Everyone who's ever started something knows what it's like to never finish something. Many of us are pretty good at completing most of our tasks and undertakings, but few of us finish all of them all the time. In an assessment my team and I recently conducted about what it takes to succeed, 70% of people said that in the past year, they’ve left a number of projects unfinished.
If you’re like most people, and your list of incompletes is getting longer every day, these four tips can help you finally turn that trend around.
Be careful what you start. Overcommitting is a common problem, especially for ambitious people and leaders. We feel like everything is either our responsibility or an opportunity we don't want to pass up. But if you surround yourself with the right people, it doesn't have to be either of those things. Don’t commit to something unless you know you're invested enough to see it through to the end.
After all, it may not be as important to you as it is to somebody else. Losing interest and de-prioritizing something after you've started working on it could damage your relationship with that person or with an entire team.
If the project you're considering is important to your business, but you aren’t fascinated by it or just don’t think you have the time it deserves, find somebody who is interested and does have the time. That's what delegating and collaboration are all about.
There are two points in every project when you should budget more time than you think you'll need: the beginning and the end. Those are the most common dropout periods.
Why? Because in the beginning, you often don’t make progress as quickly as you'd like, or it turns out to be harder or more complicated than you first expected. You feel like you aren’t getting a return on your investment. You lose interest. You abandon the project.
Maybe you've gotten past those hurdles and can see the end in sight. But by that point, you’re exhausted. You can’t believe you haven’t finished yet. You’re worried about devoting more time and resources than you've already invested. Sometimes, precisely because of all the progress you’ve made, other opportunities crop up and distract you.
How do you get past these weak spots? Plan to overdo it right from the start. Commit before setting out to get through the first 15% and the last 15% of the project. Whatever you think it will take in terms of time and resources, double or triple it. The best-case scenario is that you’ll make progress faster—maybe even by a giant leap. The important thing is to build and maintain the momentum that will carry you and your team over the bumps in the road, past the exhaustion and distractions that threaten to derail you.
When we’re close to the finish line, it’s easy to think that the big problems are behind us—that finishing is a sure thing. That’s why so many people fail to finish what they start. When we’re in the last 2% and our mental toughness is at its lowest point, small problems can suddenly become insurmountable.
To avoid getting blindsided and knocked off course late in the game, spend time at the beginning thinking about what might prevent you from completing your project. What obstacles could suddenly land in your way? Where is the project weakest? What milestone, if missed, could derail everything else? These sound like big-project issues, but they’re just as common for small projects. Stay on high alert until the finish line is actually behind you, and no sooner.
When we lose, we lose by degrees. We get sidetracked by one thing and then another, and before we know it, we’re way off course. Toward the end, when you know you’ll be tired and easily distracted, clear the decks of other taxing or interesting projects.
Anything you can put off in order to focus on finishing, do so. Give yourself no excuses not to devote all the time, energy, thought, and resources you'll need to getting things wrapped up. As soon as you do, you can turn your attention to the next thing. Clutter is the enemy of completion.
Remember: "almost finished" gets you almost nothing.
Larry Weidel is the author of Serial Winner: 5 Actions to Create Your Cycle of Success. After 40 years building a national financial services organization, Weidel now holds weekly coaching calls for leaders across the U.S. and Canada. Follow him on Twitter at @larryweidel.