Abe Lincoln said that if he had six hours to chop down a tree, he'd spend the first four sharpening his ax. The quote’s apocryphal nature isn’t important. The sentiment is.
The idea that you should spend a significant amount of upfront time preparing to do a task is just good advice. In fact, it’s the ideal way to operate. Put another way: slow and deliberate preparation will allow you to execute elements of your podcast faster.
But rarely do we live in an ideal world. Pressures are constantly hitting us from all sides, and we often just don’t have the time to be slow and deliberate before we take action. Podcasters -- from pros to hobbyists - have to adjust and adapt to their own situations.
Because I’m a student of Venkatesh Rao, my mind immediately builds a 2x2 grid anytime I see two forces at play. I’m a terrible illustrator, but here’s my quick sketch:
Attractive, no? No. But leaving my failings as an artist aside, you’ll see that graphing things this way gives you nice quadrants to look at. Let’s examine each of them from the point of view of a working podcaster. Named Evo. Self-serving much? Yeah...
Fast Preparation / Slow Execution
Think of this as the “festering” quadrant. Activities that fall here will take a long time to complete (if they ever completed) because of (mostly) insufficient up-front planning.
This isn’t a good place to operate, podcaster or not. But I recently found myself in this quadrant when I decide to (finally) create a YouTube channel just for the edited videos of Podcast Pontifications. Prior to this decision, I’d been loading the videos to my personal YouTube channel, where they competed against videos of my speaking gigs, tons of videos from my travels around the world, and random video flotsam and jetsam I’ve collected over more than a dozen years.
Because of my poor planning, I decided to face my own demons and start making things right. The time to prepare was three years ago, but this is where I live now. So a couple of Friday’s ago (or was it last Friday?), I took the plunge. I leaned on a couple of friends who are more active on YouTube than me to help me avoid major pitfalls, and started the task. The channel was live that day with Season 3 videos, and I’m slowly back-filling. But with ~300 videos to re-upload, it's taking me a very long time to execute. And that’s OK, but only because I don’t have a time machine. This isn’t fun, but it is a reality.
Fast Preparation / Fast Execution
I’m tempted to call this the “unrealistic client expectations” quadrant, but I’m nicer than that. And it doesn’t roll off the tongue. So instead, I’ll call this the “today” quadrant, because it’s where I live with this very podcast.
And that’s my example: this very episode. And, in fact, most episodes of this show. I chose the topic for today’s episode yesterday but didn’t do any real planning until this morning. In fact, I hadn’t even conceived of the 2x2 graphic or example activities for each quadrant until I was in the shower at around 6:00 am. And I was in my studio chair less than half an hour later. That’s pretty fast.
I do not recommend you do this! I can get away with that because of the tight processes I’ve developed over time to get episodes of this podcast out on a consistent basis. The fact that it’s a short-form show with episodes on a single topic that require very little audio editing certainly works in my favor. It would be much harder (though not impossible) to do with a more complex show. So again, I do not recommend living in this quadrant if you value your sanity! But it is called the “today” quadrant for a reason, so you might.
Slow Preparation / Slow Execution
Spending lots of time in upfront planning is a good thing. But if you then take forever to actually implement the plan, you’re in the “limbo” quadrant, where good ideas go to die. Worse than the “festering” content that I started this article with, things in “limbo” don’t annoy you enough to ever give them the attention necessary to move them to done.
By way of example, I’ve yet to select an effective and efficient way to communicate with all of my clients en masse. Individually, we communicate all the time and quite effectively. And that’s the important part. But on rare occasions, I need to let all of my firm’s clients know about something. For example, the fact that Amazon Music now lists podcasts, and that my team has already made sure their show is listed.
Because I’ve been slow to select a solution (I’m aware of dozens, so this isn’t a request for suggestions), I’m forced to send out individual notes to all clients. Because I rarely encounter a situation like this, I can justify taking the time to select a solution. And even when I do (?) finally select one, I’ll probably take a long time getting things set up. Because it’s not annoying me enough, so it goes into limbo. I've got other and better things to do with my time.
Slow Preparation / Fast Execution
This is the sweet spot hinted at by the fake quote of our real 16th president, where you take plenty of time getting ready, and then you quickly do the deed. I have two examples of how I’ve been in this quadrant recently with my podcasting processes.
The first is the website for Podcast Pontifications. I spent a lot of time deliberating what solutions I was going to use. I knew what solutions I didn't want to use, but kept an open (and future-forward) mind about what I would use. That meant I spent weeks (yes, more than one) looking through requirements, looking at examples of sites built with those solutions, talking to support personnel, interviewing current users of the solutions, and generally making sure that whatever solution I chose was going to be the right one for me.
Once I made the decision, I then spent more weeks figuring out what pages I’d need, what elements I wanted to highlight, and then how to work best with the content management system and front-end to make it as easy as possible to update.
Once those tasks were completed (over a month of prep work), the execution was incredibly fast, like… days? And I’m neither a web developer nor a designer. But those factors went into my decision making and let me make a fast execution for the final site.
I took a similar approach to my selection of newsletter vendors. If you’re reading this on Substack, you know what I mean. If you’re reading it on my website, you may not know that you can subscribe to Podcast Pontifications In Your Inbox, which sends you this article (and a link to the audio file) every day an episode is published.
I spent a great deal of time analyzing and investigating newsletter options, going so far as to completely re-work my approach to the newsletter after said investigations gave me new perspectives. Once I made my decision, I was sending newsletters within two days, having back-filled with enough content to make it compelling.
And all that work on the newsletter paid off, as it's become my fastest-growing distribution channel. Hi, Substack readers!
So while that’s definitely a success story for slow preparation, fast execution, I don’t always live there as I’ve just illustrated. And I’ll never live there for everything. My reality is that I sometimes have to make decisions fast and implement them faster. I’ll always have nagging things that I’ll get to someday. Or non-nagging things that I may never get to at all.
That's the reality for most podcasters. Heck, it’s the reality for most people! We all live in various quadrants all the time. So we should forgive ourselves when we find ourselves not working in that sweet spot of slow prep, fast execution.
Perhaps you know of a procrastinating podcaster, or perhaps a podcaster with the attention span of a bunny doing lines of coke. (Do people still do lines of coke? Have bunnies ever?) Send them a link to this episode along with a personal note from you. Maybe it’ll help them understand ways over the hump, or see the benefits of more upfront planning. Either way, it helps the audience of this show grow, so thank you for that.
And if you like the concepts about podcasting I bring to you four days a week, please go to BuyMeACoffee.com/EvoTerra and sign up for a recurring membership. It’s only a few bucks and it shows me you really appreciate my thoughts and ideas.
I’ll be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.