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October 24th, 2018
In the old Greek epic The Odyssey, Penelope, the wife of Odysseus sits at a loom each day and works on a piece of tapestry, and each night she undoes some of her work. She does this because she’s announced that when the work is done she’ll finally remarry, when in reality she’s trying to buy time in hopes that her husband Odysseus will come home and help her put things in order.
Penelope has a good reason. But many of us do not when it comes to a project that has been dragging on for months or even years. Something we’re sort of always working on but never bringing to any kind of fruition.
Penelope genuinely did not want to finish because she simply didn’t want to remarry. But what about our project. Why does it take so long? Is there some unsavory marriage waiting for us at the end of the journey?
Perhaps there is. Perhaps we fear being married to the fallout when we ship our project and maybe it fails. So we make one little part of it a little more perfect. We fuss over another part that needs to be redone. We scrap some of it, we get down on ourselves and stop working on it all together, we do anything but make meaningful strides towards the finish line.
The genius of Penelope’s plan was that it had no fixed deadline, and she could drag things on in all sorts of ways, by undoing her work and letting the scope of the project get bigger and bigger and bigger. Considering her husband Odysseus took nearly two decades to get home, it’s wise that she did not cap herself with a deadline of say 6 months.
Penelope’s genius here is exactly at the root of our own problem when it comes to projects we are working on. We would be best served not to launch our project when the work is done, because the work is never done. We would be best to fix a deadline, and launch on that date, no matter what. Such a date starts moving towards us, like the walls in a trash compactor, and what was once slow fussy work starts turning into light speed productivity. The way to cure the endless loom is the deadline, the line drawn in the sand of time that signals that the current phase of the project, no matter what will die when we cross that line. Doing so might just give life to another phase of the project when it starts to yield some meaningful feedback.