The 90% Prep Work

My father in-law has been painting for decades. When my wife and I moved over the summer, he graciously helped us paint our new home.

I’d never really painted a room (or house) start to finish, so this was my first exposure to how much work goes into painting that doesn’t even require a paintbrush.

First, there’s sanding the wall of the previous paint, then filling cracks and holes with putty, then taping off the trim, windows and doors so there’s no running onto other surfaces. You’ll also have to wipe the dust that you created in the beginning with all of your sanding. THEN, and only then, are you ready to paint.

After commenting on how much prep work goes into painting a room, my father-in-law simply replied that most people don’t understand that painting is 90% prep work that doesn’t even require a brush.

That got me to thinking about other areas of life. I’ve come to realize that recording a demo is so much more than writing lyrics and finding melodies. I’ve spent hours reading books on recording techniques, learning how to use gear, and become familiar with recording jargon. It’s more tedious and harder than I ever thought it would be. I think it’s safe to say that 90% of the work thus far has nothing to do with music.

I think about my friends who are writing books, and all the time they spend writing book proposals, finding agents, shopping their book, editing and rewriting. Once the book is done they’ll have to spend tons of time and energy promoting their book with tours, speaking engagements, book signings and interviews.

It’s easy to romanticize the 10% of what we love. It’s easy to forget that the other 90% is the mind-numbing prep work; the sanding, the emails, the editing.

The people who really love what they do love almost everything related to the process. Or they can at least overlook some of the drudgery for getting to do what it is they absolutely love to do.

Anyway, just some thoughts to chew on. I’d love to hear your take on how you handle the prep work that comes with creating what it is you create.

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{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Moshe April 24, 2016, 10:48 am

    It’s not only that the prep work takes time. You don’t get paid for it. That’s what most people don’t get. They are used to being an employee and getting paid per hour, and that makes the shift to owning you own business so hard.

  • Paul March 18, 2013, 11:55 pm

    I disagree. Painting is 60% prep work and 30% clean up.

  • Shawn ( July 25, 2012, 12:51 am

    Thanks for this lesson, Glen.

  • Ann_kingsly June 19, 2012, 12:22 am

    I so hear you…
    I am a fashion designer…and I do mean it when I say I love my job…I love that w are always creating new things, that we are at the forefront of change ( even if its just color and shape and fabric)..
    but on a percentage level, I probably spend about 10% sketching or thinking…The rest of the time is taken up by the mundane..following up, ordering fabric, making calls…but the important thing is that I hardly notice it..I float through all that….Its like the proverbial bricklayer saying he’s building a cathedral…So the main thing is being passionate about what you do..

  • Moca James Chbosky May 7, 2012, 4:18 pm

    You’re right. 
    What can be difficult for some people is that when they see your 10% of glory, 
    they want it, but can’t really get through or have imagined the 90% of work that went into getting the 10%.
    Thanks for posting. 
    I’m especially encouraged by this because I plan on starting a Youtube channel and supplementary website, and it looks like I’m going to have to put in some prep work! ;)

    Have a good one!

    • Lawanda April 28, 2017, 9:09 pm

      Super Video, davon kann ich als Dozent für Exdeismnzgrünterseminare gerne meinen Gründern erzählen, positive Beispiele für Gründungen sind immer was wert …

  • Jessica Jones September 21, 2011, 11:27 am

    I try to stagger my projects so I can spend part of every day doing the fun part. That way it’s not just 10% of what I do overall, it’s 10% of each day. 

  • matthew kupon September 21, 2011, 4:02 am

    I can see that.

    The other option is to try and find ways to minimise on that 90% – take a step back. Which parts are essential – and which parts can be dropped?

    I doubt it’s possible to make a dramatic reduction, but it’s certainly possible find ways of prioritising the important stuff.

    it’s a fascinating area.

    PS – just reading Haruki Murakami’s  – book, which is ace, and on a silimar subject. Leo Babauta talks about this ind of thing a bit – doing what’s important

    • Glen Stansberry September 21, 2011, 8:10 am

      First of all, I couldn’t agree more. Usually there are ways you can cut back, delegate, part of the 90%, and just do less. Great points.

      Murakami’s book is awesome! Read it last year.