of everything that did not have practical utility. Forget the keep/hold/toss cycle, go straight to toss. Do my best to hide the carnage from the wife and kids, because I know if they see what I am doing there will be much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth (and in full disclosure, I was caught a few nights ago by my daughter who, as she saw what i was sorting and cataloging for donations, yelled a hearty "Oh no you don't!!!" and rescued a few dozen items. I smiled and said I'd be willing to bet that half of what she rescued would be on the same chopping block next year at this time, but hey, peace at home is a valuable thing, so I'm not going to threaten it over a handful of dolls and toys that she has outgrown but doesn't want to admit just yet.

My point is, this was a heavy lift. It took  lot of time, it took a lot of resources, but it got done, and it made it so that, for the first time in years, I was finished with the garage before midnight, and in a state that might actually be maintainable. Part of the challenge was that, before, I kept shuffling things around, finding new places to put things in the hopes that I would actually use them. While I can't claim that I didn't do some of that this time, I certainly did a lot less of it. Having the time to think, to purge, and to figure out where they actually needed to go makes a world of difference.

So with this start of a New Year, may I suggest smaller steps towards goals rather than making huge jumps. You ultimately get more done, you don't spend as much time and/or energy, and you don't make decisions that will end up making you do even more work later on. Pay it forward, or pay it back, with interest. Needless to say, I'm thinking the former is a much better deal.
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