When I was young, my mom insisted that I get involved in 4-H, a rural school organization that taught Christian character through projects like entomology, raising cattle, sewing, home improvement, and so forth. The one thing that she always insisted upon was that I finish any project that I started, and she meant it.
Each and every project that I started, I finished. I still do to this day. My mother embedded this work ethic into my DNA. Thank heaven! It’s a joy to experience a job completed.
In this fourth installment of Principles to live by and to enjoy life more fully, I want to share a simple concept that will resonate with many of you. When you start something, do you take time to finish the project completely?
Finish Each Project Fully
In the home. One of my clients, who calls herself the Queen of Distractions, relayed this story to me:
• She starts her day by vacuuming her house.
• As she is focusing on the vacuuming and accomplishing this task, she accidentally turns over a plant.
• As she picks up the mess, she realizes that she has failed to water her plants this week, so she heads for the kitchen to get some water for the parched plant.
• As she is filling her water jug, she notices that her breakfast dishes are caked with a hard crust and filling the sink, so she stops her watering and begins to wash her dishes.
On and on throughout her day, she repeats this habit, and consequently, when her husband walks in from work and asks her how her day was, she knows for sure she has worked hard all day, but she doesn’t have a thing to show for it. She has started many tasks but has not finished a one.
When I tell this story in my home and office seminars, I get nervous laughter from the audience. Are we being distracted to the point of never finishing what we start? Nobody cares a whit about the projects we start; they only want to see the finished results. It does not matter how many times we start something, because success only comes when we finish.
In the office. This scenario repeatedly plays out in the office, and we’ve all experienced it at one time or another:
• At 1pm, Stanley was answering an email and collecting bid-proposal documents for Gloria, his boss, who is out of town and traveling home from Hawaii, when he listens to a voice mail from his wife, reminding him about the package she had given him. Yikes! He was supposed to mail it for her yesterday, so he grabs it and runs to the mail room.
• While in the mail room, the Senior Manager of Training — his boss’s boss — pulls Stanley aside and asks him to sit in on a meeting since Gloria is away. Three hours later, Stanley leaves the meeting with a to-do list that demands his attention the rest of the day.
• At 6pm, Stanley dashes back to his desk, emails the survey results to the Sr. Manager of Training. Already late for his son’s soccer game, Stanley leaves, hoping his wife doesn’t ask him about the package.
• Gloria, who was hoping to get the bid proposal documents before she boarded the plane, waited in vain and is now steamed over Stanley’s failure to get her the documents. She wonders, for the third time, if Stanley is really the right guy for the job.
A really simple solution. Both the Queen of Distraction and Stanley could have had successful days by following these three steps: 1) list out the steps, 2) plan how much time is needed for each step so you know you have ample time to finish the project, and 3) track your progress by checking off each step.
The bottom line. Not finishing a project on time can merely be a personal distraction, but it might be a career-limiting misstep. However, regularly finishing a project on time brings relief, eliminates guilt, brings closure, liberates your spirit – and maybe even gets you a raise!