Why Loading the Dishwasher is the Right Thing to Do

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on April 14, 2009 in: Project Management

At a big family gathering a couple of years ago, my then-8-year-old niece saw the adults cleaning up after the meal. She was given a task to do and, not surprisingly, she dawdled. When reprimanded, she rolled her eyes and complained that adults LOVE doing the dishes and other boring things.

We laughed, of course, because no one really loves to do that kind of stuff. But it needs to get done and we know that putting away the leftovers and loading the dishwasher will take just a few minutes and will give us the entire evening to visit. And we can envision the annoyance if we didn’t do it now… later in the evening when we’re relaxed, NOBODY is going to want to load the dishwasher.

There’s some truth to that in project management. Actually, in all aspects of business. If you need to do a project (or sell some product or prepare for a conference or build a website or generate leads) then do the hardest thing first.

Do the hardest thing first. That’s it. It’s not a pleasant way to start the project. But it gets that part out of the way and gets the ball rolling. It also generates a certain amount of critical mass which is an important element in project management.

There’s a similar concept in sales. If your conversion rate is 10%, then you have to hear nine “no’s” before you hear that tenth reply “yes”. Salespeople who adopt that mindset don’t find “no” so troubling anymore because they count it as one of their nine and move on, expecting to get through eight more “no’s” before they are statistically likely to hear “yes”. In a sense, that “no” becomes a goal. It’s similar to the concept of doing the hardest thing first because it sets up the rest of the project for enjoyable success.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I would warn you: Choosing to do the easy and fun part of the project first and leaving the more difficult parts to the end is one type of problem that this advice is meant to overcome. But it can cause procrastination. After all, if we’re already reluctant to start a project, we may be even more reluctant to start by doing the worst part!

So it might seem like you’re trading one challenge for another. And in some projects, it’s simply not practical to do the hardest thing first (because, for example, there might be other steps that are required prior to that hardest part). But if you can fight procrastination, do the hardest thing first and the rest of the project will feel like a dream.

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