When I was 25, I thoroughly analyzed, wrote up, and prepared my very first commercial loan for loan committee. I was confident I had done a good job and was surprised when the chief credit officer (CCO) of the large bank I worked for called me into his office. He was a bit of a crusty old guy — probably about my age now! The whole of the conversation went like this:

CCO: “You should pull this loan.”

Me: “Why?”

CCO: “You should pull this loan.”

Me: “But why?”

CCO: “You should pull this loan.”

Me: “Ahh … okay,” I said walking out of his office looking down at my shoes. I pulled the deal from going to loan committee and wouldn’t you know it, within about a year, that company went bankrupt!

Even after 30 years of underwriting loans, I still don’t know what that CCO saw in the loan analysis that I didn’t (Hmm … maybe I’m not as good as I think I am). Maybe he had some connections in the industry or, just from his years of experience, knew something that wasn’t in the numbers. Regardless of how he knew it, he knew something, and that’s the kind of wise person you should listen to.

While it’s been a long time since I worked with him, another piece of wisdom that’s stuck with me all these years is, “Do the hardest thing first.” I don’t remember what it was about — maybe calling that prospect and telling them I was going to pull their loan — but after almost three decades I still haven’t forgotten it.

He was right on. If you have something you need to do that’s difficult, it’s natural to put it off. I’m not talking about something that’s hard because it’s a big job. I’m talking about something that you don’t want to do because it’s uncomfortable. If you have that task hanging over your head all day it will be a distraction, and you will not be nearly as positive and productive as you could be. It’s so easy to let it slide until the next day, which becomes the day after that, and so on.

For supervisors, this uncomfortable duty arises when you have to deliver critical feedback. I’ve preached a lot about accountability from my soapbox of this blog, but I don’t like to tell people things they don’t want to hear, even if it’s what they need to hear. However, I try to keep the saying in mind and do it as soon as I can.

Another example is analogous to the recommended practice of saving for retirement. You’re supposed to save the first 10% you earn, not whatever’s left over at the end of the month. Many sales people share a similar flaw when making cold calls. It’s uncomfortable, and they don’t like to do it, so they put it off until “later.”  If you don’t carve out time up front to do the task you don’t like — making the cold calls — there won’t ever be time at the end to do it.

While “the worst shall be first” may not be Biblically correct, it’s a good way to remember to do the most difficult thing first each day. And, of course, the wurst is first in Wisconsin, but that’s a totally different topic.