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Finish Projects

Nothing kills motivation more effectively than a lingering project.

The project on your to-do list you keep moving to a later date and never get to mark off. It doesn’t have a deadline or clear directive, just a virtual 'when you get to it' post-it note stuck to the top.

Or, after you’ve completed the hundreth version, the post-it says “just a few more thoughts” from someone who’s just seen the draft and thinks it could be a little better.

We’ve all seen hundreds of these—particularly marked as “in house” or “pet” projects. They hang around with half-committed people limply pushing them forward. It’s the sales documents, the monthly newsletters, the ‘small’ bug fixes, the website updates that inevitably build up until we feel like we’re drowning under the weight of inconsequential work.

You could have all the motivations in place to focus, concentrate and move fast, but finishing what gets started is the best way to create a company culture that values finished work.

To that end, here are four reasons projects never finish, and what to do about it.

1. Too many false starts

Initiating and planning a project takes effort, especially when scheduling is thrown in the mix. Every time one falters it takes twice the amount of motivation and support to get it started again. If a projects stalls more than three times (especially for in house projects), everyone on the team, no matter who they are, starts wondering if it’s even worth it.

To get out of this start/stop cycle usually takes a reshaping of the project itself, attacking it from another angle, getting other team members to work on it. If it’s important enough, the best way forward is to make the time to do it, set a deadline and don’t stop to ‘reevaluate’ halfway through.

2. No clear objectives

One of the reasons for false starts is a lack of objective. Brainstorm sessions breed ideas, not plans. They provide a general ‘it’d be nice if…’ but the most important part of being motivated to work fast and hard is knowing the objective, the deliverable, and how or when the project will end. If an idea doesn’t have an objective or deliverable, rethink it until it does.

3. Revision fatigue

Quality work takes revision, that’s a given. But without an endpoint, a project can easily enter an endless cycle of revisions. Since we’re always learning and looking at things differently, what we thought was perfect a month before could look very different today. At some point, going back to make minor changes (especially if they feel arbitrary) kills ownership over the work as well as the hope of seeing an end in sight. When it comes to in house projects, stick to the objective and endpoint and finish with the best you have, then start the next thing.

4. Not enough time

Finishing projects is tough. Your plate fills up. You have less time. And low-priority projects get shifted. It’s life. But ‘time’ isn’t a good argument for not finishing, because finishing is a habit. Like anything else, seeing project after project through to completion establishes confidence that what gets started will get done.

In this new year, let’s start and finish projects by making the time, not just to do things, but to get things done.

Jared Rypkema

Jared Rypkema

Jared is a writer living and working in Jacksonville, Florida. He is the Founder and Executive Director for the independent small press, Bridge Eight, and Copywriter at On Ideas.

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