Cancelled Business Trip

I am surprised how many times I learn something for the second time.

At a CAS meeting several years ago, Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand made a presentation about motivation. The thrust of his speech was that a plan needs to include a time limit or a deadline in order to instill motivation. If you think you will have all the time in the world to do something, you’ll not be very motivated to do it. Over time, I had forgotten that concept, until a cancelled business trip brought it to mind.

I had been preparing for a business trip that was to take me out of town for a week. My wife, Diane, wanted me to wrap up a lot of unfinished tasks before I left. I thought I had all summer to get them done. She wanted me to fertilize the grass (spring weed and feed), stock up on some grocery items, take care of our leaking dishwasher (that’s another story!) and finish our income taxes (that’s another story as well!). I also had to get my suit cleaned, get a haircut and start packing.

One of the other things I needed to do before I left was getting a new mobile phone; the old one wouldn’t hold a charge for very long. I didn’t want to be half-way across the country with an unreliable phone, so I spent the obligatory half day purchasing a new one and having the information transferred from the old to new phone. The new phone had a different operating system, and many of the settings were in new places. It didn’t even have the same buttons as the old one. Some of the applications needed the passwords reloaded. (How do I freeze the orientation of the screen? I didn’t realize how much customization I did on my old phone until I got the new one.)

You have likely encountered the days-long learning process, and I got my new phone only days before I was to travel. I don’t change phones until I have to because of all the new things I have to learn on the new one. I trade “learn a little frequently” for “learn a lot infrequently” when it comes to cell phones. Now I was paying the price.

I got my suit cleaned and a haircut and started packing.

On the Friday before I was to travel, I got an email informing me that the meeting was postponed for a few months. In the week before the trip, I had finished a lot of tasks I wasn’t expecting to get taken care of until “whenever.”

I had a lot of loose ends I wasn’t expecting to get taken care of that soon.

And it made me think.

The only thing about the week before my trip was the deadline for some undone tasks. I was just as busy, and completing them made me work harder and longer. I got more done in that week than in many of the weeks leading up to it.

I also wondered how many tasks got bigger as I delayed doing them. When I cut the lawn in the backyard, I don’t use the bagger if the grass is short. But if I wait too long, I bag it to keep the cut grass from piling up on the lawn. Waiting to cut the yard makes the task take longer.

I picked up Lybrand’s book, The One Success Habit (You Can’t Do Without),[1] and found on page 37 that motivation includes a time limit: If you think you will have all the time in the world to do something, you’ll not be very motivated to do it. My list of items had a time limit, and it motivated me.

I have tried to set my own deadlines for things, but it is too easy to simply move the deadline as it approaches. I am not a very good person for me to be accountable to. A hard deadline, like a business trip, works better, as it is immovable. The fact that Diane wanted me to do some of those chores before I traveled added another level of finality to the deadline.

It seems funny that we “learn” things only to later allow those learnings to lapse into forgetfulness. I had read Lybrand’s book years ago and applied his “motivation-requires-a-deadline” concept for quite some time. But I had allowed that idea to fade, only to rediscover it after a trip was cancelled.

Deadlines help motivate, and re-reading notes and books can help renew useful habits.


Leaky dishwasher. When our dishwasher started leaking, we looked for a replacement. Unfortunately, we could not find one to our satisfaction that would be delivered before my trip. My interim solution for the leak was to place a jelly roll pan below the dishwasher that I emptied after each wash. But I didn’t want Diane to get down on her hands and knees to do that while I was gone. I needed an alternative solution. I cut a hole in the side of the pan, ran a hose through the floor to a bucket in the basement and had a temporary, although ugly, solution. Sometimes, you need to be creative and make unconventional fixes, both at home and at work. We now have the replacement dishwasher installed and have removed the drip pan. How many times have we had to continue to use an old process or program while we waited for the “new and improved” one to be completed? Omitted or inaccurate data must be contended with until the new program (dishwasher) gets installed.

Income taxes. I used to do our income taxes, but several years ago they became so complicated that I hired a tax accountant to do them. I still have to get all of the materials together, however. Having done that, I needed to pick up our returns and review them before my trip. It should have been a simple thing for me, but Diane found a significant error in the returns. So, I had to go back to the accountant for a revision. That reinforced what we actuaries do — always have a qualified person check our work before sending to the client. Diane was the qualified peer reviewer and the IRS was the client.

[1]   Fred Ray Lybrand, The One Success Habit (You Can’t Do Without), Kauffman Burgess Press, 2012.