Want to #FinishWhatYouStart? It starts with a good start

I’m a frequent starter but not a frequent finisher. Many of my projects start out with the best of intentions but end up in some kind of time-warpy dimension of indefinable nothingness. Kind of a project management purgatory.

So I’m spending the next 3 months thinking about finishing and trying to build good finishing habits. You can follow along and learn to Finish What You Start, too. Or you can laugh at my folly. :)

START WITH THE START

A good finish can really only be achieved when you know what your finished state is and how you’ll get there. And I think this a big part of the reason why I don’t finish well (although certainly NOT the only reason!). My finished state isn’t well-defined. I suspect this is the case for a lot of people. Consider the types of goals and projects people create for themselves:

“I want to write a book”
“I want to start a business”
“I want to deploy a new ad campaign”
“I want to build a house”
“I want to workout more”

… and so on. Each of these projects are defined around their start with only a somewhat half-assed view of any kind of success metric. A better project definition is built around the end state:

“By October 1st 2013, I want to have published a book that is for sale on Amazon”
“By January 1st 2014, I want to have a business license and a website built and a product ready to be shipped, as well as my first marketing campaign ready to be deployed”
… etc.

So a good finish needs to be defined at the start. It needs to be defined clearly and it needs to be defined around the end state.

Part of finishing well starts with goal setting. There are already good resources out there to help you define good goals. I don’t need to rewrite those things here. You google “SMART goals” and find lots of good stuff on your own. In spite of my inability to finish things well, goal-setting is not a huge problem for me. I love setting goals and set a ton of them. For me, it’s setting the right goals and then executing.

Another part of finishing well is an action plan. I think this is where my execution starts to fall down. You need to establish a plan that will see you through to that goal. You need an action plan that takes you step-by-step through to your intended conclusion. I know that I don’t create a good enough action plan, or one that seems me all the way through to the preferred finish state. My action plans, if and when I create them, are built around starting, not finishing.

And another part of finishing well is contingency planning — figuring out what could go wrong and preparing for it.

And before all of the above, I think you need a reason. The bigger and more compelling the reason is (and the more reasons you have) the better. For businesses, maybe you need to articulate the reasons in a business case. Or maybe you only need to look at your kids to realize that you need to cut back on the fast food if you want to see them grow up. I think this is a big problem for me: I don’t always have a reason for doing something other than that it’s in my brain right now and the act of starting it gets it out of my brain. That is not a good enough reason, although I’ve been training myself (in the past couple of years) to put that stuff into my Incubate file in Evernote and instead of starting it live, I “start” it in my Incubate file — gathering notes and research. The result (getting it out of my brain) is the same.

Good finishes start with good starts.

HERE’S WHAT I’M GOING TO DO

I’m listing a few questions and putting these into Evernote so that I’m reminded to answer these questions before I start any project.

  1. Reason: What’s my reason for taking on this?
  2. Outcome: How do I define the ideal outcome? (SMART goal format)
  3. Action plan: What is my step-by-step action plan so I can achieve each goal?
  4. Requirements: And, what resources (time, money, effort, others) do I need to complete each step?
  5. Contingencies: What could go wrong and how do I deal with it?

What do you think? Am I missing anything? What other actions would help to start a project well?

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