The impulse to do it now

I’m doing a content inventory and I notice that some white papers have the client’s old logo on them. My first impulse is to fix them — “I’ll just apply the new template. Won’t take 5 minutes.” — even though I know full well that a content inventory has nothing to do with evaluating or fixing the content.

Person editing

This is a stock photo. But I really did look like this about 20 years ago. OK, 30.

I’m handed a 50-page book to edit. Midway through page 1, my right hand begins twitching as I resist the impulse to grab a red pen and start making corrections — even though I know full well that a good editor reads the document through, learning about the author’s style and the conventions followed, before making corrections.

It probably has a name, this impulse to tackle a big job by whacking away at little bits of it. But I don’t know what it is. I must not be the only person who’s afflicted by it. But only recently have I begun thinking about why I’m afflicted.

Is it because I’m anxious to see results, results with tangible, bottom-line value? I think so. A content inventory doesn’t produce bottom-line value. It’s the first step in a process — sometimes a long process — that eventually produces a lot of bottom-line value. But by itself, it doesn’t produce any value. Just a spreadsheet.

If I’m so anxious to give the client bottom-line value, right now, is it because I don’t trust the client to understand the true nature of the project? Do I think they won’t be patient, that they’ll demand immediate results, even though I explained that that’s not how it works?

Or is it because I’m impatient myself? Do I need to see some bottom-line value before I feel comfortable that the work I’m doing is worthwhile?

Fortunately, years of experience (I no longer look like the youthful guy in the picture) have taught me to recognize this impulse to produce immediate results, so that I can keep it in perspective. But I still fight the temptation to open up the Word template, or to grab the red pen.

Does this resonate with you? If so, what strategies have you developed for dealing with it?

3 thoughts on “The impulse to do it now

  1. Larry Kunz Post author

    Susan Carpenter commented on an early draft of this post, which was subsequently deleted. Here’s her comment (for which I thank her):

    Larry, I’m sure you’re not. You’re talking about a couple of characteristics, though. TechComm tends to attract folks with well-developed attention to detail, and those are the folks that tend to succeed in the business. That’s part of it. You picked up a 50-page document and immediately dived into punctuation but resisted doing so, which implies that your edit was more developmental than a proofreading. Your impulse speaks to a vertical bias, as opposed to someone who’s able to take succeeding horizontal passes through that 50 pages at deeper and deeper detail. My guess is that more of us come naturally to the vertical impulse. The horizontal approach is harder to come by, especially over 50 pages.

  2. Roger Gelwicks

    Ohhh, this is too true for me. We want to see tangible results fast. “Is it because I’m anxious to see results, results with tangible, bottom-line value?” That’s a resounding yes for me.

  3. Pingback: Living and Learning | Leading Technical Communication

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