How To Finish Projects You Start

Here’s How to Finish Anything You Start

by sscheper on March 27, 2010

Why you should read this chapter

We all know the feeling–the feeling that we’re incapable of finishing projects.

In this chapter, you’ll learn how to finish the projects that you start. You’ll find that it’s not necessarily about finishing what you start. It’s about starting what you’ll finish.

We’ll first take a look at the nature of losing passion and focus in the midst of a project. We’ll then outline various steps that show you how to start projects that you’ll finish, and then finish the projects that you start. That last sentence is key. Read it again before moving on.

The Story

The story is always the same. First an idea is born in your mind. You finally build up the audacity to begin building the idea. You pitch it to others, you tell your friends and colleagues. And you tell your family about it over a plump-ass turkey Thanksgiving dinner. “You’re going somewhere,” you tell yourself. You’re passionate. And you’re taking people with you. Yet three months down the line you begin questioning yourself internally. “Wait a minute, what am I doing?” You hear a story from a friend on another person’s success that is entirely different from your own route, and you question if you’re even being effective–if you’re even doing the right thing. Soon after, you get down on yourself and you start losing focus. You lose sight of the fire that got you started in the first place. By now, six months into it, you decide to abandon it, and tag it as a “learning experience.” You tend to your wounds, rest up for three months and then start the process all over again.

Before we can diagnose this all-too-common cycle, we need to understand the nature of it.

The Nature of Projects:

In business school, there’s a core component that everyone learns about. Whether you’re an aspiring finance jock or the next marketing “guru,” you all sit through one lesson: the product life cycle. This is a four stage process that represents the life that every product experiences. Yet, the interesting part of this cycle, is that it represents a lot of things. Not just products. Every product, company, idea, project and even person can be likened to this cycle:

Project Life Cycle

Before moving on, though, notice one thing: there’s a decline at the very end. As stated above, this diagram reflects not just companies, products and projects, it reflects life. A profound scientific study was conducted that revealed that 100% of the human population will die… at some point in our lives. This graph demonstrates this, as well.

“In the long-run, we’re all dead.” – John Maynard Keynes

Thus, your goal with many of the projects you take on should be to get it off the ground as swiftly as possible. And soon-after, move it into the mature state, which allows you to delegate to others so that they may maintain it until it dies.

6 Sure-fire Ways to Get Projects Done

1. Sprints, Hunters and Farmers

Many people don’t finish projects because they take too long to develop. They spend too much time in the introduction and growth stage.

Here’s the key with projects: Make the introduction and the growth stage only three months. If you make it six months, to a year, your passion will fizzle out. An idea can only stay in development for so long before it dies. Yet, after you’ve sprinted out of the introductory stage, people are so tired that they have to get their minds off of it. They’ve been sprinting too long. At this point, you must find someone to maintain it for you.

In the startup world, people have a passionate idea; work on it tirelessly for six months, and then get burnt out and quit. The key centers on getting the project to the maturity stage within three months; and then passing it along to someone else to help you maintain it.

Gina Trapani of LifeHacker summarizes this concept nicely. She calls herself a serial project starter “(especially at 3AM, when anything in the world seems possible) and a terrible closer (like at 8AM, wondering what the hell I got myself into)”

Gina brings up a great point. Getting projects done also depends on your personality. You must understand if you’re a hunter or a farmer. Neither one is good or bad. There are rich hunters and rich farmers. The flip side is also true. For instance, Warren Buffet is a perfect example of a farmer. He purchases stakes in other people’s ventures, and if he sits on their board, he farms it and maintains it. After the company grows after a long period, he harvests his crops. He’s exceptional at this, and he’s a billionaire. Again, one’s not better than the other. You simply must figure out which one you are.

  • If you’re a hunter, you’re best at getting projects off the ground to to the maturity stage, so that the farmer can maintain it.
  • If you’re a farmer, you’re best at taking an established cash cow and milking it.

Figure out who you are; because it will allow you to gear up for the stage in which you’re not naturally exceptional at. If you get it to the stage where you’re not naturally gifted, and abandon it (instead of delegating it to a farmer), you’ll fail at finishing the project. If you try and farm something that hasn’t even taken off yet, you’ll get nowhere.

