In my last article I made the case that collaboration can be more effective than competition when it comes to winning in the marketplace. Today let me suggest that another critical ingredient for winning, whether personally or professionally, is finishing.
Duh. Wouldn’t everyone agree you can never win unless you finish? Before you answer, take a look at your to-do list. How many items did you scratch off this week? How many strategic initiatives did your organization begin over the last 24 months, and how many were completed? Of all the projects on your plate today, how many are carryovers from last month or last year?
It is a lot easier to start something than to finish it. Our culture rightly recognizes the benefits of creativity and idea generation. We admire innovators, start-ups, and visionaries. Yet the less-glamorous task of shepherding new initiatives from inception through completion is often overlooked and undervalued. It is one thing to imagine a new product or service, but channeling the necessary energy, intelligence, and time to turn something imagined into something done is another thing altogether.
The result of fewer finishes than starts is a growing, muddled set of priorities. Assuming our resources are limited, then the larger the number of needs competing for those resources, the less able we will be to satisfy any of the needs well. In business, this can translate into underfunded new project launches, missed deadlines, unsatisfied customers and disillusioned employees. In our personal relationships, we may find ourselves exhausted from attending to good things we have started while failing to deliver on the excellent things most important to those we love most.
Life and business are too complicated to be handled singularly and sequentially. If we agree that a fully engaged life requires doing more than one thing at a time, then how do we ensure the right things get done? How do we become good finishers?
- Stop starting stuff. One of the most important yet difficult disciplines necessary to finish well is to limit the things we are willing to undertake to begin with. It seems easier to tell someone “yes” in the moment and deal with the consequences of unmet expectations later than to do the hard work of saying “no” and defending our reasoning now.
- Start stopping stuff. One of my favorite soapboxes is to complain about the inclination of churches and governmental organizations toward starting great new things, but never having the courage to admit when it is time to discontinue them. To be a strong finisher in the important things requires a tenacious commitment to simplify, prioritize, eliminate, and narrow the number of “shiny things” demanding our attention.
- One thing at a time. While multitasking is alive and well and required of all of us to some extent, the ability of individuals and organizations to focus full attention and abundant resources on the highest priority task or project for a specified period of time is a key discipline for effective finishers. The shotgun approach for time and energy management is a likely recipe for lost productivity.
It might be said that finishing is a lost art in our culture today, but for those who can do it well, it is a differentiator.