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Check out the Work In Colour blog for practical tips, ideas and musings on ways to stop working in black + white and start working in colour everyday.

Do Sweat The Small Stuff

I'm a fan of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. I love his version of the Bowie classic Space Oddity (recorded when he was boss of the International Space Station) and I had the great privilege of seeing him live in Sydney a couple of years ago.

His book. An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth gave me a rich insight into the life of an astronaut - particularly the years of planning that goes into just a few days or weeks in space. And his account of life on a space station was funny and compelling, though his detailed account of the month (yes, months) of nausea and disorientation suffered on return from the space station was enough to kill any residual desire I might have had to pop in for a visit.

All in all, it was a most enjoyable read. However, it was his stories about how he manages the inevitable fear and uncertainties of life in space that had immediate relevance to my (happily earth-bound) life. As you can imagine, the stakes are pretty high on a spacecraft - press the wrong button, forget a step in a critical procedure, and maybe it's all over.

What Hadfield (like all astronauts) does in constantly imagine every small thing that might go wrong, then spend hours and hours (if not weeks and weeks) over-preparing, over-learning and simulating every scenario NASA can come up with. Then they debrief, and start it all over again. And they learn how to do the most complex procedures, just in case two other systems fail, and they suddenly need to know how to replace a particular valve, or remove someone's infected tooth, or rebuild the station's toilet. They call it 'What's the next thing that could kill me...'. He reckons that it is precisely this utterly rigorous obsession with potential disaster that allows him to relax as he hurtles into space.

Popular psychology would have us believe that we should stop 'sweating the small stuff', and in Australia we regard 'she'll be right' as a bit of a mantra, but I wonder if in fact it is more reassuring to over-prepare when the stakes are high, then proceed in the knowledge that whatever happens, you'll know what to do.

Hadfield's story reminded me of the first really big presentation I gave, when I spent days developing the content and the slides, then rehearsed the entire 45 minutes at least 15 times. (I know that it's not life and death 330 kilometres above the earth, but it meant a lot to me...) That kind of preparation might seem like overkill, and it would be if I still did it today, but it allowed me to give a reasonably polished performance rather than fleeing the scene to hide in the bathroom. It was worth every minute.

Of course, it's not useful to obsess about trivia, but in a work context it is often the small details, the final proofread, the extra 30 minutes of preparation, that make all the difference between success and failure.

So, maybe we should sweat the small stuff sometimes. What do you think?

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