What We Don’t Do Well

Alegro Cafe
Where the problems are solved

A recent breakfast conversation with my best friend, John, sent me digging in my drafts folder. I was convinced that this idea must exist in my notes. Well, not quite. I have a couple of ideas that come close, but, as the circus carney would add, “No cigar.”

The posts I have that come close, are related to math, or, as my other best friend (I figure I can have one per continent) David would say, maths. I don’t know why the British say maths instead of math. Maybe one of my favorite bloggers, Ellen Hawley can explain that some time. Since I’m dropping names all over the place, I might as well include Joey.

Joey? What does Joey have to do with any of this? Well, Joey had a post where someone commented that geometry isn’t important (I lost that URL). I found a draft rant about how important Geometry is in life, when I was searching. Go ahead, don’t agree with me about Geometry. That might be all the encouragement I need to finish that post. What you don’t want to know can hurt you.

I know, almost 200 words and I haven’t gotten to the point yet.

John and I were talking about the things people can’t do. Not all people, maybe not you, but you know, people. Those people. No names, but let’s let everybody who knows me and John off the hook; the subject of discussion was an unknown (to you) third-party. I’m not sure this information will help you, but John and I have been talking about this for years and, in general, we don’t see the situation getting better.

I should also mention that we’re not sure we have the complete set of things people can’t do. John and I have been known to work on subjects like this forever. We may come back in a few weeks and add a fourth thing to this list, did I mention that there are three things? No? Well, there are. There are three things people don’t do well. Who are John and I to decide? Well, you might ask that, but we wouldn’t care. This is what we do. We solve these problems, whether or not the world recognizes their importance. OK, 350+ words, let’s move on:

Thing One – People don’t know how to divide and conquer. Specifically, as it relates to a systems project (on which John and I worked for years together) or a legal process (the actual subject at breakfast), people don’t know how to divide a large project into small manageable chunks. When I built the ramp to our front porch, I poured the concrete supports. I installed the support stringers. I applied the decking and then I installed the railing system. Those four tasks were four weekend’s worth of activity. Four chunks. If you don’t divide things into chunks, you run the risk of suffering a series of Chicken Little moments.

Thing Two – People don’t understand time frames. Last summer, the City of Hartford hired a contractor to build a baseball stadium. Home of the Hartford Yard Goats in the spring of 2016! Now, contractors understand chunks just fine. Build a foundation. Install structural steel. Build the interior spaces. Build the stands. Erect the lighting, and so on and so forth. What they didn’t seem to understand is that the Yard Goats were scheduled to play the Richmond Flying Squirrels on April 7th. Last Thursday. The contractor knew what all the chunks were. He knew how to do all the chunks. He seemed to overlook how long the chunks would take and which chunks depended on other chunks. The stadium is scheduled to be “substantially complete” by May 17th – Go Yard Goats

Project plan
Some things depend on other things. Some things don’t.
Projetc plan
Of course, there was an argument with the city over self-flushing toilets, among other things.
Veterans Park
I’m guessing that it’s a good idea that our town mows these fields.

Thing Three – The monetary value of resources. This one is difficult to grasp, because we’re conditioned to think that fixed costs are, you know, fixed. In fact, they taught me in business school that, ultimately, all costs are variable. A safe example of this is when a town decides to maintain their sports fields themselves rather than hire someone. Statements like: “we have the staff and we already own the equipment” will be made and people in the room will think: “this is good, we’re saving money.” Well, you’re only saving money if you need those people and that equipment for other things and if those people and that equipment would otherwise be idle on the days the ball fields have to be mowed. And, if owning the equipment and paying the people over time is cheaper than paying Joe’s Football Field Mowing to do the job.

If we ever decide to add a fourth thing, I’ll bring it to your attention. For now, consider these three things. Do they make sense? Are you good that them? If not, are you bothered by the fact? Do you care?

Breaking news: A friend just posted this update about the ballpark.

78 thoughts on “What We Don’t Do Well

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  1. I fall in the middle on completing tasks, because I get side tracked, like opening Pandora’s box. I like geometry and even algebra, but do “way below average” in trigonometry, Dan!
    I liked your porch project section a lot! :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Robin. I found geometry and trigonometry both very easy. I struggled with algebra in high school, but I came to understand it better as an adult. A Pandora’s box is a good metaphor for a lot of my projects, I may have to use that in the future.


