Projects: getting to the finish line

Written by Professional Academy Management and Leadership Tutor, Kathryn Knights

You’ve started a project, great! But how do you stay committed, focused and see it through to completion? Many of us start things that we don’t finish, so what’s causing the problem and how can you overcome it?

Mastery comes from finishing things. When you complete something you give yourself the opportunity to review what went well and what didn’t go so well. Thereby helping you become a better person.

However, the more things you don’t finish the more you increase the emotional burden of ‘I’m not a finisher’ to the next project. You’re essentially setting yourself up to fail. It’s a vicious circle.

Why we abandon projects

Starting a new project is exciting. We (foolishly) think it will be easy to complete, without challenge or obstruction and that our initial motivation will remain consistent throughout.

However, after some time goes by, the project gets hard. Harder than we thought. We face a challenge: the work takes longer to complete than we anticipated, the work becomes boring or we get stuck and don’t know where to head next.

As this point we grind to a halt.

How can you avoid this all to familiar pattern?

How to get to the finish line

1. Decide to finish

To be productive requires intention plus attention. The first step to finishing anything is to make the conscious decision that (no matter what) you will actually complete what you start.

Focus on the outcome rather than a list of to-dos. Outcomes provide a stronger connection to the thing you are trying to achieve and can lead to deeper productivity and a truer sense of achievement.

Write down that outcome and refer to it regularly – every day if you can. Then, when you start work each day you will have a clear image in your mind of what you are working towards. It will give you meaning and context on a consistent basis.

2. Pace

Be consistent. It might not be sexy but having a steady pace will get you over the line. Think of projects like a bicycle. A bicycle in motion is easy to keep in motion. A bicycle that stops is hard to get going again. And whilst there are exceptions when sprints can work well, overall a steady pace wins out.

Consider this: when you sprint for a week you have to spend another week playing catch up on all the things you didn’t do. When you take a steady pace you keep everything going.

3. Eliminate ‘new’ distractions

We live in a world full of distractions – things that are trying to take you away from the one thing you are (trying) to focus on.

Your time is precious so be cautious about who you choose to spend your time with and what you choose to spend your time on.

Realistically you can’t work on any more than five projects at a time. If a new project comes your way it doesn’t mean you have to take action. Annotate don’t activate. Write the project idea down and come back to it when you have capacity to do so.

4. Create milestones

You don’t go from start to finish in one step. Projects are journeys and you will pass many milestones along the way. These mini-goals will help keep you motivated by acting as markers of success. Some days you may have to stay late, skip lunch or even come in early to get things done but knowing you can reach a milestone that day will help keep you on track until the end of the project.

5. Have someone to be accountable to

Identify someone who you trust and who can be a sponsor for your personal development. After all, completing projects will help you develop both personally and professionally. Agree to be accountable to each other so that the relationship is balanced and the burden of accountability doesn’t rest with just one person.

For example, if you are writing a book agree to submit your writing to your accountable person every week and ask them to provide constructive feedback about the quality and quantity of what you have produced.

6. Why

When times are tough you need to be able to re-visit your ‘why’ i.e. your reason for doing what you are doing. If your ‘why’ has a balance of passion (to emotionally bully you) and logic (to practically spur you on) it will go a long way to help you stay motivated.  

Final caveat

You don’t have to finish everything you start, but you do need to choose the right project, at the right time and use the right tools to help you get to the finish line. Choose wisely and the chances are, you’ll get to the finish line.

If you need further advice, get in touch via LinkedIn.

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