May 18, 2011

Having trouble finishing what you start?

This is Nita Zayas, one of the members of Aggie’s Nine Heroes (Diana’s upcoming novel), and I’m delighted to be guest blogging today. Blog, I’m told you have some questions for me on the subject of how to reach closure with your projects. Project management is a specialty of mine, as you’ll learn from the book when you read how I got on the team. So let’s get started!

Blog: It’s really great, being an anthropomorphized non-entity such as myself, to talk with an imaginary person such as YOURself, Nita! First question:  What’s your best suggestion to people who have a lot of trouble finishing projects?

Nita: The best way to prevent Epic Project Fail is to do some “likelihood analysis” before you even begin. Ask yourself honestly, what are the odds you will bring this project to fruition? Set aside the reasons why you’re thinking of doing this thing: because you feel obligated, because someone else did it and was a success, because it would bring a result you really badly want. Ignore all that and you honestly have the time, money, resources, motivation and talent to get to the end? Because time spent on a project with only a 50/50 chance of completion is, frankly, wasted time. And it’s time, energy and resources you could be using to actually finish something else.

Blog: So is it always a bad idea to try something new?

Nita: Not at all.  There’s nothing wrong with taking a chance now and then, trying something new that you aren’t sure you can do. But limit those experiments and recognize them for what they are. Watch carefully for the point at which you’ve proven you can’t take the project any further successfully, call it a learning experience, and move on.

Blog: Okay, let’s say you’ve done a “likelihood analysis” and really feel this project is something you can carry through to the finish. What’s the next important step?

Nita: It’s really important to develop a complete plan, not just plunge in. Make a complete list of what you’ll need for the project and either obtain it all or make sure you can within the required time frame. And speaking of, make sure you have a time frame. Set a definite deadline and swear to yourself you will keep it. Think through all the steps to completion, and make task lists. Determine, based on your deadline, task deadlines along the way. And make sure you stick to them.

Blog: Are deadlines really so important?

Nita: If you just want to dabble or play around, and don’t care about ending up with a specific deliverable, no.  But if you’re serious about project completion, then you need to plan for more than just the final deadline. I know some people work best under pressure, but the people with the best project completion success rate, work to avoid pressure. Pressure can be motivational, sure...but it is also an added obstacle.

Blog: This sounds like it would be hard for some people. Aren’t distractions natural? I mean, so your deadline is to have the dresser stripped by Saturday evening, but then a friend calls and wants to go for coffee.  Can’t there be some flexibility?

Nita: Definitely. Which is why another key to project success is building in a lot of wiggle room. Estimate how long it will take you to complete your project and then build in an extra 33%. If you know you’re the kind who lives an impromptu life, make that 50%, or even more. That way you can shift task deadlines but still stick to the overall time frame.

Blog: Well, that works. Is there a particular attitude that will especially improve your success rate?

Nita: There sure is. Be the Boss of You. I mean, you need an internal voice that will crack the whip. That internal boss has to have a strong conviction that the project needs to reach closure. S/he is motivated to get the final result, so will tell you “DVR that show for later, get the dresser stripped first.” And this goes back to my first piece of advice: If you don’t want the end result badly enough, recognize that up front and don’t do the project. You’re going to need to rely upon your desire for completion to keep you going till the end.

Blog: But what about the projects you’re forced to do, but don’t want to? How do you find motivation for those?

Nita: With those sort of projects, I look at the final goal as “Not Having to Work on This Anymore.” I picture how nice it will be to have the job behind me, not to be fretting about it or dreading it. I focus on that rather than the distasteful project itself. Actually, negative motivation like this can make a person even more efficient than the positive kind!

Blog: Makes sense. What do you suggest for people who find themselves overwhelmed by too many projects?

Nita: I recommend that you never commit to more than five projects at once, tops. Three if they’re large ones. If you’re at that limit, don’t even entertain the idea of starting something new until you’ve completed something old. If you must take on the new project for some reason, then choose your least important ongoing one and mentally table it--don’t even think about it until you’re back down to four. Life is all about multitasking, but too much of it can really cripple efficiency and overwhelm the brain.

Blog: So, Nita, do you have any final tip for those suffering from the dreaded Lack of Closure in their project lives?

Nita: Be sure to balance projects with down time. Achieving closure is the goal, but not at the expense of other aspects of life. If your life is getting out of balance, it’s never too late to chop some projects. You can always move them to your Bucket List!

Blog: Thanks, Nita! You know, as an anthropomorphized non-entity, I have a lot of projects. And now I’m excited to get them finished!


  1. Awesome! I'm super excited that my project list is getting smaller so I can tackle The Big One aka the art fairs. Making a list has definitely been the most helpful...and good call on "Being Your Own Boss"! I've seriously had to crack the whip on myself lately, but it's been such a blessing. Thanks Nita! ;)

  2. So glad the post was helpful! Nita's happy to have been of assistance. ;-)

  3. Nita's advice came just at the right time for me. I especially like the idea of not working on more than five things at a time (not easy for meandering mice!)

  4. It takes some discipline to limit yourself to five, that's for sure, Jennie! Especially when you tend to lose count, as I do...and meandering mice may do as well!

  5. Totally agree about the importance of deadlines. This actually hits home, as I've been procrastinating this week. Yikes. Thanks!

  6. Glad to be of service, Erica. :-) Now get going! LOL

  7. Good stuff. Thanks!!