Working Ahead

There are two kinds of working-ahead that you can do: 

  1. You can work ahead on tasks that you know will provide relief to your future self. 
  2. You can work ahead on something that has no visible benefit right now. 

You need to use both approaches to working ahead. 

Tasks To Provide Relief To Future Self

You should always be scanning your time-horizon to see if there is a potential for an avalanche of work that will come your way. When you see the signs that you might have a busy week (or month) coming up, find ways to work ahead on things that you can do now, and you won’t have to do later. Maybe this is preparing the first draft of a budget a month ahead of time. You might create a list of tasks for an upcoming project, even before you have the project kick-off meeting. Choose functions that you can do, and then easily update later. That way, when you are required to hand in the work, and everything is very busy around you, you know that you have done the foundational thinking already. 

Tasks With No Visible Benefit

We often confuse the “no visible benefit” with the term “no future purpose.” Just because you can’t see a benefit right now, doesn’t mean that it won’t have a purpose in the future. If you took your workout from today, you likely don’t see any visible benefit from the signal session. But exercise has a future purpose: to extend your life and increase the quality of life. The same is true for work that you might do. Learning coding over a semester might have no visible benefit in your current role, but when you move into a more technical role, it may be invaluable. Taking a course in ancient Greek culture may have no visible benefit, but may serve a critical future purpose because it taught you how to evaluate and learn from other cultures. We must also spend intentional time working ahead on tasks with no immediately visible benefits.

Work ahead, both on the tasks that will provide you relief in the future, and will provide a benefit in the future because of today’s investment. In both cases, working ahead means staying one step ahead of the future.