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The Grappling Hook Method of Project Management

What’s the best way to get stuff done? Especially when it’s something new and different?

Here’s what I know: We all have different ways of dealing with new things, risky things. I’ve figured out that when I have to do something new — and potentially scary — I tend to avoid it, procrastinate, try to bury it, pretend it isn’t there, and then, when I think I might be halfway ready, I create a scenario in which it would be unacceptable not to get the job done.

I hadn’t really thought through this routine in any detail. But when I was launching Workplace Wisdom, I mused to my designer that my way of dealing with something new and different is to toss a grappling hook up somewhere and scramble up the rope to the top, regardless of the scraped knees, barked shins, and rope burns acquired along the way. After that initial, somewhat frantic ascent, I take a calmer, more measured route the next time round. (This was actually my sort of apology to my designer for having combined an apparently devil-may-care laissez faire approach with a sticklerish attention to details.)

When Work Goes Down to the Wire

It’s not that I like the idea of living on the edge — any edge. It might just be a bad habit left over from freshman English, when I had a paper due every Friday. Each week, two hours before deadline, my roommate would lock me in (at my request). I would write feverishly, type frantically, and race across the quad to drop the finished product into the professor’s mailbox by 5 p.m. The work was always fine — rarely great, but always fine — and this methodology let me avoid agonizing about the assignment all week. Ideas percolated, and then I just ground out the content, just in time.

Since then, I’ve learned a lot about the impact of stress on both body and psyche. I’ve experimented with various forms of planning and project management, and found that all of them work some of the time. I’ve even taught courses in time and task management. But when it comes to my own time and task, well, that can be a different story.

Taking Hold of Project Completion

According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition, a grappling hook usually has multiple prongs, is typically attached to a rope, and is used for grabbing, grappling, or gripping. The term probably derives from a grapnel or grape hook, a small anchor used to recover a sunken object or to anchor a small boat. And the act of grappling is defined as “a contest for superiority or mastery.”

Although I tossed off the term “grappling hook” pretty casually, it’s an accurate metaphor for my work process.

  • It has multiple prongs — always lots of tasks going on simultaneously.
  • It has a rope attached, for hanging onto or from.
  • I use the method to recover ideas and commitments that are otherwise under water, or to steady each small boat of an initiative in rough waters.
  • And I’m after mastery of a new behavior, and superiority of outcome.

So now I understand my own methodology a little better, and my designer has forgiven me for the unnecessary pressure (I think). But it strikes me that it might be worth modifying my approach when I’m trying something new to make it easier for anyone else who shares the experiment. Stay tuned!

Onward and upward,


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