5 steps to complete any project

The number one question I get when I give talks on organization is about finishing projects. This might be something big like writing a book. It could be losing weight or starting an exercise program. Or it could be a nuisance task – like clearing boxes out of the basement or cleaning out a closet.

No matter what you’re working on, here are five steps to help you complete a project.

#1: Be clear with yourself about why you want to do this

  • Is this something someone else asked you to do and you said yes but you wish you’d said no?
  • Is this a top priority for you in the greater scheme of life?
  • Is this something that really matters to you?

If your intent isn’t clear, it’s hard to get motivated. And getting clear on your “why” might help take this task off your list; maybe this doesn’t really need to happen and you can stop bugging yourself about it! Every time you think of doing something and don’t take action you are wasting precious brain power. Conversely, if the idea of getting this done raises your energy, you are already on a great path to success.

It can also help to dig in a little deeper on the “why.” Let’s say you have boxes in the basement to unpack and you haven’t used anything in those boxes for the three years they’ve sat there. So why unpack them now? What if you shift your goal for unpacking them because you feel like you should do it, to releasing stuff so others can use them? Or what if you have family treasures hidden in those boxes? Now do you have more incentive to get them unpacked?

#2: Set up a plan, a schedule, and a deadline

  • Jot down a simple plan for what you want to accomplish.
  • Break the bigger project into baby steps. If you’re trying to write a book, your first baby step might be to write an overview of the story and an outline. If you’re trying to clear out stacks of boxes, a baby step would be to grab a few boxes to get started. Breaking a project into smaller parts makes the tasks smaller and more manageable. It gives you less to think about each time you work. And it gives you a “chain” of small successes.
  • Think about how much time this might take, then look at your calendar. When can you fit this into your schedule? Be honest with yourself. Do you have time to do this now?
  • Set a deadline. If you’re bad at hitting deadlines, tell a friend about what you’re doing and when you want to finish. Even without your friend getting involved, it helps to share what you’re up to. Or you can use the “send-a-check” method. That involves writing out a check for a large amount to a charity or group you don’t like. Give your self-imposed due date and the check to a dear friend, and ask them to mail the check if you don’t hit your deadline – no matter how much you plead with them or try to convince them why the project didn’t happen.

#3: On the day you start…

  • Show up energized and focused on the one task at hand.
  • Have any “support” materials ready – a desk or computer to start writing; the right equipment or clothes to exercise in; boxes to sort to and cleaning supplies if you’re tackling the basement.
  • Know what time of day you work best and plan accordingly.
  • Dress for success.
  • Create an environment that supports your goal. Do you like to work where it’s quiet? Do you like to have music on? Is the light good for you? The temperature? Are you working somewhere you can limit interruptions?

#4: Track your progress

  • If you want to complete a project, stay on schedule. If you have to adjust the schedule as you go, commit to the new schedule just like you did to the original schedule.
  • If you have a big project, track daily and weekly so you can see you’re getting stuff done. You’re 20% done. Now you’re 50% done… Then you’re done. Hurray!

#5: Reward yourself for your excellent work!

Deciding a reward at the start of a project can be a great incentive – but the reward has to be something that really matters to you and that isn’t counter-productive to what you’re trying to accomplish. For instance, if your big project is to lose weight, rewarding yourself with a slice of chocolate cake might not work out as well as buying a new skirt that fits. But if you love cake and the basement is clear – dig in!

Sending you positive vibes from Maine for whatever you’re working on this week.

I’ll leave you today with a little slice of frozen ocean. Cold, crystal beauty 🙂

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