Wednesday, January 20, 2016

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try Again (200 More Times)

We were going over our web analytics the other day and were surprised to discover that our recent post Your First Draft Sucks—So What was one of the most popular.

If ever there was a time to be making mistakes, procrastinating and not having your thoughts together it would be now. The Holidays are over. Work’s piling up. The weather is pretty crappy in most parts of North America. There’s not much to look forward to except tax season, paying off credit cards and fielding calls from nervous clients as the financial markets drop days after day without a plausible reason.

No one really likes to do tasks over and over again. But that’s how all the great athletes, artists, musicians, actors, and business minds do it. SO why can’t you? We rarely nail it on the first, second or even third try. But each time we rewrite, we’d like to think it’s better—at least less bad. Full Disclosure: This certainly wasn’t the first draft of today’s post.

Pros get it done on low-motivation days

You’re a professional. Your clients trust you to lead the way and be there for them 24/7/365 with words of wisdom, or at least a sympathetic ear. As we mentioned in
last week’s post, basketball great Julius Erving once said, “Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don't feel like doing them.”

In this
short video clip Nobel laureate in Economics, Eugene Fama, tells Dimensional Fund Advisors co-CEO, David Booth that it often takes him several hundred drafts to get a paper or presentation right, even when working with his longtime collaborator, Kenneth French.

Fama tells his students, “Don’t give something to me until it’s as good as you think it can be. And then I will try to improve it.” In order to know how people think about things you can’t just read it, argues Fama. Otherwise everyone could do that. “You really have to listen to them. There has to back and forth feedback.”


Clients often ask us what the secret is to writing clear powerful copy under tight deadlines, or how we take mountains of data, notes and audio files and turn it into a short article or post that gets noticed. There is no secret. We just do it over and over and over again, perhaps a little faster and with more purpose than the average person. And when it’s not going well—everyone has days like that—we may know a little earlier in the process when to trash a draft, chuck a headline and start over without torturing ourselves for failing to produce a final draft or X-hundred words before lunchtime.

Celebrate what you accomplished at the end of the day—don’t dwell on what didn’t get done.

Our blog and website has more about this and related topics.


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