As the end of the fiscal year draws near, businesses hurry to finish deals, take inventories, close out books, and develop plans for the future. Grand goals are set to double sales, triple territorial reach or quadruple orders in the year ahead. People also look ahead; setting goals and preparing resolutions on how to become more successful and happier. Some make resolutions to quit smoking or lose weight. Others set lofty objectives such as start a business, write a book or run a marathon. The sound of the clock ticks louder and a feeling of urgency pushes everyone make big plans and think ahead.
While all of that may sound good – and there is certainly nothing wrong with planning ahead — perhaps it is the exact opposite of what we should be doing right now? What if, instead of looking to the future, we use this momentum to look back? A look back might reveal a lot of ideas and plans that were begun but never finished. Projects that were started but never completed. Ideas that hit a road block and fizzled out. Tasks that were begun but not done. So many loose ends; so little time. Perhaps what businesses and employees should do with the last few days of the fiscal year is to make a list – not of Resolutions – but of Conclusions! Here’s how.
100% Done is the Goal
Most business people have projects or tasks that they’ve started but haven’t finished. A storage area that needs reorganizing. A report that’s been edited multiple times but never finalized. An email account that needs purging. A computer system that needs to be backed up. Employee reviews that haven’t been finished. Time runs out and the task or project gets sidelined by other, more important work. It’s normal. It’s human. It’s also bad practice.
Completing a project successfully takes proper planning and conscious action. It requires the person to be “intentional.” Of course, every goal/project comes with its own set of challenges that weren’t visible when first started. But there are ways to overcome that. Here are some suggestions on how to finish projects, complete tasks and wrap up loose ends!
1. Choose projects and tasks carefully
Before starting any projects – but especially large projects — make sure it is something that everyone agrees is vital, needed and important. If the person doing the task doesn’t really believe in the value of the task or the manager doesn’t support it, it is doomed to end up in the land of loose ends. Most projects that are never finished are a waste of the time and energy spent on them. It is important to actively manage one’s time to maximum benefit and minimize waste.
Make sure there is enough uninterrupted time, energy and resources available to tackle it. If the marketing department has the staff to write the content for a new website, but lacks the designers, coders and programmers to get the site created, it doesn’t make sense to develop the content a year in advance. Information becomes stale and the content might have to be re-written, which is a waste of time. Likewise, toggling back and forth between incomplete projects also wastes time having to get up-to-speed each time. It is better to make sure there is time to get most – or better yet all – of the work done before having to move to the “next thing.” Also, don’t underestimate the amount of work needed to bring the goal to completion. Do the math and control expectations. If you have to put in X hours and X work to get the final output, set aside enough time to achieve the desired outcome. This’ll lead to a higher project success rate.
2. Make a list of unfinished work
If there isn’t one already, make a list of tasks, projects and goals that are unfinished. Go through files, emails and past plans to determine what got done and what didn’t quite make it to the finish line. Identify not only the task, but also what percentage is done and identify why it is unfinished. Then rank them in order of which will take the least amount of effort to complete, with the easiest to finish at the top of the list. It is best to start with all the tasks that are at least 75-80% done, and finish as many of those as possible. The more tasks that can be completed, the easier it will be to focus on those tasks that require more time or effort thereafter. The goal is to finish as much work as possible, even if that goes contrary to what is most important.
3. Perfection is often the enemy of completion
Don’t be a perfectionist! How many people delay the completion of work in the name of getting it just right? Too many! Sometimes getting something finished is more important than making it perfect. There are two good ways to avoid the “perfectionist” trap.
- Break the remaining tasks into small steps. For example, if the task is to write a Sales Plan and 70% is done, break the remaining work into sections. Focus on one section at the time. If this doesn’t get the ball rolling, break each section down even further into mini pieces. Eventually, each part will be so small or simple that it will seem ridiculous not to have done it sooner.
- Do a draft. Authors, for example, know to write a full first draft BEFORE editing. Once there is a full first draft, it is easier to edit each part. If there’s no pressure to get it perfect the first time, it is easier to go from section to section, or task to task. If the task is to do inventory and 60% has been done, do a rough count of the remaining 40%. Then, it is easier to go back section by section, or row by row, counting everything with precision.
4. Commit to a deadline
With each incomplete task, commit to deadline to finish. Whatever the plan, stick to it. Change course only if the goal is no longer valuable or important. Put that commitment in writing. If the goal is to finish by the end of the day or week, then do everything possible to hit that deadline. Just having a finish line will serve as impetus to complete a project.
5. Keep an eye on the finish line
It is normal, at the start of a project or task, to be full of energy and enthusiasm. Then half way through, this energy fades away, bit by bit. The overall project may still be exciting, but the nitty gritty tasks that come as part of the work can tamp down an enthusiasm to press on. But it’s that very nitty gritty work that culminates in the beautiful vision at the end. While it is easy to lose sight of that during the daily grind, it is imperative to keep an eye on the prize. To stay focused on the outcome, use things that are a reminder of the end goal. Pictures. Charts. Goals. Put all these things on the Vision Board to help spur productivity.
6. Go in the order that is most pleasing
If finishing tasks in the order of the to-do list seems tedious, do those tasks or projects that are most enjoyable. The idea is to get tasks done, so whatever tasks are most likely to generate enthusiasm will get completed. Focus on those.
7. Celebrate small accomplishments
Sometimes all the things that need to be done can be discouraging. It seems no matter how much time we spend, it’s impossible to finish it. The amount of work is overwhelming. But that’s the wrong way to look at it. Instead, look at everything accomplished this year. Every project or task was an accomplishment! Celebrate the small wins and draw energy from that to finish other projects.
8. Set a Completion Reward
Most people are more motivated by the carrot than the stick. When starting a project, set a reward for when it is done. Each time a task is done, enjoy a small reward.
Those that spend the time remaining this month finishing all of the loose ends of the past 12 months will be better equipped to take on any new challenges in 2017.
Quote of the Week
“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.” Neil Gaiman
© 2016, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.