When should you start a new goal or project?

When you think of a goal, it’s tempting to start at the beginning of a new calendar period.

So we make New Year Resolutions at the beginning of the year.
Or we swear that we’ll stick to our diet starting on Monday.
Or we commit to a new marketing initiative for our business at the beginning of the month.
Or we commit to faithfully maintaining our bookkeeping records… starting tomorrow.

We like the idea of taking initiative and we know that taking on new projects or commitments is a great way to grow ourselves and our businesses. Plus, it only makes sense for it to begin on a new calendar period because we inherently like to start with a fresh piece of proverbial paper.

… Right?

Unfortunately, two things conspire to keep us from succeeding.

  1. Each new day (or week or month or quarter or year) brings its variety of challenges and struggles and it can be hard to integrate that new thing into our lives when we have other new things we’re starting. In other words, we may inadvertently stack up several new starts, which will all compete for the already-limited space in our calendar.
  2. We implicitly give ourselves permission to do nothing (or, worse yet, to do things that run counter to the goal we are about to adopt). Take dieting as an example: If you choose to start your diet next week, what do you eat between now and Monday? The answer, I’m guessing, is “anything that isn’t nailed down”. So the few days between our decision to start and our actual start is potentially an orgiastic bacchanal of debauchery where we smoke twice as many cigarettes or just let our invoices and payments pile up because “we’re dealing with it on Monday”.

The result of these two problems means that we are start our new activity or goal already a couple of steps behind.

So when is the best to start a new goal or project?

Right now.

Right now.

Right now.

RIGHT NOW!

Rather than starting with that fresh piece of proverbial paper, find a way to make it happen immediately.

Do it now because you’ll already be well underway by the time you get to the start of the calendar period when you thought you’d start.

Do it now because your competitors are waiting until the next calendar period to start their thing. You’ll have an advantage over them.

Do it now because you’ll be acting on that initial blast of motivational steam — you might get more done right now (while it’s still exciting) than you would when it becomes a requirement or responsibility.

Do it now because you’ll feel an intense rush of satisfaction that you’re taking action today.

As I write this, it’s Friday and we have guests arriving this evening. Believe me, it’s the very last day that I want to start anything — heck, I’m scrambling to finish a bunch of stuff! It’s SO tempting to wait until I’m back at my desk on Monday. But this is the best time to start something!

So if you’re reading this and you’ve got a project or goal you want to start soon but are putting it off until Monday… STOP. Do it now. Take action immediately.

Do it now!

Confessions of an ineffectve executioner: Qualities of a great finisher (part 3)

I always have ideas bubbling in my head. I get them down on paper. I sort through them. I start a bunch. I finish much less than I start.

I’m okay with that to some degree because I believe everything in business is a test. You need to get something out into the world and see what happens. Maybe people run with it. Maybe they don’t. You need to try. The stuff that gets a lot of attention can give you enough juice to finish it. And the stuff that doesn’t get a lot of attention should be wrapped up (or shelved and looked at later if conditions change).

But then there’s a whooooole bunch of stuff in the middle. Maybe the market liked it (but didn’t love it) and you need to tweak it a bit to really get some traction. Or maybe it was a big project that was put aside because something else appeared on the horizon that needed to be dealt with… and then you just never picked up the first project.

In my opinion, it’s okay to start a bunch of stuff and see what sticks. But I also want to finish a lot more than I do. If you’re reading this, maybe you do too.

I’m an entrepreneur. I think that makes me a great starter by default. That’s my natural state. What I want to do is ALSO become a great finisher. Here are the qualities that a great finisher has, plus notes on how to implement them (or how I’ve implemented them). This list isn’t definitive and some of the qualities overlap or are subordinate.

But the best part? I believe they’re all LEARNED skills. And I want to learn them. (By the way, if I’m missing any qualities you think I should add, please include them in the comments section below.

QUALITIES OF A GREAT FINISHER

An effective finisher fights through procrastination: I think procrastination comes from two things — a desire to avoid the hard work that lies ahead and a “Shiny New Object” syndrome where something newer and more exciting seems more interesting. Each one is very powerful on its own, but together they are an almost unstoppable force. The biggest challenge for me is that I don’t procrastinate by doing some hobby or leisure activity. I procrastinate by doing different work. So I end up fooling myself into thinking I’m productive when I’m really just being productive on the wrong things. To correct this, I need to constantly go back and revisit the things I’ve committed to and prioritize them, and assign some projects as “must-do-now” and other projects as rewards for completion.

An effective finisher breaks big projects into smaller ones: This has been really helpful for me. By breaking big projects into smaller ones, I get the joy of “starting” several new projects that call contribute to the big, overall one. So a big, daunting book becomes 16 smaller, easier-to-start chapter-projects (for example).

An effective finisher seeks accountability: Early in my days as a writer, one of the best ways that I got client work done was to offer a guarantee: The work was free if I didn’t deliver it on time. I’ve stopped offering that (mostly because my business has changed and I do far less client work now, and it’s a lot more collaborative). So I’ve had to find other outlets for accountability. This blog series is one of them.

