Saturday, January 8, 2011

Preparation: the work before the work

These guys show up prepared.

When you drive by any fast food restaurant you know generally what's going on inside. At one, the burgers and fries are hot and ready. At another the bread is coming out of the oven and the sandwich toppings are laid out and ready to go.
You could stop at any of these restaurants, without a reservation, and reasonably expect a meal in five minutes. Or instead you might make a phone call and expect a pizza to show up at your door in thirty minutes or less.
Musicians know the value of preparation too. A concert pianist doesn't just show up, look at the dots on the page and expect music to appear. They've spent years honing their skills and making themselves ready for the performance.
Preparation is the work before the work. It's the trips to the grocery store. It's the slicing the toppings and making the pizza dough. It's the hours of study and rehearsal. It's what makes the five minute meal or the virtuoso performance possible.
There's a difference between planning and preparation. Planning is the strategy, the thinking through the scenarios, ultimately to decide what to do. Preparation is when you put the put the pieces in place so that when it comes time to perform, you can make it look easy. A plan should be part of your preparation, but it's not the whole thing.
Imagine you want to build a brick wall for a garage. If you're like most people you'd go buy some bricks, mix up some mortar and get to it.
A pro would start instead with scaffolding. First they'd build all of the scaffolding, as high as they will need it. Then they will load up the scaffolding with the right number of bricks for that section. This might mean days without laying a single brick.
This is no delay or procrastination. Once the mason is prepared, they can mix the mortar and lay bricks without interruption until the wall is finished. Unprepared, amateurs will run into problems that will cost extra time and money. The pro will get you the garage because he's prepared.
For whatever project you're taking on, consider the preparation carefully, because when it comes time to perform the preparation will pay off.
Corollary: Preparation is wasted if you don't perform when the time is right. Preparation isn't the goal, just a necessary step along the way to accomplishing something.

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