UNDER-promise, OVER-deliver

January 25, 2008

I had an interesting exchange w iniya on her blog a few weeks back, and I decided to expand our discussion for my own blog.

One of my key philosophies in life is this : UNDER-promise, OVER-deliver. I am a fanatic about it at work, constantly fighting my bosses to get timelines and project goals that my team can accomplish, then pushing my team to beat those goals. When successful it makes you look and feel like a superstar. The opposite is awful, and unfortunately, much more frequent – Over-promising, and then Under-delivering. In work meetings I’ll often write on the board ______ – Promise ______-Deliver when we are working on planning a project, or at various steps in the completion. And I’ll try to remind people that maybe we’re getting it backwards again, we want to UNDER promise, OVER deliver, not the opposite. So when the young whipper-snapper tells me he’s calculated every step needed to get the project done, and if he works really hard and everything goes perfectly, it can be done in 10 weeks. That means I tell my management we need 14. I explain to my team that things will come up – someone will miss a flight, an exec will be in a meeting the day we need an approval, certain steps will take longer than planned, etc – 10 weeks is a theoretical timeline – for real life you need to add more time for the unexpected issues. We almost always will bring the project in around 11-12 weeks with that approach – and everyone is happy.

For years when I began a diet I would calculate what my weight “should” be at a certain date in the future, calculating from 2 pounds per week in a straight line. I would chart my weight progress vs that “should” line. In the first weeks it was usually pretty positive (in early weeks of weight loss you often see big numbers) and then about 8 weeks in I’d start to fall further and further behind.

I am a perfectionist who pushes myself very hard, and I am also very competitive. I am by no means an expert at applying this philosophy to my own life, but I’m trying. If you see on my progress page I’ve tried to apply this to my exercise goals. I selected 500 minutes of exercise as my first goal – chosen totally at random. I was surprised when it was pretty easily and rapidly achieved. So I thought about upping the goal, to 1000 or even 2000 minutes. Instead, I’ve kept it at 500 and I’ve now almost completed my 4th 500 minutes.

This way I keep MEETING and SURPASSING my goal. It’s at least as motivating, maybe more, than having the bigger number as my goal. Same basic approach has been true for me getting back on track since my backslide this Fall. I set goals each week that I can meet pretty easily, and surpass. In fact, I think I’ve surpassed each goal by quite a large margin, which just gives me confidence to keep going and set the next goal just a wee bit higher. Maybe it’s stupid, but I think that approach of seeing myself WINNING and SUCCEEDING is pretty important to my success. I can’t tell you how many years I spent beating myself up because I’d only exercised 5 days that week (instead of 7) or that I had one day when my calories went over by 150. I didn’t focus on what I DID do (the exercise, the great control of calories), I focused on the gap between my accomplishments and my goals.

I read similar attitudes in so many other people’s blogs… I just want to point out that there is another way, and life is so much nicer…

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