An effective finisher acts: Action is the opposite of procrastination. So a finisher overcomes procrastination (see my earlier point) with focused action that moves toward the goal. (Anything else is just a new kind of procrastination). A finisher who acts is an action figure!

An effective finisher is not distracted: I tend to think of procrastination as intentional and distraction as unintentional. With procrastination, I choose not to work on something because I want to work on something else instead. With distraction, some other matter needs my attention first. I might be splitting hairs on this but I find that I, personally, need to fight both. The solution to both is focus.

An effective finisher is focused on the goal: This is key. Because anything less than moving toward the finished product or end goal is either intentional procrastination or unintentional distraction. I should also point out that the goal here should be the ultimate completion of the project. Any lesser goal is not sufficient. I’ll give you an example that frequently appears in my life: In writing a book, my goal is to finish the book. But after the grind starts to grind me down, my goal becomes “finish the first draft”. And when that’s done, I’m worn out to complete the rest of the project — the second, third, fourth, (etc.) drafts required to complete the book.

An effective finisher does the hardest things first: I don’t know if this is an actual quality that great finishers have but it’s a quality that I *think* they have. It’s a quality that I aspire to possess and I try to model it. I am at my most productive and focused early in the day so it makes sense to do it. What I really need to guard against (and perhaps you do, too, if you struggling with finishing) is dealing with the urgent issues in the morning and letting that define how you spend the rest of your day.

An effective finisher is consistent: Good finishers are consistent. They show up and hammer out the work day-in and day-out until the project is done. Starters tend to spike. Finishers plod through. Both are good but I trend towards the first and need to have more of the second.

An effective finisher sweats the details: I think one of the reasons that starters struggle is that they get excited about the big, positive, undefined stuff but once the details start coming up, it becomes a challenge. I’m learning to embrace details. A few years ago, I worked on a huge project with a guy who was great in the details and although he doesn’t know it, I learned so much from him about managing the details. I still use elements in my work today that I learned from him years ago.

An effective finisher is rewarded by the process and by a sense of completion: This was a big “aha!” moment for me. I feel rewarded when I start something and I feel rewarded when I complete something. But where I really need to do some work is in feeling rewarded by the process. The process CAN be fun. But it’s all up to you to make it enjoyable for yourself. Many of the projects I’ve had to stop working on were not fun. In retrospect, could I have made them fun? I don’t know. Lesson learned.

Can you list any other qualities that finishers have, which starters could do a better job adopting? Put them in the comments!

THE FINISH-WHAT-YOU-START CHALLENGE

In a previous blog post, I introduced a finish-what-you-start challenge. I listed 14 projects I have to complete in the next 10 days and I’m sharing them here with you. I’ve crossed them off as I go through them.

The projects I’m working on are…

  1. Finish an ebook for a real estate investor about investing in empty land
  2. Finish an ebook for a real estate investor about wholesale investing
  3. Finish an ebook for a real estate investor about marketing system
  4. Finish an ebook for a real estate investor about a real estate investing method he pioneered
  5. Finish a book for a debt repair expert
  6. Finish a sales letter for an internet marketing company
  7. Finish a sales letter for a health and fitness company
  8. Finish a sales letter for a social media marketing firm
  9. Finish 100 articles for an income trust client
  10. ((Rescheduled by client: Finish a report and autoresponders for video marketing site))

So I’ve finished 3 (indicated by the crossed off projects) and one of them was rescheduled by a client (indicated by the parentheses). I put some work in on a couple of the others… and I hate to admit it but some of them weren’t touched.

It’s easy for me to make excuses — I have other projects to complete in order to run my business, I’m renovating my house, my wife is starting a business. But what can I learn about what I finished and what I didn’t finish? Well, it reveals one key that I need to remember: I say yes to a lot of work and I tend to work until I burn out. That’s a problem I need to address. I also did procrastinate and I was distracted. That’s a problem I need to address.

Now it’s time for me to stop blogging and finish these projects!!!

Confessions of an ineffective executioner: A study in the process of starting and finishing (part 2)

Finishing. It’s a skill that I lack. I know I’m not alone. I think a lot of entrepreneurs are great starters. They’re dreamers, optimists, initiators. To hijack a financial term, entrepreneurs are bullish on the future.

I don’t know a lot of successful entrepreneurs who are great finishers. (They might be out there, I’ve just never definitely identified the trait).

HOW STARTERS START (BUT FAIL TO FINISH)

1. Founding entrepreneurs start something.

2. They move forward, inspired by the opportunity.

3. At some point, that inspiring project turns into a plodding effort.

Entrepreneurs then do one of the following things…

  1. They abandon the project
  2. They push forward alone and fail
  3. They push forward alone and finish but with something less than stellar success
  4. They push forward alone and win
  5. They bring someone else on board to help them

(Am I missing anything? I think those are the big ones).

Of these five options, options 1, 2, and 3 are highly likely among entrepreneurs who hold their projects close to them. Option 4 is the coveted, single-handed home-run. It’s also the rarest (because I believe entrepreneurs are great starters not necessarily great finishers). Option 5 is a good option, too, but it can be hard to find the right partnership (starters and finishers are focused on different things!) and it can be hard for an entrepreneur to hand off partial (or complete) control to someone who can take the project further.

