I have an entrepreneurial spirit that is great for coming up with ideas or better ways of doing things. It is fun to dream, analyze, and contemplate the possible ways of doing something. Jumping into a new project is exciting and invigorating. But how about when the going gets tough, or when we have to drudge through some less than pleasant task? How we complete something is probably more important than how we start. We need to end the plague of the never-ending finish.
How many of you have a task list (on paper or just in your head) that includes items related to projects that you started with zeal but have since languished? Among the many things that I enjoy is home renovations and building stuff. I’m good at starting projects but not as good about finishing them.
An Example of One of My Projects
We owned a house for about 17 years. In the course of those years I landscaped the entire lot, completed the basement, and renovated almost all of the rooms in the house in some form or fashion. There were times that I would want to jump to the next project without completing the current one. This could create stress in the house.
I remember the Friday that I came home from work and found my wife had pulled up the carpet from the stairs. You see, I had put in new hardwood flooring upstairs and tile downstairs with the plan to combine the two on the stairs. Well, after a several month delay, Dallas determined that it was time to get it done. What better way of motivating me to get going than to pull up the carpet on a Friday afternoon?
I had my reasons for not completing the project: I hadn’t figured out just how to get the tile to be the exact same height as the hardwood; the trim wasn’t fully clear in my mind; it was a lot of cutting tile and pieces of wood; it wasn’t that bad to still have the old carpet there (if you are blind); and probably some other reasons just because there is always one more.
Just like me, I’m betting that you have a list of reasons that your project (dare I say projects?) isn’t completed. The reality is that it boils down to priorities. What we value the most is what will get our time, energy and resources. Often what we say we value doesn’t quite make the list in practice.
The Cost of Unfinished Projects
Unfortunately, when we have unfinished projects or things that need done hanging over our heads we carry additional stress. The toll that it places on us is higher than we probably realize. There is a mental cost (ever wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it?), an emotional price (the drain of knowing we are disappointing someone, even if it is just ourselves), and often a relational toll (family and friends that see the incomplete items and may become frustrated and let us know just how disappointed they are in us).
It has taken a lot of years for me to learn how to deal with the issue of unfinished things. I can’t say that it is easy or that I’m always good about actually doing it, but I’m much improved from the old ways.
A Process for Getting It Done
Here are some helpful suggestions for how to get those unfinished things on our task list completed and behind us.
Write it down
Make a list of all of the unfinished projects that you have in your life. This may be a very daunting realization when you see them all on paper. But do not give in to the fear of the magnitude of the task. The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. You will be able to complete your list one task at a time.
Once you have your list, even if it is unreasonably long, you need to go through and prioritize the projects. If you are married, I highly suggest that there be a discussion of the importance of each project. If your wife has been living with an unfinished bathroom for a couple years, that may take priority over completing the shelves in your garage.
Part of the process of prioritizing may require that you estimate the amount of time or money required for each. We all have limited time and resources (money) and some things take more of one or another. A side note for the future – don’t start a project that you don’t have the resources to complete in a reasonable amount time.
Determine the steps needed
Once you have prioritized your projects, take the first few and determine the individual steps needed to complete them. It should be a relatively detailed breakdown but don’t get lost in the minutiae. Remember that elephant? By breaking a project up into steps, it becomes more manageable. It also will give you some encouragement as you start crossing things off your list.
Put it on the calendar or at least put a time frame for completing each step. Time is really good at slipping through our fingers. We generally do good at making time to go to work and eat meals and even some of us make sure we get sleep each night. Make the time in your schedule to complete those things that are hanging out unfinished.
The biggest struggle here is that you may overschedule yourself. We naturally think it will take less time than in reality. Allow for the likelihood that not everything will go as smoothly as hoped. As a general rule of thumb, take the amount of time you think it will take and double or triple it. If you are more efficient, you can pat yourself on the back and move to the next task sooner.
Just do it
Now that you have made your list, prioritized, broken it down into steps and scheduled a time, you have to pick up the tools and get to it. Put down the distractions, set aside the excuses and get started.
Once you start, it generally isn’t nearly as bad as you had built it up to be. I find that getting going on finishing something is almost as good as when the project was new. And as you work you get to cross things off the task list.
As you complete each of the previously unfinished projects, there should be some form of celebration. For the smaller ones, it may simply be a cold drink and a few minutes of sitting on the couch. For the bigger projects, take the wife and / or family and enjoy something together to celebrate.
As you work down the list of projects, you will probably begin to feel a sense of accomplishment and also a reduced burden of the undone. The family will be thrilled to not have to walk through the unfinished space. Friends may start to look at you differently, even with an awe or envy about your prowess of completing things. And you will be able to look yourself in the mirror knowing that you finished well!
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men (Colossians 3:23).
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