  2. I am the MASTER of dividing projects into small, manageable bites.
    I am however, not so great at *maintenance*. Once a project is done, I want to move on to something else which always made me rather ambivalent about operational jobs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Completing projects and maintenance, oh my, those are two different things. They might require two different types of people, Joanne. You might be guessing that I lean toward your description of yourself. It’s precisely for that reason that my wife suggested vinyl siding that looks like shakes as an alternative to wood shingles that would eventually need to be painted :)

      Thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Your wife is a wise woman :)

        I was lucky that I was able to build a career on project oriented work rather than operational stuff. You’re right – most people suck at managing big projects so those who are good at it, tend to always be busy :)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. She knows who she’s working with, that’s for sure.

          My friend John made a career out of managing the large and complicated as well as the small and complicated. I was lucky to work for him early in my career, when my brain was still pliable and I was still able to learn things.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. I am guilty of taking too long to finish projects. I break them up into manageable chunks, and I’m good at time management, but that back hallway is at 99% and, well, I feel like I can get it done before the 4th of July…But should I paint the back entry the same color? Should I continue the color? Let’s think about that until at least May. You can bet I’ll post about it when it’s done.
    My kitchen’s at 80%…Lived through winter with variations of backsplash and caulking chaos…Dining room at 90%…So much depends on The Mister and the monies…I mean, it’s been 32 months and Friday he finally got my grandmother’s painting set on a picture rail…
    Thanks for the mention in defense of geometry. Geometry was the only formulaic math that ever made sense to me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Joey. I wish I could find the post, but I think I didn’t keep track of it because I didn’t want to offend one of your readers.

      It’s funny you mention taking too long to finish projects. When I worked for my friend John, he used to say that “project management is binary. We were only allowed to report progress as ‘Done’ or ‘Not Done’ ” and it had a way of getting us past that enormous gap between 99% and ‘Done’.

      Regarding the painting, I think homes need a series of break points. We started painting the baseboard in the kitchen once, and I thought it would never end.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The reason the British say maths is that it’s an abbreviation of mathematics. They retain one more letter in their shortening of the word than we do in ours, and it’s the letter that suggests plurality (algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus,…), even if the British still use a singular verb with maths.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. You’ve got lots of subject matter here to contemplate. I always heard it referred to as ‘eating an elephant’ and having to break it up into small bites. I do that well. I’m also good at managing time and money. Where I struggle is in the initial startup stage – pulling the lever to get going after I see how much it is going to cost. Then comes the over thinking process. Now, the real second issue – where do our New England towns get the names for the local sports teams? :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha, that’s agood question Judy. “Yard Goats” was the result of a contest where they took names, put them to an ongoing vote and let the people decide. I’m not sure they limited voting to people who might buy a tee shirt, a cap or actually go to a game, but…

      It is a lot to think about, but some much of what we’re being asked to do these days seems to be a complicated project. Breaking it into small bites is the most important of those three things (IMO) and a lot of people struggle with that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s such a good lesson. I remember building things with my father and him always describing the project in terms of steps I could understand and then ticking them off as we completed them. Thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I was 35 years old when I used Algebra for the first time in real life, doing weight and balance formulas for loading airplanes. I was so happy to report to my dad, the high school math teacher that I had finally found a purpose. Geometry and quilting go hand in hand and it took me to get to 50 to figure that out. The older I get the faster the minutes on the clock move, and I am certain there is a mathematical reason for this to happen. I try to cram more into one day than I am physically able to do at 60 years of age. I’m sure you can relate at a much younger age how fast a weekend goes by when you have a project at hand, and you have to stop, run to the home-center to pick up the forgotten item and 3 hours slip away!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re so right about the trip to the home center. We joke that any good project takes three trips. What I like most about math, is the exercise in problem solving , working from what we know to get to what we need to know. That process is very important to understand. Still, actually using Algebra is a sweet day. Thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Forget all that projecty stuff. The “Hartford Yard Goats”, I would watch a team by that name play stick ball in the street. :)

    “geometry isn’t important”

    Years ago, one of my brothers asked for help building a deck. Tony being Tony had gotten himself into some serious trouble. His design was spectacular (he is like that) but his skill level was less than spectacular. His plan looked like Escher’s Staircase My youngest brother, a mechanical engineer by training, took one look at it and drove off to an office supply store to buy a protractor. He then used it to mark up all the lumber with a carpenter’s pencil while the rest of us did the cutting and fitting. It all went together perfectly.

    When we were finished, my brother the engineer remarked, “After four years of undergraduate engineering and two years of post-graduate work. It’s the first time I ever used that stuff.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Within a month or so, I will own a Yard Goats cap and tee shirt. Hey, it’s serious baseball in my back yard. I’m going to support that.

      That’s a funny story about your brothers. Good to have one with the vision and one with the know-how.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I thought this post was going to be about things people can’t do like roll their tongue or bend their little finger while keeping the other fingers straight or giving the Vulcan salute.