I think entrepreneurs need to examine their skill-set, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and figure out what their tendencies are (abandon? push forward alone?). Then, they should consider the probability of each of the 5 potential courses of action in light of their tendencies and in light of the specific project. Last, they should mitigate their weaknesses in three ways:

  1. By establishing strict parameters and a step-by-step process for when the going gets rough.
  2. By identifying and increasing skills in finishing. (More on that in the next blog post in this series).
  3. By building relationships with great finishers and handing projects off to them.

THE FINISH-WHAT-YOU-START CHALLENGE

In the last blog post I introduced a finish-what-you-start challenge. I listed 14 projects I have to complete in the next 10 days and I’m sharing them here with you. I’ll cross them off as I go through them.

The projects I’m working on are…

  1. Finish an ebook for a real estate investor about investing in empty land
  2. Finish an ebook for a real estate investor about wholesale investing
  3. Finish an ebook for a real estate investor about marketing system
  4. Finish an ebook for a real estate investor about a real estate investing method he pioneered
  5. Finish a book for a debt repair expert
  6. Finish a sales letter for an internet marketing company
  7. Finish a sales letter for a health and fitness company
  8. Finish a sales letter for a social media marketing firm
  9. Finish 100 articles for an income trust client
  10. ((Rescheduled by client: Finish a report and autoresponders for video marketing site))

So I’ve finished 2 (indicated by the crossed off projects) and one of them was rescheduled by a client (indicated by the parentheses).

As for the rest of the projects, I’ve moved a few of them forward beyond what I’ve crossed off, and I still have other projects not listed that I’m completing as part of my regular business… but Yikes! It looks like I’m falling far behind. Time to crank it up even more!

Confessions of an ineffective executioner: Why it’s so hard to finish what you start (part 1)

I love dreaming up new ideas.

I love starting things.

My mind is always brimming with things I want to try.

A torrent of ideas is helpful in my line of work. And when I can get those ideas down fast, act on them fast, and see results… I’m a happy writer.

The problem is, not everything goes from start-to-finish in an hour or an afternoon. Sometimes they take longer: An idea might not be fully formed for a few days or weeks. Then the execution of that idea might take even longer — days or weeks or even months.

And that’s when the challenges start: Newer ideas eclipse the old ones. More pressing demands from clients push older stagnant client work aside. The exciting opportunity to create is so much more tempting than the apparent drudgery of managing the details.

But those details won’t take care of themselves. That book won’t get written, that website won’t get built, that business won’t become prosperous unless you roll up your sleeves and actually slog through the hardest part no matter how tedious it seems and no matter how much more exciting other things are.

I confess: I’m a great starter but not a great finisher. I’m an ineffective executioner.

I know I’m not alone. I know there are MANY other entrepreneurs and investors out there who face the same thing I do. I know this because my clients have told me. (In fact, I’m often hired because a client started something that they couldn’t finish.) And some of the clients for whom I finish work simply let that work collect dust because they’ve moved on to something else, too.

Starting is fast. And exciting. And creative. And when something is fast and exciting and creative, it’s almost easy.

But finishing is slow. It’s tedious. It’s detailed. And when something is slow, tedious, and detailed, it’s hard.

I’m a good starter and I suspect that maybe you are, too.

My work as a writer requires me to be a finisher. But I’m not a very good finisher. I confess that I struggle with finishing. I do it because I have to but I’m not great at it. I know I could do so much better.

So I’m issuing a challenge to myself and to you.

THE FINISH-WHAT-YOU-START CHALLENGE

Do you have any projects you’re struggling with finishing? I do. I have 14 projects I DESPERATELY want done. Some are overdue. Some are on-time. But I want them done and off my desk.

So here’s my challenge: There are 10 days (technically 10 and a half) between now and the end of May. And in that time, I want to finish 10 projects. I know it’s possible. But these are all half-done projects that now need some buckle-down-and-execute effort. I’m listing them below and I’m going to update each day (in a new blog post) how I do… along with tips and ideas about become a better finisher.

The projects I’m working on are…

  1. Finish an ebook for a real estate investor about investing in empty land
  2. Finish an ebook for a real estate investor about wholesale investing
  3. Finish an ebook for a real estate investor about marketing system
  4. Finish an ebook for a real estate investor about a real estate investing method he pioneered
  5. Finish a book for a debt repair expert
  6. Finish a sales letter for an internet marketing company
  7. Finish a sales letter for a health and fitness company
  8. Finish a sales letter for a social media marketing firm
  9. Finish 100 articles for an income trust client
  10. Finish a report and autoresponders for video marketing site

I have my work cut out for me in the next 10 days. There’s a lot of work here but I think it IS possible to complete this work. I’m going to put in some overtime (plus I do have some other regular keep-my-business-running commitments I still need to keep) but these are the projects I’m going to be working on in the next 10 days.

How about you? In the comments below — IF you’re bold enough!!! — why not list some of the work you need to complete in the next 10 days and participate with me in the challenge.