Completing Tasks — 10 Steps to Finishing What You Start

Eleanor McKenna
7 min readJul 7, 2017

It’s easy to start a project. For a lot of us, finishing projects is the difficult bit. Here’s my guide to completing tasks.

“Decide on your most important task. Begin immediately and work on that task with self-discipline until it is 100% complete. In life, all success comes from completing tasks. It’s not from working at tasks, it’s from completing tasks. It is only when you complete tasks that you become successful.”
– Brian Tracy

It is only when we finish things that the effort really matters. Anyone can get excited by the initial idea, begin sketching and designing… it’s only when we have to do the less fun things that things start to fall apart, and projects are left on shelves. For a lot of us, completing tasks is the difficult bit.

There can be many reasons for this — for me, it’s usually the fear of being judged in some way (but I’m working on that).

Completing Tasks

In January of this year — when most people create a list of things they want to start for 2017, I sat down to write my list. It made me think of all the projects I had started but not finished, and I decided it was going to be the year where I finished what I set out to do.

One of the things I really wanted to do was to start writing again. I had tried a few times before — but I always got stuck at the same place: designing and developing my WordPress theme. In the past, I would have built my own theme but have been unhappy with it. In January of this year, I purchased and installed an existing theme. Where normally designing and building a theme could take weeks, I had everything set up in a single evening.

“Tús maith, leath na hoibre”

– Irish proverb which means “a good start is half the work” (or “well begun is half done”).

Here are my tips on not just starting new things, but also on how to finish them, because the important thing is to finish.

1. Be Selective

Be selective about what you choose to focus your energy on. Your time is precious, so be cautious about who you choose to spend your time with, and what you choose to spend your time on.

Working with technology, it’s almost like everyone has a good idea for an app or website. I’ve learned to say no more, so that I can focus exclusively on the handful of things I want to finish before the year is out.

Take advice from Marie Forleo and ‘purge and prune’ your to-do list.

2. Plan What Needs To Be Done

Now that you’ve decided on a short list of carefully selected goals to achieve, it’s time to put a detailed plan in place. What does ‘finishing this project’ look like? For one of my projects, it’s just to create a set of designs. For another project, it was about making a list of possible article titles, and committing to publish an article each week.

3. Make The Time

There is no such thing as “I don’t have time”. We all have the same amount of time, the same number of hours in each day. Where things start to differ, however, is that everyone has different priorities. I don’t always have time to spend playing as much PS4 as I’d like, but that is because playing PS4 is not top of my list of priorities. Family is my top priority. Then reading, writing, learning, drawing and designing… PS4, while I love it, probably doesn’t feature in the top 10.

In order to finish tasks, you’ll need to make it a priority. Look at your calendar and see when it’s possible to make time to work towards completing the project.

It could be getting in 1 hour early to work, and spending that hour writing. Is there a way to achieve your goal by using some wasted time more effectively? For instance, if your goal is to read more, you could bring your book on the train in the morning? Or listen to the audiobook in your car? Think about what time is available, and use it to your advantage.

4. Commit

Now that you’ve planned how you’re going to finish your small list of projects, and you’ve figured out when you are going to work on it, make sure you do it.

Because I wanted to focus on writing this year, I wrote a list of blog titles in my Trello board. Each week, I tick off which ever one I’ve written. This means I don’t get lost brainstorming when I’m supposed to be writing.

If your goal was to launch a side hustle, commit to spending a few hours each week (or whatever you can spare) and stick to it.

5. Set a Deadline

Once you’ve decided to spend a certain amount of time each week (or each day) on your project, set a deadline. There are no unreasonable goals, only unreasonable deadlines. If you miss the deadline, set another deadline.

The point of the deadline is to stop you from endlessly Lucassing*.

(*Lucassing — when you keep messing with something that was perfectly fine to begin with, in the style of George Lucas and the original Star Wars films)

6. It Doesn’t Need To Be Perfect

Designers are guilty of fiddling with things until they’re perfect, when in fact there is no such thing as perfect. For this reason, I would recommend starting a side-project with a buddy. That way, they can keep you from falling into the well of iteration.

7. Have The End Goal In Mind

What does “finished” look like? Is it a live deployment? A certain number of subscribers or users? Is it to read a specific number of books?

The best way to tell if you’re really finished a project is to have a finish line. That will differ depending on a huge variety of factors, but if you can think about what success looks like, it will give you a clear target to aim at. This will make completing tasks a lot easier. When you have an end goal in mind, it’s also important to track your progress.

8. Track Your Progress

I once read an article about how having a “done list” is just as important as having a “to do list” and I would agree. Sometimes, when you’ve been working hard on something for a long time, you don’t see all the work you’ve done — just the work that remains.

Every now and again, look at the archived items in Trello, or the done items in Wunderlist. You’ll start to appreciate how much you’ve done, and will hopefully lift some of the fatigue that goes along with working on the same project for a long time.

9. Get Help If You’re Stuck

I mentioned earlier that I used to try to design and build my own WordPress theme, but to speed up the process, earlier this year I just paid for one. When I get stuck, I ask someone else for help. I advise you to do the same.

If there is someone in your office who might know more about code or design or marketing — take them for lunch and tell them about your project. They might have the solution you need to complete your project.

I recently found the answer I needed from a colleague of mine who knew of a deployment tool I had never heard of, so I absolutely recommend you ask others if you feel stuck.

10. Treat Yo Self

The most important part — have a reward when you’ve reached the finish line. All work and no play makes Jack a something something. I firmly believe that the reward should be proportional to the project you have completed. Promotions, new jobs and product launches should be celebrated.

So those are my tips on completing tasks. Make a short list of the projects you want to complete, make a list, stick with it, and reward yourself when you finish your goal.

I hope you can also make 2017 the “the year you finish stuff” instead of ending the year with a bunch half-baked projects.

I would love to hear from you — how are you at completing tasks? What are the things you have started but not finished? Do you intend on finishing them? If so — how?

As always, I hang out on twitter most of the time, and you can also reach me through my contact page.

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