“Stay Calm on the ‘Last’ Day” – the final (?) Paddling and Projects Post

I got two pieces of advice when I first started canoeing with friends. The first was “expect wind in your face and rain every day ‘, which was the starting point of this blog series. The second item that has stayed with me all these years and is relevant to projects was to “stay calm on the last day.”


When I asked what my friend Graham meant by that or why he was saying that he highlighted:

  • The last day is often the toughest day of the trip. You are tired, you have a full day of paddling, repacking the cars, plus a long drive to get home.
  • You’ve will have been together with a group of people who you have different relationships, some you don’t know very well, for a long time
  • You will be tired, dirty, want some clean clothes, and a chair with a back and legs, something better than a log to sit on. Maybe a craving for something as simple as cold milk in a glass.

It’s easy in that scenario to let tensions or frustration get the better of you and say or do something you might regret in the long-term (even if it feels good in the here and now).

At the end of a trip it is particularly easy to let something slip if you’ve been holding it in for a long time.

In the same way, we all need to be able to keep our emotions in check when we get tired or the going gets tough on a project.  I confess that this is much easier for me to say than to do. Particularly on the big troubled projects that I’ve been brought in to, to help get them back on track. But the same thing process is at work. You get tired and easily triggered. It goes back to getting the frequent micro breaks, taking a deep breath… and staying calm on the last day.

When I started this sequence of blog posts on ‘paddling and projects’ it was the middle of winter. Now my canoe is back in the water, its time to do real paddling!

Here’s the complete list of ‘Paddling and Projects – Lesson’s Learned’ in summary form that we’ve explored in these blog posts:

1.    Expect wind in your face and rain every day Plan for problems; have contingency
2.    Make sure you have the right experts on your project Its not about ‘all senior’; its about balance in the team.  Do you have ‘just-enough’ expertise?
3.    Everyone has a role, Know your role, do more, carry your fair share Understand your role; take on more when you can
4.    Do you trust the person planning the route;

–      if I had seen the video, I wouldn’t have come;

–      The group moves at the speed of the slowest person

Understand the plan & whether the resources are capable of achieving it; provide constructive criticism to fill the gaps
5.    Innovators are often mocked before they are copied. So are the people who resist change. Embrace change; look for the benefit of change
6.    Take planned and unplanned breaks Take opportunities to recharge
7.    Be the early warning system Don’t assume everyone else sees the risks you see; don’t be afraid to highlight risks; bring a solution
8.    If you want to see the beautiful sites few have seen, You have to carry a heavy load & you have to go off the beaten path No client pays us $20m to go for a walk in the park; if it wasn’t hard it wouldn’t be transformative
9.    Don’t watch the end of the lake, you see progress by what you pass Make sure that there are frequent meaningful milestones to measure progress
10. Any fool can be uncomfortable in the woods Methodology is important; follow a method to achieve maximum benefit
11. A leatherman is the wrong tool for every job Get and use the right tools to execute your project
12. Don’t take cheap chocolate or mediocre wine into the woods Know your trade-offs -Understand what’s most important, when out of time / money; what’s the best thing for the client / /for the business
13. Maybe someone moved the hydro wires Usually the simplest answer is the correct one; test your assumptions regularly
14. Stay calm on the last day


Don’t let stress get you down; find ways to reduce stress (like canoeing!)

Published by

Mark Dymond, P.Eng

With over 20 years of consulting experience I've worked with clients in the banking, retail, travel and government sectors. Based in Toronto, Canada, currently I lead the Cloud consulting team for IBM Canada. I've led successful project and program teams in Canada, the US, and Europe of more than 200 people. Thoughts, comments and mistakes are most definitely my own!

4 thoughts on ““Stay Calm on the ‘Last’ Day” – the final (?) Paddling and Projects Post”

  1. Thanks Mark for taking the time to right this stuff down and drawing the analogies. Sometimes even the experts can lose sight of the forest because of all the trees.

    Also, we learn a lot in shared experience with friends. Thanks for coming with me (us) on so many adventures.

    Liked by 1 person

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