How should it look when it’s done?

How this simple question can help avoid frustration.
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Have you ever been dis­ap­point­ed when you don’t get the final OK from a client, boss, col­league, or spouse? For many of our jobs and per­son­al com­mit­ments, some­one else typ­i­cal­ly decides if the final prod­uct is good to go, or if it still needs adjust­ments or improve­ments. In oth­er words, you’re not the final green stamp of approval. This can cre­ate frus­tra­tion because you thought you were done . . . only to dis­cov­er you have to go back and redo work that you thought was per­fect. What if I told you that a sim­ple ques­tion could change every­thing?

How should it look when it’s done?

The ques­tion “How should it look when it’s done?” is a way of ask­ing some­one to “paint done for me.” In oth­er words, you’re ask­ing them to clar­i­fy the cri­te­ria that will give you their bless­ing or green light. (If you can get it in writ­ing, even bet­ter.) It’s a way of ask­ing what is their ver­sion of fin­ished and suc­cess­ful? But we don’t always ask this ques­tion.

Too often, we oper­ate with an assump­tion of what it will look like when it’s done for our­selves. And this is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly hap­pen­ing in the mind of your client, spouse, boss, or col­league, too. We don’t take the time to clar­i­fy, define, and get spe­cif­ic on the final out­come. This hap­pens in a split sec­ond with­out much thought or effort — and that’s the prob­lem.

Figuring out what “done” looks like takes a little effort and courage.

Tak­ing time to fig­ure out what done looks like takes a lit­tle effort, and a lit­tle courage. Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty writer David Allen often says you have to think hard­er than you think, but not as hard as you might think. In oth­er words, this think­ing process DOES take effort but not as much effort as your brain thinks. Your brain is exag­ger­at­ing how much time, ener­gy, and thought must be required to clar­i­fy.

It’s eas­i­er in the short term to leave things unclar­i­fied and ambigu­ous. It’s easy to not ask the ques­tion because you don’t want to know the answer. It’s easy not to have to tell your boss that you can’t or aren’t ener­gized to do that thing. It’s easy to com­mit to a dead­line with­out check­ing your cal­en­dar or oth­er com­mit­ments. It’s easy to say yes. It’s easy not to cause a ruckus.
It’s hard to ask a sim­ple ques­tion because cer­tain­ly you have ‘work’ to do. It’s hard to clar­i­fy expec­ta­tions because what if you’re not sure you can pull it off by the pro­posed dead­line and you look incom­pe­tent or worse . . . a fail­ure? It’s hard to stop and think for a sec­ond because most of us are mov­ing so fast, this behav­ior is uncom­mon.

From your own expe­ri­ence you also know that when you leave things a lit­tle grey and unclear, that it nev­er ends well on the oth­er end. You know from your own expe­ri­ence that you have so much more free­dom to fig­ure things out and make adjust­ments BEFORE it’s the final hour.

Ask the simple question and negotiate.

Con­sid­er ask­ing the sim­ple ques­tion “what should this look like when it’s done?”—then step back and what what hap­pens. You may find that clear expec­ta­tions are com­mu­ni­cat­ed. More often than not, you may find that their expec­ta­tions are too much or not pos­si­ble. In this posi­tion (on the front end of a project before the final hour), you have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to nego­ti­ate. You have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to dis­agree. You have the chance to agree on what is real­is­tic for the time need­ed to com­plete the project based on the resources you have.

This last part is the key. In these dis­cus­sions, you are set­ting your­self up for suc­cess, even if you can’t do what is being asked. This is your oppor­tu­ni­ty to say “while I can’t do that, I can do this.” You must be clear and up front with what you can real­is­ti­cal­ly com­mit to based on the oth­er cir­cum­stances and com­mit­ments in your life. Think about your fam­i­ly, your free time, your per­son­al goals. Think about the oth­er “work things” already on your plate that you’ve agreed to. Then talk with your client about what you can agree to accom­plish with full ener­gy.

Variations on the question…

  • What does done look like?
  • Paint done for me” (Bre­nee Brown)
  • What does suc­cess look like?
  • What does wild suc­cess look like?

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