This morning my daughter tried to pick up one of her toys and lost her grip and dropped it on the floor, propped up between her chair and the wall. She could have easily reached it and picked it back up but instead she leaned her body over the armrest and played with it while it was on the floor. She made things much harder on herself because she didn’t want to put the effort into slowing down for a moment, picking it up, and making the situation right.

Do you ever find this happening to you? I sure do. And sometimes I even know when I am in the middle of it but I rarely talk myself out of it. Rather than take a few possibly more difficult minutes to figure out how to set up the situation properly, I’ll bang my head against it over and over again until it relents.

Let’s take working on a car as an example. Something like removing the valve cover to fix its seal (don’t worry, no prior knowledge of automobile maintenance is necessary.) The process for removing the valve cover is to remove the bolts holding it down, remove the spark plug wires, and then pry up the cover from the head. The quick and seemingly easier way to do that is to follow my instructions just as I said. Within a few minutes your have the valve cover off and can replace the seal. But then you have to put the bolts back in and put the spark plug wires back in place. This is where the “beating your head against a problem” part comes in. You can eventually get the bolts back in the right places and get the wires in the right holes, but it may take you a while. Especially if something else goes wrong in the process and you get sidetracked onto another task. Maybe you crack the valve cover and have to order a new one which will take a week. It’s not likely that you’ll remember the layout of the bolts and wires.

So it’s much better to take your time. Slow down just a bit and take a picture of where everything goes at the beginning. Ignore that urge to dive right in just a bit. And when you take each of the bolts out, lay them somewhere in the same position as they were when they were in the valve cover. Then you’ll know where they came from and where they need to go. That’s especially important if any of them are different sizes. Just slowing down a little and exercising discipline can make the difference between a few minutes and a few days of work.

I don’t think that the stubbornness of beating your head against problems is all bad. Sometimes the exact thing you need is to keep slogging and all the setting up in the world will just slow you down. You can paralyze yourself by overthinking.

But much of the time slowing down and getting things in their proper places first is the better way to go.