We all have a long list of unfulfilled aspirations.
A graveyard of unfinished projects.
Unsuccessful ventures like white-washed tombstones with unflattering epilogues.
‘Here lies the draft for an unfinished book.'
‘Buried here is a business idea that never materialized past a plan.'
‘May the soul of this unfinished degree rest in peace.'
No one starts a project expecting it to fail. And yet – a majority of our ideas, assignments, programs fall by the way-side because we underestimated the effort required to see them materialize in completion.
What's on your plate today that will inevitably end up in the heap of unfinished aspirations?
I had to learn how to punch procrastination in the face in organizing this year's StyleCon. This is the third year in a row for this conference and the organizing aspects seemed to flow better this year. People often ask me how I managed to organize a conference with such complexity while I was working on other projects.
The answer (apart from proper time-management):
- I was motivated.
- Fluid plans which were adjusted to suit changing circumstances.
- Breaking large chunks of work into smaller, manageable pieces.
- Having an accountability partner.
- Assistance from a team.
What’s Your Big Project? A 50-page paper, Eagle Scout project, writing a book, finishing a marathon?
It's important to finish what you start.
Whether you are working on a significant project as an individual or a collaborative effort with a team, these 5 lessons are going to hold you steady and help you cross the finish line.
#1 Be Motivated For Your Project
Always approach your work with an attitude of gladness.
Find what motivates you to work – you should want to do your work.
An important part of the process is learning to say, ‘no.' Why do you need to learn the art of no? To avoid getting stuck in projects you never wanted in the first place.
If you have a choice, say ‘hell yeah’ or ‘no.’ If you are not inspired to take up a project (a hell yeah) – let it go.
When you use this simple selection technique, you'll end up saying no a lot of the time. You won't get involved in projects that don’t appeal to you. In many projects (work/school), you don't have the option or choice.
However, in most of your work or school project, you won't have the option of saying ‘no.' In these cases, draw inspiration from one of these methods:
- The Carrot: Build an incentive-based system to motivate you. If you can – GET PAID TO DO IT! When you have money in the bank – the capital can be an awesome motivator.
For StyleCon, we found sponsors in the initial stages. Companies like StraightRazor.com, DazzlePro & RibbedTee who believed in our vision and pledged to support it financially.When you haven’t got a choice, let's say with an assignment at school, set up a simple reward system. It could be something as straightforward as buying yourself a nice jacket or treating yourself to a nice dinner. Publicly state your goals on facebook – this also works as an accountability tool (see #4 below for reasons to build accountability into your projects).
- The Stick: Set a penalty for not achieving your goals. For some, penalties are more powerful motivators than rewards. A penalty for NOT doing your work involves setting a deadline for every stage of your project. Focus on getting a product shipped even if it is not perfect.Tim Ferriss suggests donating money to a cause you would never consider supporting if you fail to meet your deadline. The reverse psychology forces you to shift into action mode even when your emotions or circumstances block your creativity.
#2 Make Adjustable Plans
Be fluid in your plans.
Plans often change based on circumstance.
What remains unchanged is YOUR VISION.
Start with the WHY – the reason you got started in the first place with this project. Always revert to the vision when your plans seem unsure or ineffective.
Clear objectives give direction to all of your actions – large and small. Important decisions suddenly become easier to make as you shift your focus to long-term objectives. When a glittering prospect pops up to distract your attention, you will know how to resist it.
Having a long-term, visionary focus allows you to toss defunct plans out the window and change course mid-way.
Why? Because you understand that the plan is not as important as the longer-term goal.
It is more important to finish a project than it is to be rigid in your plans. Especially when they are not working.
As part of my preparation for this year's StyleCon, I reached out to two men I respect and asked them well-prepared questions. Their answers helped me understand the risks of organizing a large-scale event.
The answers pointed to common reasons why conferences fail. One of the solutions for us was to start small and adjust plans as the scope grew.
People who achieve large projects understand something – the end of a project, assignment, campaign – has significant importance for people. Completion creates a positive emotional resonance in people that builds confidence.
Such people are not masters of simply finishing what they started, but finished with energy and enjoying the results. How do they do it? They begin with a clear mind and approach setbacks with patience and rationality.
Remember – endings inspire overpowering emotions. There are no prizes for good intentions and half-done tasks.
#3 Break Large Projects Into Smaller Chunks
Begin with a clear, detailed, purposeful and specific goal in mind. And break it into small and measurable pieces.
Here are some reasons why you need to break your project into smaller chunks:
- Smaller goals are easier to measure.
- Smaller goals are less intimidating than a large challenge.
- Smaller goals result in quick wins that give you an energy boost to continue to the next goal.
- Focusing your energy on completing small goals ensure that your attention isn't spread thin by trying to tackle large, complex goals.
Root your goals in reality.
Don't make ambiguous goals that are guided by your wishes, what you would like to happen. Put your emotions aside and set rational, realistic goals. If you can’t measure it, it won’t get done. Clearly define what you’re going to do.
Time is crucial for measuring the success of a project or chunks. Sometimes you only have an hour spare in your day – how you utilize that one hour could easily define your progress for the entire week.
Nothing is as motivating as progress. When you make progress, however small, it acts as a powerful motivator.
#4 Find An Accountability Partner
One of the greatest reasons that we fail to complete our projects is we don't have anyone checking our progress. Given the option – very few people build accountability into their lives.
We all have blind spots and weaknesses which we think we can handle on our own. We can't.
Have an accountability partner, or an online coach who will keep you on track. Give someone permission to ask you the tough questions to avoid slipping on your pre-set deadlines. Set up a weekly time to meet with them in person or have a conversation on the phone or set up a weekly skype call.
Every Thursday, I spend an hour talking with my friend and accountability partner, Aaron Marino from Iam Alpha M. We hold each other accountable for the goals we each set for ourselves in making sure StyleCon is a success every year.
Having an accountability partner keeps it real for you. When you give someone else permission to check your progress, it motivates you to work harder to stick to your verbally stated goals.
#5 Build A Team & Collaborate
Thousands of years ago, our ancestors were exposed to dangers that left them feeling weak and vulnerable. They compensated for their weaknesses by forming groups. The tribe, or group offered them a collective defense against predators and made them more effective hunters.
The modern version of this simple strategy is manifested by our desire and efficiency in working with teams.
I have a team that compliments my weaknesses – Jamie answers and composes thousands of emails a month, Yuri is a craftsman with technology, Jane is a social media expert, Bea helps shape my content, Tina creates the fantastic images on this site and Thomas edits all my videos and makes them presentable to a wide audience.
Form a team that helps you identify your weaknesses and fills in the gap where you are bound to falter. There really is strength in numbers.
There isn’t a right answer to define YOUR PROCESS for finishing projects.
What message does your current image project? What message do you WANT it to project? How will your life improve if you look like the successful man you know you are?
There is only YOUR ANSWER to the questions. Find what works for you and apply it to all your projects. The focus should be on finishing what you start.