    I dunno about project stuff. But I do my best work under pressure so I like a deadline I can work at the last minute to.

    Live long and prosper.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. (sitting here trying to make the salute in response to your last line :) – I can roll my tongue, can’t bend little finger, but I’m not sure either of those are as useful as algebra, so, not worrying. In 1980, I worked for Weyerhaeuser and my boss said: “Nothing motivates like a deadline and I spell deadline with a capital DEAD.” He had a series of benefits that disappeared if you missed a deadline. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. You two may have been channeling me at breakfast, Dan. All three of these “things” also drive me crazy. I’m constantly breaking down my tasks into manageable chunks, I’m super prompt and budget my time effectively, and the strings on my money purse are certainly not loose (I’m adapting Point 3 a bit). A lot of people seem to forget that “DIY” isn’t ALWAYS the best option. Much of the time? Yep! If you can do the work yourself, you’re going to save a few bucks, and you should. But — to use your terminology, if I may — that’s not a “fixed” fact of life. Situations are variable. Sometimes it’s lucrative to do it yourself, annnnd sometimes it’s just not. If you’re going to spend $1000+ in specialized tools that you’re going to use for one job and NEVER AGAIN? Then maybe you should have just paid someone $500 to come do it for you.

    At the risk of sounding like a snob (oh well), I think I lose sleep at night contemplating some people’s incompetency. Just get the work done in the timeframe provided. It’s not that hard, I promise.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you ever make it to Hartford, CT, Wendy, you have to join John and I for breakfast. We already know you get along with my wife, so we’ll bring her along. I have a lot of specialized tools, and my wife jokes that I create some project because I want a new tool. On the other hand, I use my tools frequently. I don’t think any have been mistakes. The downside of that, is that I own some tools that others need to make that DIY project possible. I’ve learned, the hard way, that my father was right when he urged me not to lend tools. He would say: “if the guy/gal is a friend, go do the work for them, but don’t lend them your tools.” Your last paragraph speaks to the reason behind his advice.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. It is now clear I have what it takes to get a project done! Alas, it is also clear that I have not geometry or hand coordination to make it as a contractor. In life, the person who has both sets of skills are usually very nice guys.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha – nicely done! Thanks Val. I’ve had more than my share of time and cost overruns, but I usually do learn from my mistakes. I’m usually clear about having the skills, understanding and tools. I’m less likely to properly estimate the time involved.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the fact is that breaking things into chunks is the only way to do it, Lois but you’re one of the people who understand that. I’m a list person too. In fact, sometimes, if I need a pick-me-up, I’ll start a new list with a few things that are already done, so I can cross them off :)

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Great points in support of geometry, well math (or maths) in general. My brain rebels against math that goes beyond balancing my checkbook, but I force it through when necessary and do the math. I’m okay at it. My husband on the other hand, loves math.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha – that’s great. I would love to sit and work my way through a complex math problem, but if my wife didn’t handle the checkbook, I’d probably be in prison. There is something to be said for knowing what has to be done and doing it. I’d much rather plan the next big thing than do some of the little things that are, you know, part of daily life. Thanks for joining in here.


  12. As a general rule I agree with you. For myself, divide and conquer is a difficult one. When we sold our house after 19 years, it was an amazing thing to have my husband who would give me one task at a time to do, otherwise, I just stood there totally overwhelmed. I am usually pretty good at time frame and I totally get the last one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is hard, sometimes, to carve the trees out of the forest. It does make things easier when it;s one task at a time, but know which ones and in what order gets to be almost an art form more than a science. It sounds like you guys are a good team – that’s the best! Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed this, John and I have to say, I’m not surprised that you’re skilled in this regard. My friend John made a career in consulting the exact same way.


  13. They do make sense, Dan. Whether I’m good at them depends a lot on the day and what else is happening, though.

    The odd thing is, it doesn’t seem as if they should be beyond the grasp, if not the ability, of any reasonable intelligent individual. Thing One, “divide and conquer”? There’s a reason they say “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” We know you can’t do a big project all at once. You have to break it down somehow. Sure, some people have a natural ability to see the best way to break it into steps and get it all done, but how hard is it to list steps on a piece of paper and check them off as you do them?

    As for Thing Two, everyone knows you have to allow time for the unexpected. Nearly everything’s going to take longer than you think it will. But procrastination is a powerful force. We put things off, and then we’re under the gun. Next thing you know, the Yard Goats’ season is off to a bad start.

    Thing Three is a bit trickier. Again, it should be obvious. But monetary value is sometimes a matter of perception and/or prejudice. I remember an account at my office once telling me that the Powers That Be would, as we read in the Bible, swallow a camel, but choke on a gnat.

