Feature Article: “Complete What You Start! How To Stop Doing Things Halfway”

When my youngest son, James, was born, we decided to remove the built-in desk in his room, to give us more options for laying out the furniture. To install the desk, the prior owners removed a piece of the floorboard, so the desk would lie flush against the wall. Upon removal, the patch of missing floorboard was exposed. This was, of course, unacceptable to a mother with her third baby on the way. So my faithful husband went to Home Depot and bought the matching section of floorboard. Upon returning home, we discovered that the ends didn’t match up, so John would need to cut the board. I bought him a big new circular saw that would do the job nicely. 

James is now four years old…and that stupid piece of floorboard is still sitting in the garage…and when I enter James’ bedroom, I look with annoyance at that bare patch. (Of course, when John reads this, he will have to finish the project, haha!)

Do you have little “half-done” projects like this all over YOUR house? Do you find that you can never actually FINISH anything? Here are some tips for eliminating the “half-done” projects from your life and moving things through completion:

Keep track of your projects. I keep a running list on a blank piece of paper the size of my Franklin planner labeled “Honey Do’s.” I file it behind the “H” in the A-Z tabs of my planner: a paper filing system of sorts. When John has some free time, he knows exactly where to look to remind him of what needs to be done. 

Always ask, “What’s next?” I know I can’t be the only one with such “half-done” projects all over the house. Why is it that things “stall” partway through completion? At some point, you stopped asking the question, “what’s next?” What is the single next step you would have to take to see forward progress on the task? For John, it would be measuring the angle of the existing floorboard in the bedroom. If a belt is laying in the kitchen and needs to go upstairs in your room, you might just look at it and think to yourself, “I don’t want to run all the way upstairs to put that belt away,” so you leave it there. Instead, take the single next step and put it on the stairs. Every time you go upstairs, grab something to take with you.

Always seek to resolve incompletions. Unpack from trips. Put the dirty clothes in the hamper, refill toiletries while you remember what’s gone, and unpack your files. I was in one woman’s home office and noticed seven conference bags stacked against the wall. Upon inquiry, I discovered they were filled with her seminar notes, brochures, and vendor samples. She never spent time after the conference to review and activate her plans, so now she’s afraid to even look in there, for fear of how much time it will take. You may as well throw them all away. If you have a pile of magazines you haven’t looked through in months, set a timer for five minutes, force yourself to scan the table of contents for each one, and toss or review it before the timer goes off. 

Break it down. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you define your Saturday project as “clean out the garage,” you’re sure to fail. It’s too much and takes too long. You will run out of steam before you’re finished, give up, and leave it “half organized,” which is almost more frustrating than unorganized. Breaking down a project into smaller chunks of time is often called the salami technique, slicing up a big task into digestible slices. Schedule a one-hour “declutter assault” and define a specific goal to achieve in that time: “Label the drawers,” “Tidy up the floor,” “Organize the gorilla rack on the left wall,” etc. Get an egg timer, set it for one hour, and then go at it! Dividing a task into small sections like this will allow you to see progress toward your goals and feel inspired, rather than discouraged. 

Make it a productive day! ™

(C) Copyright 2005 Laura Stack, MBA, CSP. All rights reserved. Portions of this newsletter may be reprinted in your organization or association newsletter, provided the following credit line is present:

"Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is "The Productivity Pro"® and the author of Leave the Office Earlier. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or [email protected]"