Monday, January 14, 2013

The Problem with Over-Preparing

Some people I know jump right in with both feet when they’re presented with an opportunity. They say YES and don’t worry about how they’re going to do it. They’ll figure it out later.

I admire that approach, and I've done the same thing myself at times.

When I started my first company in 1982, I didn't know anything about running a business. I came from the field of education, and I had no classes or experiences that taught me how to market and sell. I just had a strong desire to make a drastic change due to the pain I was experiencing in my job.

Over the years, I've also agreed to take on leadership roles outside of work, where I wasn't sure exactly what to do. But I had confidence that I could learn what was needed in order to become competent in the position.

And I could list other examples.

But they wouldn't highlight an issue that’s gotten in my way more times than I’d like to admit – and maybe it has for you, too.

Once I take on a new project, I can get caught up in “over-preparing,” trying to make sure I get things just right first, before getting started. Ever do that?

Maybe you think you need to do more research. There’s data you don’t have. Or you want to benchmark what others have done. Or you don’t feel confident or qualified, and you believe you’ve got to learn more.

It’s easy to convince yourself of the importance of being prepared. After all, “Be Prepared” has been the motto of the Boy Scouts of America for decades. But sometimes it becomes a rationalization that keeps you from taking action and developing momentum.

In essence, excessive preparation is a form of procrastination.

Underlying your attitude and behavior is likely one or more fears, such as the fear of failure, fear of looking foolish, fear of criticism, or fear of rejection. These fears can paralyze you. You’re so focused on the potential negative consequences of your actions that you convince yourself it’s not time to begin.

And so you don’t. You allow your self-doubts and fears to dominate your thoughts and keep you stuck. Even though you’re busy explaining your lack of action to yourself and others as a necessary part of “getting ready.”

How do you move past these excuses?

1. Make a decision. That’s right. You first have to decide that you’re going to take the action you need to take, no matter what.

2. Take the first step. As Steven Pressfield advises in his brilliant book, Do the Work:

“Don’t prepare. Begin.”

Just get started. You may make mistakes. In fact, your first attempt may be a total failure. But it’s not the end of the world. With each additional step, you can learn and make corrections or improvements.

3. After each action, reflect. You will accelerate your learning – and your results – if you take time to think about what happened after you complete each step. Answer these five questions (which are part of our ProStar Coach personal development program) to help you analyze your actions and make the most of the experience:
  1. What happened?
  2. Why did it happen that way?
  3. What were the consequences?
  4. How would you handle a similar situation in the future?
  5. What will you do not to implement this learning in your life?
Get past the need to over-prepare, and you’ll experience the profound benefits described so eloquently by the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:

"The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way." 


  1. Great advice, Meredith. I totally agree, that one has to start before success can, ultimately, happen.

  2. Sometimes I fall into the trap of wanting things to be perfect, and then I can't get anything done. Because it will never be good enough.

    I heard Tony Robbins say once that perfection is the lowest possible standard, because it's an impossible standard. I have to remind myself of that and just do!

  3. Pinkey, ER, and Sarhon, glad this resonated with you! Thank you for affirming the reality of this issue. We just need to get past that need for perfection and recognize that mistakes will be part of the process.

  4. it's nice to jump in at once without worrying about preparation..

  5. Louise, yes there are definitely times when it's a good idea to be spontaneous!

  6. First let me say I wholeheartedly agree. But ;), I would fear that many who are terrible at preparation would use this as ammunition to support their approach. I come across way more people that don't prepare nearly enough; before a meeting, start of a project, a sales process, everything. I would argue that more people need to prepare more and that a few of us, less.


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