There’s a quote that I’ve seen online. It’s attributed to Abraham Lincoln and goes something like this: “If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend four of them sharpening my axe.”
Depending on where you read the quote, the number of hours (or minutes) changes. You know how the internet can be. It’s not always even attributed to Honest Abe. Maybe he never even said it.
Anyway, the point of the quote is supposed to be that if you have a job to do, preparation should be a major part of it.
That’s all well and good, but I see something else in that quote too – about procrastination and preparation.
Because, really, how long does it take to sharpen an axe? Would sharpening it for four hours instead of two really make a difference?
Okay, so I’ve never sharpened an axe before, but surely after even an hour at the grindstone, any additional sharpness is going to be barely measurable. At some point doesn’t all that preparatory sharpening just become an excuse to not put in the hard labour of swinging an axe at a tree?
Too much preparing, not enough doing. That’s certainly something I’ve been guilty of.
In the past.
Very likely in the future.
I’ve done it throughout my weightloss journey. There was the time I spent so much time planning meals that I suddenly realised I was too hungry to actually cook and ordered a Domino’s instead. Or all the times I’ve “prepared” to go swimming – but dawdled around for so long, trying to find the right hairbrush or swimming costume, that by the time I was ready to go, I didn’t have enough time to swim more than a couple laps.
It’s also what happened when I tried to start a photography business a few years ago. I spent months reading webpages and watching Creative Live videos. I browsed books, wrote a business plan and made business cards. But what did I not do? I didn’t go out and take photographs. I didn’t try any of the marketing strategies I’d read about. I didn’t put myself out there. I prepared so much that I didn’t actually get anything done.
And now, I’ve caught myself doing it again. I wrote a children’s picture book back in October. I wrote it, worked it over and edited it a bit. Then I let it rest so that I could come back and look at it with fresh eyes a few weeks later.
But weeks turned into months. During those months, I read about the children’s publishing industry. I took Pumpkin to the library to look at “the competition”, I researched self-publishing vs traditional publishing, I tried different artistic styles to see if I could illustrate the book too. I looked up information on royalties and book fairs and author events. I joined Facebook groups and followed new people on Twitter and Instagram.
Basically, I did everything except edit the story and send it out to agents and publishers. Which, at this point, are the only things that I should be doing.
Back when I was working on the photography business, one of my clients told me that the reason I was struggling was because of my lack of confidence. At the time, I brushed the comment aside, because I usually consider myself to be fairly confident and the guy barely knew me.
But he was right. This cycle of endless preparation is because I’m not confident enough to just go out and do whatever it is that I want to do. I feel like if I learn just a little bit more it will make me better and more successful. However, all that preparation is just procrastination in a clever disguise – and I hadn’t even realised what I was doing.
So, I need to break that pattern. I need to start actually doing things, rather than planning and preparing.
Sounds easy, right? Put the books down, stop watching how-to videos on YouTube, refrain from making any more to-do lists. Just do it.
But it just doesn’t feel right without a plan.
What I need to do, I guess, is find a better balance. Preparation, learning, planning – those are all necessary for success. But at some point, I have to say enough is enough. I can’t watch all the online videos and read all the webpages on a given topic. That would take forever. I need to give myself deadlines and actually stick to them. I need to start doing.
*Looks around tentatively*
Here I go…
Does this sound familiar? Or am I the only one who uses preparation as procrastination? How do you find a balance between preparing and doing? Advice and suggestions in the comments below, please.