crayon drawing of a to-do list
An ode to process from a habitual list-maker

Today, I’d like to talk about process and time; two things that get overlooked in the early stages of a project, or when you’re learning something new. Especially if you are new at creating/leading a project, or learning a new thing.

Unless you are the foremost expert at the thing you’re doing, you have to go through all of the steps, every last one of them (as tedious as they may seem), to achieve the best results.

One of the most important things a successful process needs is time. The second is excellent organization.

Good processes take time to dream, design, and then implement; especially if they involve people from different teams or departments with different priorities/deadlines. It is on you to make sure you budgeted enough time for them to deliver what you need, and then tweak it to perfection.

The way to use your time efficiently is to make sure the process you’re implementing is organized and comprehensive. From the time they see your outline, your team should be absolutely clear on the purpose, the end goal, and the timeline. You do this through extensive researching, questioning, and fact-finding.

If you are just starting out with a company, for example, you may have a strong temptation to show how skilled and efficient you are and skip the step of mapping out your strategy/process. No matter what your level of experience, doing this runs a huge risk of your project failing for a couple of reasons: the company culture, your lack of relationships, your unfamiliarity with the territory. Any one of these things can trip you up quickly, and give people around you a false impression of your capabilities.

For me, the lesson came back to bite me recently at code school. After I stayed up until 2am for the third time working on a project, I realized that I’d forgotten my own advice about making a process. I was also missing simple steps like reading the instructions, and then getting completely confused about what I was doing.

And really, I was not working efficiently or intelligently, because there was no good reason for me to be awake at 2 a.m. combing bleary-eyed through Stack Overflow, just to seem more competent at something I’d never done in my life before. Without some kind of a plan/organization/structure, I was heading straight to Burnoutville. Population: 1.

Deciding it was more important to be well-rested, I built my process around giving myself time to learn, and to schedule things like going outside for fresh air, talking to people who weren’t in my program, and generally balancing life and school.

I haven’t stayed up working on a project that late since. When it comes time to join a Build Week (a week where the entire school comes together to build projects in small teams), I hope I can help my team do the same.