Finish What You Start

 I’ve written previously about the importance of eliminating waste from our lives, and one major category of waste is unfinished jobs.

The problem with unfinished jobs is that they have already cost resource, but have yet to produce the anticipated benefits. By developing appropriate strategies, we can learn to finish the things that we start. By doing so, we become free to focus our efforts on the things that matter to us the most.

Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.William James

Look for Examples

Before you can learn to finish projects, you need to be honest with yourself about your tendency to leave things incomplete. If you’re anything like me, it isn’t hard to come up with a long list of incomplete projects. To get you started, here are some of the areas that I need to consider:

  • Incomplete DIY projects
  • Partially read books
  • Partially organized paperwork
  • Unfinished blog posts
  • Incomplete software projects
  • Stuff that I intend to sell on eBay or at the next car boot sale.

Understand the Problem

There are numerous problems that come from starting something but not finishing it. Here are some of the ones that I’ve noticed:

  • The resource is used
  • The benefits have not been realised
  • Storing incomplete work and materials requires ongoing resource
  • The materials may have an expiry date
  • It delays feedback on the quality of work, so making it difficult to catch mistakes
  • The work may be out of date by the time it is finished
  • I feel low whenever I notice the incomplete work

Much of the stress that people feel doesn’t come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they started.David Allen

Develop Strategies

If you’re going to start beating back the number of projects you have outstanding, you need to develop a strategy. If you’re looking for somewhere to start, here are some ideas:

Develop a Strategy for New Projects

Before starting a new project:

  • Finish off some old ones first
  • Estimate how long it will take
  • Seriously consider whether the benefits are worth the effort
  • Ask yourself if you’ve really got the resource to complete it
  • See if you can break it down into smaller chunks, each of which will deliver befits in its own right
  • Pare the project down to its bare essentials, and focus on those
  • Schedule extra resource for tying up loose ends
  • Consider the benefits of this project over others you could undertake instead
  • Try to focus on smaller projects

Develop a Strategy for Dealing with Your Incomplete Projects

Make a list of all your incomplete projects, and for each one:

  • Seriously consider just ditching the whole thing
  • Ask yourself if it is really worth completing
  • See of you can redefine finished
  • Set a time limit for finishing
  • Make a list of outstanding tasks
  • Schedule time for completing them

Know Your Priorities

If you really understand your priorities, it is much easier to decide the relative merits of your projects, and where best places to deploy your resources. As Steven R. Covey once said:

You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically, to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside. The enemy of the “best” is often the “good.”Steven R. Covey

Example: Bedroom Overhaul

A while ago (quite a while ago, to be honest) we undertook a major overhaul of our bedroom. However, there are a few things we never quite got around to completing. Here are some of them, along with the strategy I intend to use to tackle them:

  • We intended to put hooks on the back of the door
    • we’ve lived without them this long, so we don’t really need them.
  • The back of the door still needs a re-paint
    • We’ll pick this up when we decorate the hall, stairs and landing.
  • The bed doesn’t have a headboard
    • We can pick one up next time we’re in IKEA. There’s no rush.
  • We don’t have curtains up, only a blind
    • Another one for IKEA.
  • The wardrobes still need doors (!)
    • And another one for IKEA. There’s a pattern developing here!
  • There are still items that need a home
    • Do this before buying more stuff
    • If this isn’t done by the end of August, add them to the car boot pile

Final Thoughts

I must admit, this is an area where I struggle, and I don’t expect to get everything sorted out overnight. Indeed, doing so may be counter-productive, as I need to develop habits rather than patch things up quick-fixes. In the mean time, if you have any advice or experience that you’d like to share then I’d love to hear from you.


Image courtesy Wikipedia.

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