The Art of Preparation
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” ~ Seneca
Which is better: Spontaneity or planning? Right brain or left brain? Art or science? Creativity or analysis?
We tend to label everything and put it in a box. And each box comes with its own impressions, and bias. Spontaneity is synonymous with freedom. It’s better to go with the flow and just do whatever feels right in the moment. Routine is boring. Planning is tedious.
We all can benefit from having free time that’s not bound by to-dos and obligations. This can be a wonderful opportunity to just be, and experience whatever comes up.
But a good portion of our day is filled with work and responsibility. If we just react to whatever comes up, we won’t get much done, other than scattered and reactive putting out fires and busyness.
Doing things as they come can be quite exciting when we’re riding the wave of adrenalin. But sooner or later, stress takes over and we start poisoning our minds and bodies with stress.
An effective way to have more peace, and ease into action and projects is to prepare ahead of time.
Preparation is something that we all do, whether we realize it or not. The moment we step out of the present and look into the future, we’re mentally preparing. We’re either looking forward to, or dreading something. And most of the time we do this unconsciously.
I’ve been doing my best to prepare as much as possible ahead of time. I’ve noticed that I’ve made more progress without additional effort. Also, I’ve enjoyed myself more and experienced less anxiety and resistance.
So today I’d like to share with you a few thoughts and ideas that I hope can be useful to you.
As you’ll see, preparation doesn’t fit into one box. It can be a form of art. And it can be an effective tool for making art.
Preparation as a conscious choice is a much better option than fearful imagination. We’re not escaping the present, and we’re not getting lost in vague thoughts about the future that are mostly unhelpful.
We can intentionally look into the future and determine if there is something we can do about it now.
The future meets the present in preparation.
Preparation can appear to be methodical and uninteresting. It is, however, one of the most beneficial things we can do if we want to create anything meaningful with less struggle and more beauty and ease.
Preparing the canvas
Let’s look at food, whether you consider it an ordinary requirement of survival, or an adventure in taste, flavor, and texture. Cooking requires preparation.
“Mise en place”, translated to “putting in place”, is a culinary ritual. Cooking tools are organized, ingredients are lined up, and everything is ready.
The canvas (in this case the kitchen work area) is set up to minimize distractions and interruptions. The cook goes to work focusing only on making the best meal possible.
All artists need to prepare ahead of time. A painter cannot paint without brushes, colors, and canvas. A musician can’t create music without instruments, or software, or recording equipment. A movie cannot be produced without setting in place financing, location, cast, and crew.
The art before art
Preparation is the art of creating flow and ease. It’s the best tool to facilitate and simplify action. And it’s one of the most effective methods in reducing resistance and friction.
A simple task like cleaning your home can be improved significantly with some preparation. You can put everything in its place the day before, get your cleaning tools ready, and determine when you’d like to do it.
All you need to do the next day is start, and keep going. You won’t need to stop to put things away, or empty your vacuum cleaner. Your work will flow with more ease and focus. Repeat this a few times and you’ll become an expert in cleaning and preparation—and you’ll enjoy yourself.
When and how to prepare
Preparation is not an exact science. It can turn into a systematic process over time. But there is a lot of experimenting before we find the right steps.
The nature of the task or project will dictate how much preparation is required. Consider the following.
- Environment: Clearing your work area of clutter and getting your tools ready before you start can save you a lot of time. It will also motivate you to get started.
- Time: Some situations require preparation weeks or months ahead of time, and others need an hour the day before. We may not need more than a few minutes to mentally visualize what we need to do for a simple task. We’d need to have a detailed timeline of how long a big project would take and how we’re going to prioritize it.
- Action: Your action can be as simple as buying your tools or clearing out clutter. Another simple but important action is to look at your list the day before, or mentally go through what you need to do and see how it would fit in your timeline. There are tasks and projects that require research, talking to people, and exploring various options. Things like travel, learning a new skill, or selling your home all require more extensive preparation ahead of time.
Mastery transforms the ordinary into remarkable. It’s the highest form of artistic expression.
Preparation is a skill that gets better with time and experience. As you hone your craft, you become more familiar with your preferences and limitations. You develop better understanding of your stress triggers, your reactions, and impulses.
With practice you’ll be able to balance preparation and trust. You won’t over-prepare and over-analyze or under-prepare and be caught off guard.
You’ll have more faith in your abilities to plan and act. Your actions will flow with more ease and confidence.
Even when things don’t go as intended, a little preparation never hurts. If things don’t work out, we know how to set ourselves up for success for the next thing.
Preparation is not about expectations. It’s about reducing noise and distractions, and choosing to consciously focus on doing what matters the best way we can.
Preparation is the art of making your life more mindful and fluid.