2. Horse-blinders and bunny ears

About a month after embarking on this project, I discovered that one of my favorite authors was beginning to write a book that was very similar to mine. I was really bummed out. “Was it even worth moving on?” I asked myself. Yet, I decided to reach out and let him know that I thought his project was awesome, yet I was discouraged that he was doing something so similar to me. His reply actually encouraged me, instead of stampeding on my passion. It was something I should have been telling myself all along. He said that even though our book idea is very similar, our approaches and philosophies are much different. And being that the problem we’re proposing to address is significant, the more people writing about it, the better.

Too often we begin projects and then let external variables stamp on our dreams.

There’s an important saying in the world of entrepreneurship that “You don’t have any real competition until you’ve hit $50 million in revenue.” The point is that you should avoid focusing attention on any external variable until you’ve hit that mark. Why? Because if you focus on what others are doing too early, you’ll likely not even get close to that mark in revenue.

The key when starting a project is to wear horse-blinders, and cut off your bunny ears.

3. Break Brittle Reasons

Soon after graduating from college, I was living paycheck to paycheck with a wife and a dog to support. It was a very tight time, and we scraped by for a while. During this time, I identified the problem as not having enough credentials to make real money. Boy, oh boy, was I wrong. In my off-time I’d visit the local public library and browse through the career section. I found a book that showed the average income per profession. Two jobs stuck out to me: (i) an anesthesiologist, and (ii) an attorney.

I didn’t want to go to medical school. Science wasn’t my thing. I didn’t want to kill anyone by putting them to sleep. Plus, I couldn’t even spell anesthesiologist, so I dropped that idea. This, of course, left me with the option of being an attorney. So, I reasoned, “Hey, Lawyers make money, business law isn’t so bad. I’d like to make money. I’d like to go into law school.” Thus, for about five months I studied for the LSAT. I took the logic games, read through the books, spent hours and hours pouring through forums. On day 151, I woke up and asked, “Why am I doing this?” I couldn’t find a compelling reason why I was pursuing what I was pursuing (other than the average income); so, I decided to ditch it. I based my pursuit on a brittle reason–money.

Many times, failing at getting projects done isn’t about losing focus based on others, or based on time, it’s based on passion. Your passion is founded on a compelling reason for undertaking something. If your reason for embarking on something is brittle and materialistic, it will fizzle out.

Before beginning any project or short-term goal, you must invest a lot of time in answering the following question:

“Why am I even doing this?”

This questions sounds like an easy one, but don’t fool yourself. We’re really good at B.S.ing ourselves, and telling ourselves things we want to hear. You’ll find that if your reason is founded on others, external variables, or materials, it’s brittle and will break. If your reason is founded on your purpose, you’ll carry out the project.

The key is not to finish the projects you start; but to start the projects you’ll finish. Choosing a project founded on a brittle reason will prevent you from ever finishing.

4. Avoid Too Many Meals

So often I meet people that have too many things on their plate. They’re trying to eat too many meals. There’s a handful of people out there that always respond that their life is chaotic–because their decisions to take on projects is chaotic.

don't take on too many projects

The diagram above depicts what the process is like when you take on too many projects.

Neil Patel, a well-respected entrepreneur, writes that the reason most entrepreneurs fail is that they have too many projects; they have their hands in too many pots at one time.

If you don’t focus on one business you’re bound to fail. Hypothetically, even if all of your ideas are revolutionary and they are bound to do well in this world, you’ll make them crash and burn. Why? Well, it’s because if you’re splitting your time between a few businesses, you won’t be able to put in the required amount of time and energy into any of them.

You must learn to stick to one venture, respectfully turn down other projects, and tell people what you’re doing and in what direction you’re going. Stick to one thing, respectfully turn down distractions and move boldly in that direction.

5. Crunching

Most of the time, projects really aren’t our choice. Unfortunately we sometimes find ourselves in positions where a boss makes you do projects you otherwise wouldn’t have done on your own. Obviously, you want to pay attention to detail; yet, I find that the best way to finish these projects is to batch them (like we outline in the chapter on email batching). It’s best to outline precisely what needs to get done, crank it out as swiftly as possible, and tell yourself that after sifting through this, and getting this out of the way, you can focus on what you’re good at–projects that drove you to the job in the first place.

Crunching out projects is easier said than done, though. The simple everyday secret to crunching out projects centers on one thing: a to-do list.

The most productive and effective business leaders, artists, programmers, developers and designers I know all have one thing in common: they write themselves a to-do list every single day. They crunch out that list–usually by hand, and then move on to the next item.

