The power of finishing a project

the power of finishing a projectToday I have a question for you: How good are you at finishing a project? We all know the power of finishing a project. Yet we often do not have a clear idea about how well we do it. We may have a vague idea, a feeling, but how good are we really and why should we finish our to do’s anyway?

Defining the topic

Before you answer “good” or “bad” or start thinking about it, let me define the words project as anything that has a sequence of activities to finish and finishing as having it all done in such a way that only the finished project is visible. So: project done and no traces of the process left.

Here are some examples:

  • Having dinner starts with cooking and is finished when your kitchen looks as if you are ready to cook your next meal – all dishes washed or in the dishwasher, all leftovers in the fridge.
  • Writing a paper on your computer is finished when it has been send to the person that needs to see it and all your research and other materials are properly filed.
  • Sending a birthday card is finished when the card is posted and the stamps, paper etc are in their proper place.

It may sound a bit over the top to count in cleaning up after yourself and filing. How important can that be? That will get done eventually and the most important part is done, right?

Wrong! As long as there is anything left to do, we haven’t reached the finish line. Without us noticing that can be a big hurdle in the way of next projects and drain our energy.

The success of Total Completion or the disaster of Not Yet Done

A while ago I experienced the power of going for Total Completion myself as I decided to reorganize and clean up all my craft supplies. I had been moving twice within a year and somehow everything was all over the place. That meant that I had lost a lot of time looking for things I couldn’t find immediately. Time to tackle that project.

It took me a whole weekend to collect everything from all places, finding the right storage, rearranging my shelves and cupboard and putting everything I wanted to give away into a box. I have been a primary school teacher, which meant that I had so many things that “might come in handy one day”. They did, but those kind of days are not in sight nowadays, so why keep all those cute stickers, balloons or left over fabrics…

At the end of the weekend, I was totally happy. It all looked fabulous, perfectly arranged and I knew I was going to have more fun creating now, since I didn’t have to search any more. Project finished.

The only things left were a big box with giveaways and some things on the table that I didn’t have the right place for. No problem, the box would go eventually and I just needed to think a bit about what to do with those last loose things lying around on my desk.

This is where I went wrong. Instead of going for the victory of Total Completion I was heading for the disaster of Not Yet Finished.

Isn’t disaster a strong word for this? Not really. Even though I felt good about myself that Sunday evening, something strange happened. The feeling slipped away pretty quickly. And then I realized something that goes for all projects.

The unfinished part was right in front of my nose, every time I opened the door to that room. The project was still somehow on my to do list, which had the same effect as not having it done yet. On top of that, I was silently annoyed with myself for not having it done completely.

Traces leave clues

ready to create

It was then that I remembered my own principles – and why I adopted those to begin with. :-) Here are the aspects that contribute to the power of finishing a project:

  • As long as there is anything to be done, the project isn’t finished yet – Every time we come into contact with it, we feel the unfinished energy. We forget about the big achievement and unconsciously tend to look at what still needs to be done. Even though it might be a two minute activity, it is in the way of us feeling completely fulfilled about the project. We rob ourselves of feeling good.
  • If we check it off of our to do list anyway, we move it to our invisible to do list – This is one of the most detrimental things we can do. It is what I did with the craft supplies. We give ourselves the signal that it is done, while there still is something to be done. It means that our to do list is not an honest list. Which in turn means that we give our minds the task to stay on the lookout for unfinished business anyway. Instead of creating space in our thinking, we ask our minds to be busy all the time and to not trust what we feed it consciously. Pretty tiring…
  • As long as there are things lying around, we are not totally free to get unto next projects. It is clear with tangible objects. When the desk is full, there is no space to work. When the pans are dirty, we cannot cook a new dish. The same goes for digital tasks. If we do not save a template properly, we end up creating a new one. If we don’t file the pictures under the right names, we may have them digitalized, but will have a hard time finding them anyway. And if we promise a friend or business partner to come and visit them one day, but didn’t make an appointment yet, we are in danger of feeling guilty about it, which isn’t all that helpful for the relationship to be positive and we may even end up avoiding that person.

All in all the consequences of not completing activities may seem harmless in the moment, in the long run this habit can cause us problems – and we will not even know where they came from. We wonder why we don’t seem to paint anymore, why that relationship doesn’t work as well as before, why we feel tired when we look at our to do’s and feel bad when we are confronted with unfinished business.

The success of Total Completion or the disaster of Not Yet Finished? #productivity #taskmanagement Click To Tweet


What I learned from my craft supplies experience and looking at other projects

  • Really go for finishing and keep things on my to do list until they are completely done. Totally done. Not a trace left.
  • If that isn’t possible, turn them into a minor task like “donating the box with craft supplies”. Somehow that finishes the previous project, which is a fantastic feeling. And it puts the things yet to be done into the right perspective.
  • Let go of what doesn’t need to be done immediately and put it on a “may do one day” list instead of keeping it in center of the attention.
  • When setting an intention (like making a promise to someone else or myself), I decide the next step. Like: buy storage for my paper scraps. Or: make an appointment with person x about y. And put it on my list to free up my energy.

Isn’t it interesting? We all know about the power of completing projects. Yet we might not be doing it all the time. I know I thought I was good at it – until I realized I wasn’t really wrapping up things completely.

How well do you use the power of finishing a project?

Have a wonderful day of completion! Margot

PS If you are a perfectionist, you may like this article: Imperfection is perfect…

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2 Responses

  1. Virginia says:

    Oh my gosh – are you peeking in at my office? Stuff ‘not done’ in way too many areas. I start but don’t complete. It wouldn’t really take that much effort to finish some of them but….(any number of excuses inserted here). Thanks for this good reminder to make myself feel more productive to clean it up, get it done, and move on to the next one.

  2. Margot van Aanholt says:

    You’re welcome! It’s interesting isn’t it? Somehow we often only need a mirror to see what we already know. I have taught this to my students for years and years as I was a teacher. Yet knowing something doesn’t mean that we keep our good habits forever…

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