Front-end loading

Front-end loading is one of those principles that is easy to explain but hard to practice.

The name explains it: front-end loading is doing work up front to achieve a goal later. An example would be taking the time to plan a project before starting the steps in the project itself.

The reason it is a principle is that it applies to so many things in life:

  • Take care of your body when you are a young adult in order to be healthy when you are an older adult.
  • Save money when you are in your working days to have money for retirement.
  • Spend time with your children when they are young in order to have better relationships with them later in life.
  • Help your children learn self-discipline when they are little so THEY have a successful life later. (Helping others do their own front-end loading is part of leadership … and parenting.)

Obviously, front-end loading is an important key to success in many areas.

Why, then, don’t more people practice it?

When I was leading a team in a corporation, one of the hardest things to get younger employees to do was sign up for the company’s 401k plan. It seemed unfathomable to me at the time, as I was shoveling all I could into my own 401k to make up for my own lack of front-end loading earlier in my life.

Upon reflection, it seems to me that doing front-end loading for a distant goal take two things: a vision, and hope.

Vision: If you don’t have a fairly detailed vision of what you want to have achieved in that distant future, it’s hard to do the work today. Doing a how-much-money-will-I-need retirement calculation when you are in your twenties is hard to make a priority. It’s so far into the future – and who knows what life will be like then?

In order to have the motivation to do the work, you need to work out a realistic vision of that future. One of my favorite questions when starting a project for a client was “what will success look like?” For something as distant as retirement, you need to answer that question – and answer it with broad strokes, not necessarily fine details. “I will have enough money to support myself and to travel comfortably” might be enough of a vision. Ultimately, the vision has to be detailed enough to serve as motivation.

Hope: You can have the greatest vision in the world, but if you don’t actually believe you can achieve it, it will be de-motivating. Knocking down your own vision with your own negative self-talk is a great way to be stuck before you start.

It takes a certain frame of mind to combine hope with realism. The framing of the vision helps with this. “I’m going to win the Pulitzer Prize” is not a good vision at all – primarily because you can’t control it. “I’m going to be a regular and improving writer” is much better.

Let’s be clear: having hope or belief that you can actually accomplish your goal if you do the front-end loading is not the same as a guarantee of success. We all know that things happen that are outside of our control.

But without a vision, a belief, and the necessary front-end loading, you are almost guaranteed NOT to succeed.


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