Imagine you have 20 days left.
In those 20 days, you have to write about 300 pages of notes for a course.
Will you make it?
The answer may seem slightly ridiculous, right? Having to write about 15 pages of content a day is hard enough without having to do everything else in your life. And it seems very much like your project is headed right into the iceberg. Incredibly, a lot of high achievers reach seemingly impossible goals.
So what's their secret?
The secret lies in preparation—not one, but three separate types of preparation
1) Mental preparation
2) Physical preparation
3) Chaos preparation
Let's start with the first: mental preparation
A lot of mental preparation starts on paper. Yes, paper. You make a plan and then the plan spins around in your head. As you go to work, take a walk and do all the daily things, that outline or plan starts to unfold and become richer. But it also gets you in a state where you're ready to take on the task.
You already know that top performers will go through a lot of visualization before they step into a situation. But part of the visualization is also to start creating a complete picture in your head. Without such mental preparation, you're hardly in a good state to get to the second point—physical preparation.
But physical preparation is something that we don't always spend enough time on…
Physical preparation is about keeping things ready to go. So if you're about to start on a fitness regime, it's not much use having your shoes locked up in a safe with a 27-string combination. If you're going to paint today, your watercolours need to be out, your page needs to be open and all it needs is for you to plonk yourself down on the chair and start painting.
Most people never get this simple fact—to be able to start something, you have to have done some amount of preparation the night before. Even the smallest hurdle can stall you for a few minutes and it's easy to slip into a water slide of procrastination.
If you've already done the plan, you know exactly how your day is going to unfold
Keeping things ready to go enables you to go for that jog, listen to that audio book while jogging, learn a language on the way back, write your book because you have your writing program ready—on the page it's supposed to be.
And if you think this is all very excessive, then yes, maybe it is.
But professionals don't just show up to work. Their preparation is obsessive because that's what separates the average from the very best in the field. Yet, things can go lopsided in a minute.
Which of course takes us to the third type of preparation: chaos preparation
You can't actually plan for chaos, because chaos is a wily customer. If it doesn't knock on your door, it'll show up on Facebook, or email—and it will keep trying to get at you. Packing your projects back to back is a guaranteed way to get into a soup, because things do go wrong.
And having that buffer in every day really matters. If nothing goes wrong, you can always chill out for a little while—even take a nap and recharge. If something does go wrong, you have the buffer.
And so fingers crossed, everything should go right, right?
Nope, because planning and preparation isn't one dimensional. If you're writing a book, for example, getting the illustrations for the book is a journey in itself, writing—another journey, editing, yet another.
And so every project is going to have this crazy multilevel planning. And while there's no way you can predict everything, it'd be nice to at least know what elements are involved in the rollout of a project.
Once you're done with all this preparation there's still one factor—skill
So imagine you have to get to mail a parcel tonight. You aren't going for driving classes right now, are you? You can probably drive a car pretty well and that gets you to the post office.
Having the parcel all ready to go enables you to get to the post office before it closes. But stop and think for a few minutes about how a simple act of positing a parcel on time requires planning, physical preparation, chaos to consider—and skill.
And think about how it could all fall apart without that skill. This means if you're going to write a book, you jolly well take a course on writing and then write, write, write. If you're going to make your mark in art, take that course and learn to paint, paint, paint. Without skill—and all skill is acquired—almost everything falls apart.
This is why when you're faced with 20 days and 300 pages of notes to go, you might not quite make it to the finish point
Maybe you'll get to 200, but you'll be way ahead of the pack. But all of this high-level work requires a ton of preparation and skill. And that's what high performers do. They get their act together and keep it together.
As the saying goes: If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.