Sometimes, the best thing to do is jump into a task and get it done. Sometimes, the best thing to do is step back, relax, and plan. Yesterday was a prime example for me.

With about an hour and a half left before time to go home, I started a project involving the assimilation of data which had just become available. My goal was to enter the appropriate parts of the data onto our school system’s “Balanced Scorecard” and get the updated scorecard to principals as soon as possible.

“No better time than the present to just knock the whole thing out,” I thought. For about the next hour, I put shoulder to the wheel watching the clock all along. The clock seemed to be going faster than the progress on the task at hand. In addition, two phone calls which had to be made before leaving weighed heavily on my mind.

With 30 minutes until time to leave the office, it was obvious I had severely underestimated the time required for the task. Furthermore, I was not enjoying what I was doing. At this juncture in my life, I have pretty much come to the conclusion that being happy doing what I am doing in the moment ought to be a primary focus. Furthermore, I felt frazzled. I found myself feverishly looking for a particular flash drive only to find it was in the pocket of the coat I was presently wearing!

I made a decision which may turn out to be the best decision I make all weekend. I put the project in the briefcase. That left me 30 minutes to plan my weekend and my Monday. I left the office with a clear picture of what I wanted to accomplish that evening, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, Sunday afternoon, first thing in the office Monday, early Monday, late morning Monday, and Monday afternoon. I had also charted pretty clearly what I wanted to tackle Tuesday. Finally, I had blasted into the future quite a few things sitting on the task list that stood no chance of being handled in the next few days.

Saturday morning, I put the flash drive in the computer at home, pulled the printouts from the briefcase, and resumed the data project. Just yesterday, I was watching the clock wondering what I had done to deserve such torture. This morning, I was having fun. I was relaxed and listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, an episode of Mission Organization, and a Jay Leno, all from a VCR tape from earlier in the week playing in the background to keep me company.

During my 23-minute commute to and from work, I have listened to many books on tape and CD. Yesterday’s ordeal brings to mind one of them: Be Quick But Don’t Hurry. The book was written by a former UCLA basketball player who recounted his days under legendary coach John Wooden. The title refers to a piece of advice Wooden gave his players. At first glance, it seems contradictory. In actuality, it’s right on the money.

When we are relaxed and “in our zone,” we can be quick. Everything flows. Everything is effortless. The activity is fun. When we hurry, we make mistakes. We stumble and find ourselves having to re-do and re-think.

Yesterday, I was trying to hurry. Today, I was quick. The task was the same. The difference is yesterday was work while today was play.

Sometimes, the best thing to do is jump into a task and get it done. Sometimes, the best thing to do is step back, relax, and plan. I think I just got better at distinguishing the one from the other.

The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he’s always doing both.

– James Michener