This Is How To Finish What You Start

We all love to start shiny new projects. This is how to get to the end of them.

 

Deb Knobelman, PhD

My older son is 11. He still enjoys Legos from time to time. And he is passionate about Harry Potter. Lego recently started making Harry Potter Legos. He was desperate for a set for his birthday.

His grandfather got him a big set. Hogwarts Express. (For those of you unfamiliar, its a train).

He was beside himself with glee.

He started right away. Brick by brick. Following the directions. Reveling in each piece as he put it together. Running around the house, showing us all the progress he had made. He couldn’t wait to see the final product.

Then a few days went by. He got busy. He had baseball practice, and homework. Playdates with friends.

My son’s birthday was over a month ago. And Hogwarts Express remains half built.

What happened?

The same thing that happens to all of us.

He didn’t make time for it.

The initial thrill wore off.

He made progress but still felt like the final goal was far away.

So, he stopped. He put it aside. Something that he wanted, that he started with so much glee. He abandoned it halfway through.

Haven’t we all done this? Started a shiny new project. Filled with enthusiasm and determination. And then abandoned it. Because it became inconvenient. Because it took more time than we thought. And there it sits. In the pile of half-finished projects. On to the next.

How do we stop doing this? How do we get from halfway to done?

Overcome “Planning Fallacy” By Setting Interim Goals

This is a concept first studied by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. According to these two psychologists, it is

a phenomenon in which predictions about how much time will be needed to complete a future task display an optimism bias and underestimate the time needed.

In other words, everything takes longer than you think it does. So, you probably got to a certain point in your project and were dismayed that you were not at the end yet.

In his book Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, Jon Acuff recommends counteracting this by making your goals smaller. Yes, this does sound counter intuitive.

But the idea is this. You set a big, crazy goal in the beginning. But you realize that it will take many more resources, time, or energy than you realized.

Putting together a 800+ piece Lego set takes awhile. Longer than my son anticipated. All he could think about was the final product. And when it seemed too far away, he gave up.

But what if he set a goal to build the station this week. And the train the next. If he cut each goal down. He wouldn’t feel so lost in the middle. It would be a smaller commitment. And a more realistic timeline to reach the reward.

Get Specific About Your Next Three Steps

With an interim goal in mind, you don’t need to plan out every step between now and done. But create a concrete plan for the next three steps. The next few things that will move you forward. They need to be specific. And you need to set a time for each of them.

As another example, I am training for a half marathon. It is still several months away.

Trying to plan out my whole training schedule between now and early 2019 is way too daunting. And frankly, unrealistic.

But I can plan out my next three runs. All the running that I will do in the next week. Exactly what time I will do them this week. How long. And what I will accomplish with each (speed, distance, hills). The plan won’t take me to the end. But it will take me three steps forward.

When I do this, I don’t have to think about how hard it is to move forward. I don’t think about how far away I am from my goal. I don’t have to thinking about my half marathon at all. All I have to do is execute the plan I set. And regroup the following week.

Prepare For When It Will Get Hard

We all know that every project will reach a point that gets hard. It happens to all of us, every time. We hit an obstacle. And we don’t know what to do. So we move on to something else.

I usually do my long runs on Sunday. Today it is snowing. Snowing in October! But all the weather apps were predicting bad weather today.

When I woke up this morning, I could have said — well, I guess I can’t do my long run today. It’s snowing. It’s slippery. That would be too hard.

Instead, I made a plan last night. A plan that said, I will do my long run as usual if the weather is fine. But if it is snowing, I will go to the gym treadmill. And my reward for running on the treadmill will be a few episodes of The Man In The High Castle.

So, I knew in advance what my options were this morning. I didn’t see the snow, get discouraged, and go back to bed. I knew what to do. I knew how to keep going.

Remember What Excites You About Reaching Your Goal

All projects are shiny and exciting at the beginning. We all dream of what the end will be like. How rewarding it will be. How proud.

Then you are in the middle. The middle overflows with details. Small tasks. Next steps that don’t seem to lead you anywhere specific. You lose sight of where you are going. Because it all seems intertwined with your daily life.

Find a tangible way to remind yourself of your goal. For my son, he loves looking at the picture on the Lego box. It shows him what the Hogwarts Express will look like when he’s done. For me, I am running my race in a warm location. On a snowy day like today, I dream of that weekend trip. Running, with friends. Laying by the pool afterward. The sense of pride, and accomplishment.

Make sure you check in with that vision. Keep it in mind as you execute on the tasks ahead.

Planning for the near term, while remembering the big picture can be a delicate balance. Most of us are good at one or the other, but not both. Keep that in mind as you forge ahead. Remember who you are, and what are your strengths.

And remember, with the right framework plus the right mindset, anything is possible.

Deb Knobelman, PhD