and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe

– by Abraham Lincoln

Give me 6 hours to cut down a treePreparation is key to finishing tasks.  Start by knowing what has to be done.  I live by this quote in most things that I do.

Every time I start a new task, I think about what I have to do. I just can’t start without preparation.

Getting a job ready before you start, having what you need and finding no surprises cuts down on what you need to do.  

I don’t know why I do it that way, but that’s how I do my work.  Have it all ready, then it’s done quickly.  It might mean I start later then others, but I nearly always finish first.  

One job I had involved doing the banking for a large club.  I had to

  • count the money
  • add up receipts
  • check on credit notes
  • bistro vouchers
  • dining room vouchers
  • and anything else that might have affected the final amount.

All these things needed to be included in the banking summary to prepare it for the bank.

The person who taught me how to do the banking would start by adding up all the money we were given.  Then she would start adding up all the receipts, notes, and the two types of vouchers that might be part of the banking.  If anything was missing, as she worked her way through the previous days activities, she would get up and go looking for the missing item.  

Every time, as she worked through, she got up to find a missing item.  Her way of doing the banking could could take up to four hours or more to finish. Each time she got up, she had to lock the money up to keep it safe. She left the money at least 5 times each morning (that’s what was taking up so much time, going to look for each one singly.  

When I asked her why she didn’t get everything ready before she started, she replied that she had an accountancy degree and that I didn’t know what I was talking about AND she had been doing the banking for years, her way worked!  In other words, I was just the secretary who was there to do the job because she was too busy to do it herself!

After the job was given to me full-time, I couldn’t do it the way she taught me.

I created a worksheet that checked that I had everything that I needed BEFORE I started counting the money for the banking. So before I even got the money from the safe, I knew what was missing and collected it all at once, and then I was ready to start.  This job was at a registered club.  The bistro was on the ground floor, the dining room on the next floor up.  The bar was not near the safe and my desk was nowhere near any of them.  It was a lot of ground to cover!  

Once I worked out my method, I could usually get the banking done in an hour, two at most.  I also knew my method worked because I trained three other people in how to do it the way I did it.  It wasn’t some ‘magic Tania way of doing things’.  

A year later, my manager gave the banking back to the Accounts Manager.  I had been given other tasks and it returned to her.  I offered to show her how I got it done so quickly, once again I was told I couldn’t teach her anything she didn’t already know.  She used her old method and she once again took more than 4 hours to complete the banking.  

It just shows when you give me six hours to chop down a tree, using four hours to sharpen an ax results in only 2 hours needed to do it.  I know I prefer to spend more time in preparation and less time on the action.  

It’s always your own choice however, don’t stick with it simply because you can’t stand someone else showing you another way to try.

Some people will try to cut down a tree with a blunt axe, some people will sharpen the axe before they start.

What sort of person are you?