Whenever you feel overwhelmed with a project, it’s critical to break the project into smaller, actionable pieces and add them to your daily to-do list. You’ll be surprised with how much you get done, and how fast your outstanding projects get executed.

6. Shutting out the world

As stated before, you can’t start focusing until you’ve stopped getting distracted. Though this phrase is profoundly simple, most people disregard this at all costs. They’ve got the T.V. blasting in their face as they try and crank out a project.

Two things will happen when you try and finish projects in a semi-conscious state:

  1. You will become frustrated
  2. You will fail

It’s happened to me before, and it’s likely happened to you. Sure, your project may come out–and it may come out just fine; however, that sheer genius that would have pushed your project over the edge to greatness diminishes when other stimuli crowd out your focus. The sad part centers on the fact that you won’t even realize this. Don’t let this happen.

Conclusion:

In the end, it’s really about hard work and persistence. It’s hard to finish projects until you’ve gone through the act of failing in finishing projects–and I’ve definitely had my fair share of project failures.

To summarize, if you’re a hunter, it’s critical to identify a deadline to which you hand over your project to a farmer at the maturity stage. The farmer’s job is to then maintain the project, and the excellent work that you’ve launched.

1. Marathon of Springs
2. Horse-blinders and Bunny Ears
3. Break Brittle Reasons
4. Avoid Too Many Meals
5. Crunch out projects
6. Shut out the world.

By following the above principles, and starting projects that you’ll finish, instead of attempting to finish projects that you start, you’ll always be able to finish the projects that you start.

Best of luck, and as always, please share your take and your own personal experiences in the comment section below.


IMPORTANT: If you enjoyed this article, I'd like for you to experience much more by purchasing the book. You can check out via Paypal. Click here to buy the book.


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Pk March 30, 2010 at 5:06 am

Nice article. Particularly
“Whenever you feel overwhelmed with a project, it’s critical to break the project into smaller, actionable pieces and add them to your daily to-do list. ”
- This one really helps. All I had to do was to break up a complex task, write down point by point and tick each one of it as I complete it. End of the day it is amazing to see how much we have done.

Reply

Scott March 30, 2010 at 6:06 am

Thanks, Pk. Glad this helped you out! Really appreciate you sharing your experience. Task Bender looks pretty neat.

Reply

Huy Zing April 21, 2010 at 2:16 am

Typ-o: I think you meant to write “Marathon of Sprints”. You’re welcome to delete this comment after correcting the typ-o

Reply

Desta June 24, 2010 at 5:59 am

Really ,I started so many things at the same time, never finish and i start over again.your article talk the reality of mine. I hope i will follow your principles.

Reply

jan Bolick July 26, 2010 at 8:42 am

Love this! The Business Class theme this week is : “Doing too much.” We’ll be sharing this link with our readers! Thanks for the great article! Jan

Reply

Dimas July 30, 2010 at 9:50 pm

I liked this article very much, and your ebook sounds very interesting … Would be nice to have an audio version to it, I wouldn’t mind paying extra for an audio version as well… Perhaps consider hiring someone to record your book for you if you are not able to do it yourself….

Reply

Jules September 22, 2011 at 10:31 am

Wow. my first time commenting and after reading so many articles for the past months, I’m more than motivated to START what I WILL be FINISHING now!

Thank you so much!

Reply

Monifay October 13, 2011 at 12:13 pm

This article is great because it is not vague like many others on the web. One thing that specifically helped me was “The key is not to finish the projects you start; but to start the projects you’ll finish.” I also like the advice about blinders and the conversation with your favorite author. I read this article because I start too many projects and I never finish any of them. The most I can get to is 50% completion. At this point I think I might be psyching myself out and preventing from getting to the maturity stage. There is something frightening about giving away/showing to others what you have worked so hard on. I guess that is why you need the blinders.

Reply

art April 29, 2012 at 4:57 am

Great article. I agree with Dimas..having an audio file would be great.

Reply

Darth Continent May 3, 2012 at 12:24 pm

This is a good read, thanks. I’m realizing one of my biggest problems is with shutting out the world, so I’m going to try getting hip-deep into a project I’ve been working on, after first unplugging my internet. Wish me luck!

Reply

Sachet June 2, 2012 at 6:59 pm

This is really is a good article. Thanks for sharing this. I found every point you highlighted clear, consist and helpful. It really does give me a clear idea what I need to do to finish a project. Thanks again

Reply

sukhbir October 2, 2012 at 4:14 am

very informative wisdom, especially To do list is a great tool.

Reply

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