I also see the same thing in my consulting and teaching practice. Managers don’t finish their work. Team’s don’t finish their work. Writers don’t finish their projects.
Here are several common reasons: the work is undefined; the work is quite large; the people or teams don’t know what done means.
What does this work have in common? It’s creative, new-to-us work.
Contrast that to “clean out the closet,” or “wash the clothes.” We know the definition of that work. We can bound the work. We know what done means. And, that work isn’t knowledge work. And, if you’re like me, you can get a ton of value from doing some of that work, even if you don’t do all of it. I admit I like to finish all the laundry on laundry day. I have this feeling of incompleteness when some of the laundry waits for another day. I have no such problems with timeboxing my office cleanup.
When we try something new, as in resolutions, we create habits. Those habits are knowledge work. Going to the gym might not be knowledge work—building the habit is knowledge work.
Knowledge work is about learning. The way I learn is to finish something as often as I can. So far, every time I’ve optimized for finishing something small over “all” the work, I learn faster and produce more.
I find this a huge challenge.
I have big plans, for workshops, for books. I know how to make progress on a book every day. I’m not so practiced with making progress on a workshop every day. (Do not ask how many online workshops I want to create. Many. I’m a bit stuck.)
I already said I prefer sustainable pace to resolutions. Here’s what I’ve done to help me finish something every day:
- Gather some data. I already gathered data about some of my work. I have word counts for the last twelve months for my writing. I’ve been tracking my video-recording and finishing times. If you have a resolution for the gym, gather some data on how fast you can get ready for the gym.
- Make interim goals that are small. I write paragraphs at a time, not pages or chapters. I’m breaking down the videos into bite-size chunks.
- Finish one small thing. Gather whatever data you need about that one small thing. If you feel satisfied, can you repeat the actions that led to completion? If you’re not satisfied, what’s the smallest thing you can change to finish something tomorrow?
Notice that I said finish something tomorrow. I’m not big on stressing myself with trying the same thing again today. I might, for writing. I wouldn’t for the gym. BTW, since I walk several times a day, I do experiment with my walking, so I can use some improvement for today.
When you gather data and break these big tasks apart, you might realize what done-for-now means. You have a shot of creating and continuing that habit, finishing a little bit every day until you make your resolution.
That is the question this week: How often do you finish?