    It is, alas, an imperfect world. At least we have Allegro Café, where problems are solved. When do they start serving breakfast?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Paul. I think they start serving around 5:00 am. John and I can solve any problem, given enough coffee and bacon.

      These things should be obvious, but they aren’t. I’ve seen people laugh at the idea of an outline, as if that was for school children, and then stare at a page forever with a writing assignment.

      When I was writing material at work, I would give them tough drafts. It seemed they could edit what I wrote easier than write something from scratch. Fortunately, I’m never bothered by edits.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. As I was saying on Other – if the Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit were projects they would have failed and middle earth would never have been saved. Someone would have been arguing about missed deadlines and the Orcs would have sneaked up on everyone…. so there are five things people don’t do well. the fifth is stop and realize that not everything fits into tidy little boxes. Some things like saving middle earth and a few current perplexities are messy. And just when you think you are almost ready with this neat chunk something totally unexpected squirts out. Something like planet X.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I have to say that I am excellent at meeting deadlines…if I can get the management team to cooperate with those deadlines. There are days when I feel like the nagging wench in administration because I’ve sent out three reminders that I need a “yes” or “no.” Just a yes or no, please! How hard can that be?

    I love your home project. You do awesome work, Dan, and it was very smart to spread that out over four weekends.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Every office needs a nagging wench (no offense intended). Maybe I can rent you to get my coworkers to pick up the ice cubes they keep spilling into the freezer bottom!!!

      As for the yes/no you need to go back to Saturday’s post and steal “No essay” – That’s actually from my friend John. When I worked for him, he would ask a question and I would start hemming and hawing and he would say “yo – no essay, your choices are yes or no”


      1. No offense taken, Dan. I’m pretty good at it. LOL on the no essay. I sent an email out last week and one of the Supervisors asked if he should send it on to staff or wait for the 3rd or 4th reminder (that happens a lot around here). I told him to “shut up” and then I said I wouldn’t have to send 3rd and 4th reminders if everyone read and followed it the first time.

        This Supervisor and I tease each other a lot and that was for a laugh, but I think I came out on top.

        I have a white stick I could use on your co-workers if they don’t pick up the ice cubes.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. How anyone who is “educated” can even think geometry is not important is a concept I cannot even conceive. Everything ever created is formed from geometry. EVERYTHING. I must say I am pretty good at getting a job done, although at times I also must admit that I do procrastinate, especially when I am tired, something I have been a lot of lately. I have so much to my life I have taught myself to prioritize, to pace, to take it one chunk at a time and darn it! do not look at the bigger picture to save myself a panic attack. Most people get derailed, don’t follow through, but I’m one of those types that seem to be comparable to a dog with a bone. I just won’t quit. I’m not sure if that is to my demise or to my advantage. Thanks, Dan!!! Another good one!!! <3

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the “not being scared by the big picture” part of your outlook, Amy. that’s important. Thanks for supporting geometry – you’re absolutely right, what isn’t involved with it?

      Interestingly, I don’t consider procrastination to be a project planning problem. Usually, when I procrastinate, it’s because I know I can still get something done on time.

      I really appreciate your support here Amy!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Correction: I meant comment when I was referring to me going to blogs. I do at least like the posts of those who visit Petals. As for procrastination …. You do have a point and I will remember your words. I do find when I am tired and take some time off, it is well needed and when my energy returns I get everything and more done that needed to be done. :)

        Liked by 1 person

  17. These three “things” (concepts) are elementary, at least for me. Divide and conquer is the only way I can keep myself from becoming overwhelmed. Time frame is easy. Of course, I’m the one who’s always early for appointments. Monetary cost of anything is always relative to the economy that is current. Still, I, too, know people who have a hard time coming to terms with these thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m still in awe and I’m the one who has always taken on construction projects in any of the homes we have lived in over the years……some have gone very well…some not so much:) On a serious note…I learned early on in my career from a great mentor how to break large projects down into edible bites. Makes a world of difference…

        Liked by 1 person

  18. Good one. I usually struggle with time management. Although, most people think I am good at it. If you read my LinkedIn recommendations most colleagues believe that I am particular about deadlines, but the fact is I am bad and they’re worse than me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha Ha – that’s funny Sharukh. There’s an old joke about two men running from a bear. One man says to the other “we can’t outrun the bear” The other man says “I don’t have to, I just have to outrun you.”

      Liked by 2 people

  19. Your logical, critical thinking is amazing Dan. I think my number one of these is time frames. Just GET ON WITH IT already. I believe in proper planning but eventually something must be done. I happen to personally know a perfectionist who can think a thing to death before it ever gets started. Sigh. But things are usually 99.99%perfectly executed.

    Liked by 1 person

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