“You have to wait,” Mommy said, “because they just came out of the oven and need frosting.”
“Okay,” Shoshana said. After about three seconds, she asked, “can I have one now?”
The truth is that not all things we do in business are as simple as cupcakes. You know a cupcake is done when the cake is cooked and the frosting is put on top. Knowing when a business plan is ready, a new community platform can be released, or a blog post responding to corporate criticism should be posted requires a little something extra. These are the kind of decisions that make an impact, mean the difference between delicious and bland, and can spell success or failure for a venture.
If asked, most of us would say that knowing when something is done is a gut feeling. “You just know it.” It’s a product of “doing the work.” However, there are many times when we don’t even know if we are on the right track let alone at a state of completion. Productivity guru and creator of the cult called Getting Things Done (GTD) David Allen, says:
(T)he challenge that we are dealing with in all this is getting to the state in which we can trust that what we’re doing at any point in time is what we think we should be doing. Actually, we want to get even beyond that to simply doing what we’re doing, with our full attention and energy, and operating from a sense of clarity and self-trust.
Allen’s methods are designed to get a person fully engaged in a project so he will have a sense of clarity for when it’s ready. When such a level of engagement is reached, we should know from our deep involvement that the tasks required to hit the end result are complete and the final work ready to be delivered. Of course being a “Captain and Commander” as Allen calls it in his book Making It All Work, requires such engagement at varying levels of perspective; from the big picture 50,000 foot view to the ground level of daily detail. Having such a complete picture of your responsibilities in the business, regardless of your role, instills a sense of control which is vital to success.
One more thing. In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield makes a key distinction between amateurs and professionals, which I think really applies to this idea of waiting for the frosting. In discussing that a Professional Is Patient he says:
Resistance outwits the amateur with the oldest trick in the book: It uses his own enthusiasm against him. Resistance gets us to plunge into a project with an overambitious and unrealistic timetable for its completion. It knows we can’t sustain that level of intensity. We will hit the wall. We will crash.
The professional, on the other hand, understands delayed gratification … (he) steels himself at the start of the project, reminding himself it is the Iditarod, not the sixty-yard dash. He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul. He sustains himself with the knowledge that if he can just keep those huskies mushing, sooner or later the sled will pull in to Nome.
As professionals and business owners, we should continue doing the work that matters while having the patience and perspective to know when certain things are done (there is a such thing as procrastination by doing and overdoing). Eventually the work on this project will end and another will begin, the cupcakes will cool and be ready for frosting.