Quit While You’re Ahead

imageBack in the mid-90’s we had a mandatory, all-day company-wide meeting on the subject of having better meetings (we really did, you can’t make this stuff up). One of the things that the facilitator mentioned as a “best practice” (I hate that term) was to never schedule a meeting for a Friday afternoon. For most of us, that comment was another opportunity to shake our heads and wonder aloud “…and we’re paying this guy?” Just then, one of our senior managers (at the time) burst out with:

“I don’t see the problem scheduling a meeting for Friday afternoon. Friday is a work day, and it’s a work day right up until the point when the office closes. We should be willing to do anything on Friday afternoon that we would be willing to do on Monday morning!”

Yeah, yeah, Friday’s a work day, but if you want a productive meeting, schedule it before noon. That was before most people even had cell phones, before Twitter, Facebook, texting and email – I can’t imagine trying to have a productive meeting on a Friday afternoon today.

Not only do I not schedule meetings, I try very hard not to start anything new on a Friday afternoon. It’s not like I shut my computer off at lunch and curl up for a nap, but I really like to end the week at a success point. I don’t stop working on something, but if I complete a milestone task at 2:00, I don’t start working on the next 6-hour task. There’s always something else to do, something that has to be done but that can be done at any time. I can clean my desk, or pay some bills, or organize some documents. I could easily spend several hours deleting emails out of my inbox. There’s no need to start a new project. I like to be able to go home for the weekend while happy with the knowledge that I’ve achieved something.

In addition to going home happy, I want to be happy about coming to work on Monday. Most people dread Monday’s, but I actually like them. I am the kind of person who naturally breaks large projects into small chunks, so I usually have a good idea of how much work I hope to accomplish in any given week. Whether I meet all those goals or not, I like the idea of being able to start working on a new chunk way more than having to go back and start wrestling with some bear that I left on Friday. Life is too short to spend a weekend worrying about what you have to do on Monday morning. Life is too short to worry about anything, but that’s a different post.

I looked up “quit while you’re ahead” and it doesn’t seem to have been said by anyone noteworthy before it had been said by practically everybody. I did discover that the Simpsons made very good use of the phrase in season 21, episode 13 when Lisa was reading the Simpson genealogy.

Homer: That’s a great story, Lisa! And you should stop reading right there.

Lisa: Wh-What are you doing? I want to know what happens next.

Homer: Well, I don’t. The motto of the Simpsons is…quit while you’re ahead.

Marge: I made it into a sampler. It’s like when your father and I left the movie Carrie right after she was crowned prom queen. She was so happy. She had a lot of problems, but they were all behind her.

OK, I’m not as bad as Marge, but I stand by my love affair with “quit while you’re ahead.” You will be better off if you end your work-week and even your workday if possible on an achievement than you will if you leave a festering pile of failure on your desk. If you really want to feel good all the time, learn how to set small achievable goals for yourself, set them to fill a day and stop when you achieve them. No cheating, you can’t quit working at 10:30 AM and call it a good day. The famous book for people involved in systems development “The Mythical Man Month” says that, on average “a professional developer will write in average 10 lines of code per day.” That may or may not be true, for a detailed consideration, see this article on CodeBetter.com. Even if it is true, the key words are “on average” so you can’t pack your bag after saving the 10th line. If we can be honest with our estimates and honest with our assessments, we can treat ourselves to a bit of stress-free living while being fair to our employer. In fact, I would argue that working in chunks (and establishing a pattern of completing same) will put us among the higher performing employees.

Getting back to my search for the origin of “Quit while you’re ahead”, one of the results paired that saying a different quote in a way I find hard to understand:

“I think you better quit while you’re ahead. You don’t need to dig yourself in any deeper.”

Those seem like separate thoughts, and they seem to be opposed to each other rather than complimentary. On the other hand, not digging oneself in any deeper is always good advice, particularly on Friday afternoons. Maybe I should have stopped searching after I found the Simpson’s link. See how that works?

7 thoughts on “Quit While You’re Ahead

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  1. Picture – When I was siding our house, I broke the field into segments like “the front over to the porch,” “the area under the porch,” “the lower west section” and “the gable end of the dormer.” You can imagine how good I felt as this picture was being taken.


    1. It’s a 22′ section of aluminum scaffolding. For most of the house, it was supported by two ‘ladder jacks’ but in this space, there was only room on the right side for a ladder so I used the porch roof as the other support. One of the two ladders in the picture is holding the scaffold (via the ladder jack), and the other ladder is what I used to get up and down. The plank sticks out from the ladder that’s holding it, so you can’t climb up and over.


    1. I can almost only imagine that that is the case. I write on occasion for work, and writing does seem to command my time differently than other tasks. Thanks for taking the time to comment.


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