As we approach Thanksgiving, it’s time to talk turkey (that’s the only terrible pun here, I promise). Every year, millions of Americans cook a turkey on the same day. Most people only cook a whole turkey once a year so you don’t get a lot of repetitions in your lifetime which makes it kind of stressful.
It takes a long time to cook so if you mess it up, you usually don’t have time to cook another one. And it’s the main course of the meal so messing it up is higher stakes than say messing up the green bean casserole.
There are a lot of ways to mess up cooking a turkey (and I have done almost all of them), but the worst one is not cooking it long enough so that there are raw bits in the middle.
So, even if it isn’t going to come out quite like you hoped, you should at the least make sure it is cooked all the way through. After all, most turkey cooks often find that they are a bit harder on themselves than anyone else is. A mediocre turkey covered in stuffing, dressing and cranberry sauce is still delicious. And, most people are two drinks deep by the time the food is served and won’t notice.
So, the worst mistake you can make when cooking a turkey is not taking it out of the oven. Even if it was a little overcooked or under-seasoned or whatever, you should always finish cooking it and take the turkey out of the oven.
Cooking a turkey is a surprisingly good metaphor for most projects. Most people only have one or two big projects they are working on over the course of a year or so. They take a long time and are typically the “main course” of our careers.
The worst mistake that most people make with most projects is that they get about 80% of the way done and realize that it didn’t turn out quite as they hoped. Then, they leave it in the metaphorical oven, an 80% done project with little raw bits in the middle. This is bad. Do not do this.
Why do some people leave the turkey in the oven? And how do you avoid it?
I think there are at least two reasons for this. One is that when you get close to completing a project, you start to think about what other people will say. Author Steven Pressfield calls this The Resistance, that little voice in the back of our heads telling us we aren’t good enough. This voice is always the worst at the finish line when we start thinking about what other people will say.
The other reason is that over the course of completing a big project, you usually learn some new things. Pretty much everyone I know who has written a book, even mega-successful books, is always kind of unhappy with the finished product. They learned so much working on it that they now see all these things they would do differently if they started again from scratch.
This is an unsolvable problem. If they start writing the book again from scratch, they inevitably learn something new and then must start again and so and so on. To paraphrase Leonardo da Vinci: “Projects are never finished, only abandoned”
The way to solve this is to commit that when you get a project to 80% of the way done that you ALWAYS take the turkey out of the oven.
My friend Sebastian Marshall gave this approach a memorable name: Terminator Mode. Once you get to 80% complete, you go into full-on Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator Mode.
Someone asks if you can drop that to help them with some other project and you give them one of these:
You start obsessively focusing on the project that’s 80% complete. The mind will play all sorts of tricks on you when you get to 80% complete with a task. It will try to seduce you into doing something unrelated or new. Never give in to that. Get hungry and focused when you get to 80% complete.
An “almost done” project is precisely about as valuable as an almost done turkey. Most projects have a pay-off profile that looks something like this.
Maybe a few of the early parts of the project being completed create some work that could be used somewhere else – an almost done book can be turning into a few blog posts – but the vast majority of the value is realized at the end.
Getting 80% of the way done and quitting usually means you did 80% of the work and only got 10-20% of the value.
Even if it’s not as much value as you’d hoped when starting the project, it’s still silly not to get across the finish line. The worst thing you can do is get a project to “almost done” and quit.
You should always be asking yourself, “How has the world changed due to my work here?” If the world isn’t any different then you haven’t accomplished anything, no matter how hard you’ve worked!
Take the turkey out of the oven.
H/t for the phrasing to the Genius ISMs.
Last Updated on November 16, 2020 by Taylor Pearson