The Parallels Between Vacation and Project Planning
On the face of it, taking a break should only be good for me. A chance to relax and recharge. This time, like so many others recently, I left all the organisation to my wife. This is as unfair and lazy as it sounds. Yes, it’s easy to find excuses that I’m too busy to figure out where we would be staying or what we would do when we arrived. The truth is that this is just another form of laziness.
The consequences go much further than that, of course. It sounds ideal, doesn’t it? Just sit back, finish your work, then pack and leave without a care in the world. What I have realised, however, is that the fun part of a vacation is not only going on a trip but also the preparation and planning. This should be executed in the same way as a work project, as a collaborative experience.
Naturally, this caused unnecessary friction between myself and my wife. Misunderstandings have been frequent, leading to several uncomfortable moments in the first few days. I have had to question everything when I should have been so involved long before we left home that I should already know what each day’s plans were.
The only positive side of this has been to give me an ‘in’ to this week’s article. Every day is a learning experience. I have promised myself and my wife that from now on, I’ll make sure we plan all our future trips together. The same goes for any project, of course. We should all be as involved as possible from as early in the project life cycle as possible.
Disclosure. I use Generative AI tools to help me when writing. From outline suggestions to topics or subtleties, I had yet to think of.
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The Allure of the Open Road
I find travelling stressful and would rather stay at home. But then, I’m an introvert and must force myself to socialise. The odd thing is that I do enjoy socialising. It’s just getting started is difficult for me. I would always go with the easy ‘stay at home’ option. That’s why I rely on my wife to push me out of the door. Once I am finally forced, screaming, out of my comfort zone, I enjoy every minute of our trips.
Similarly, starting a new project is supposed to be exciting and interesting. Too many of us, especially introverts like myself, feel uncomfortable enough to the point where the stress of the unknown dominates our thoughts. Never mind that we have never failed to deliver over the many years of our careers. New things equals bad things, always.
The truth is precisely the opposite, of course. New things, be they new cultures and places or projects, are always good. Once we set off down the road, everything settles down in our minds; only then do we enjoy the process.
For creativity, new experiences are as valuable as gold; we can stand back and let the experiences open our minds to new possibilities and directions. Starting a new project is the same; we are forced out of our dead-end comfort zone to face new situations and the opportunities of new methodologies and techniques. In other words, we learn and grow.
The Blank Page: A Reflection of the Unknown Journey Ahead
Facing the blank page is a writer’s most intimidating challenge. I’ve written about this before, but the truth is, there is always something to write about. This week, it’s a break from the daily grind and opening my mind to new perspectives.
Creative inspiration comes in the most unexpected ways; the problems between my wife and myself for this trip are a great example. Had this not happened, this week’s article would have been entirely different; I have no idea what it would have been about.
New projects may also be viewed as a blank page and also always bring with them new challenges. For self-confidence-limited individuals, such as myself, these are initially considered as negatives. Only once we become invested in the project does our confidence begin to return. The deeper we are invested, the higher our confidence.
We can see parallels between starting a trip and a story or, in a work context, beginning with a new project. No matter how we feel about it at the beginning. The journey itself is a huge positive.
Helping Out the Creative Process
Planning our writing journey or project is like planning a trip. We let the road guide our narrative and welcome the unanticipated. Spontaneity and innovation carry the day; this vacation has been no exception. I’ve found many parallels between travelling and running a project, many of which I’ve covered in my articles in one way or another. Others are in the back of my mind and will be ready in their own good time.
Like writing, any project is also a creative process where we must balance organising our thoughts and following our instincts. Think about how many problems are resolved while taking a break or walking.
A great article from the Stanford website: Stanford study finds walking improves creativity.The article leads with the statement:
Stanford researchers found that walking boosts creative inspiration. They examined the creativity levels of people while they walked versus while they sat. A person’s creative output increases by an average of 60 per cent when walking.
They go on with many more details, including a link to the full study. Steve Jobs was famous for his walking meetings, for example. An Internet search reveals how not just going for a walk but many activities, even taking a shower, help our problem-solving processes. Most of us don’t need convincing as we’ve all experienced the phenomenon many times in our careers.
Sometimes, the best plans go astray, no matter how well we try to figure out everything in plenty of time. These things happen, and here is where it pays to be flexible, a plan ‘B’ if you will.
Perhaps you have booked a specific room in your hotel of choice; the plan is to enjoy your short stay, relax over a lazy dinner, and look forward to a drink in the bar afterwards. You arrive and are immediately disappointed that the room you thought you booked is no longer available. It gets worse; the dining room and bar are closed today, so you must find somewhere else to eat. It sounds far-fetched, but this just happened to us.
Projects can also go off the track quickly, often for reasons outside the scope. The trick is to build a decent cushion to allow for delays or other issues affecting the delivery date. If we plan with too high a precision, we immediately put all involved in the project under unneeded pressure to make the delivery date. Often, the only way to achieve this is to reduce the quality of the work.
Changes to plans are inconvenient for a vacation trip, maybe even disappointing, but this is as far as the impact goes. The effect is likely far more significant for projects with customers expecting promised results within the specified timeframe. The only way to avoid this, as much as possible, is to allow for the unforeseen, which may require a cushion or several weeks or months, depending on the industry. It is better to inform the customer of a delivery date for a project that we are confident is more likely to arrive early rather than late.
The initial disappointment of such a long lead to delivery will be quickly forgotten, especially if the delivery becomes possible before the agreed date.
This vacation has been both an inspiration and, at times, disappointing. Before we started our travels around Europe, I was curious if the trip would stimulate creativity enough to have something to write about. I needn’t have worried; the main lesson I’ve taken from this last week is that there is always something worth writing about. It just takes an open mind and allowing yourself to disconnect. Trust to providence.
The parallels between vacations and project planning are surprising and many. I’ve only touched on a few that occurred over the last few days. Perhaps some more profound thought is required, but that is for another time and another post.
Just for information, I took my M2 MacBook Air with me and wrote this article in Ulysses. But I could have written it on my iPad or even my phone at a push. Perhaps you prefer pen and paper; I think a small notebook would be more than sufficient. It is important to write regularly; it doesn’t have to be much. A few paragraphs each day is enough to produce an entire article in just a few days. Travelling and writing work for me, apparently.
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I apologise to my readers for some of the spellings you may feel are incorrect. I was born and brought up in the United Kingdom, and this is the spelling I am comfortable with (Grammarly is happy with it anyway).