“There is peace and purpose in finishing things”

“There is peace and purpose in finishing things”

Written by Kristin Wong

Topics: Productivity

Charlie Gilkey recently finished a book on finishing things. Start Finishing is a blueprint for tackling the many half-formed projects we all have gnawing at us in the background. 

I met Gilkey at our multipotentialite meeting of the minds, Everything Conference in Portland, where he told me his mission is to help people thrive by finishing the projects that matter to them most. “There is peace and purpose in finishing things,” he says. “It’s exhausting to continue the ‘I’m doing’ narrative.”

You know that narrative. It’s the novel you want to write someday or the new language you keep saying you’ll learn. It’s the family reunion you want to plan or the podcast you want to launch. Unfinished business looks different for everyone, but everyone has it. The trouble is, most of us have so much unfinished business, we don’t know where to start, much less how to finish. 

Thankfully, Gilkey has some advice for us.

Pick Your Next Project

In the book, readers start by listing the many projects they want to complete someday. Remember, these aren’t just work-related projects, but any kind of project that makes you feel happy and fulfilled. 

If you’re a multipod, several projects will probably immediately come to mind. For example, there’s a personal essay I want to write, a book idea I’m working on, a family trip I’d like to plan, a blog I’m building, a newsletter I’m growing. I ask Gilkey which one I should start with, and he tosses the question back to me. “Which project is going to set up the most possibilities?” he asks. “That’s one way to choose: Which project is going to get you a seat at the table you want to sit at?”

Sometimes starting one project can make it easier to get started on others. Writing an essay, for example, can make it easier to write a book. And there are other rules of thumb for figuring out which project to start with. “Find the ones that hurt when you try to cut them,” Gilkey suggests.  He also talks about thrashing over a project—the pain of being outside of your comfort zone and resisting a project that’s difficult but important to you. “Generally the more we thrash about a project, the more we know it’s our best work,” Gilkey says.

Decide What “Finishing” Looks Like to You

It’s also important to define what finishing means to you. As a multipod, finishing doesn’t always equal mastery. It might mean simply getting a taste for a new hobby to see if you want to pursue it further. (Micromastery goals can help with this). 

For example, if you think it might be fun to start your own neighborhood softball team, maybe your micromastery project is organizing and playing a game with a few friends—and that might be all you came for. It might be a silly example, but you get the point: You have to decide what your “finished” project looks like.

Some projects, like finishing a book, have more easily definable finish lines that others, but you still shouldn’t rely on external definitions of what “finished” looks like. For example, finishing my essay isn’t necessarily about publishing it, although that’s how a specialist would define it. My finish line is just writing 5,000 words. Maybe I’ll decide to publish it after that, maybe I won’t. But for now, that’s what finishing looks like to me.

Structure Your Workflow

Even if your project is a creative one, you need structure and discipline to finish it. If we all waited for a muse to get stuff done, we’d never finish anything. Unfortunately, that’s what happens all too often, and to remedy it, you need to structure your workflow and come up with a plan for finishing. “Artists don’t like this,” Gilkey says. “They often think in terms of structure versus creative freedom. But really, discipline equals creative freedom. Structure enhances creativity.”

Gilkey suggests turning your project into a SMART goal and then breaking it up into quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily milestones and tasks. Time blocking is one of my favorite concepts from Gilkey’s book. These are blocks of time dedicated to four general types of activities:

  • Focus blocks: 90–120 minute blocks of time where you’re especially creative, inspired, and able to do high-level work that requires focus.
  • Admin blocks: 30–60 minute lower-energy blocks of time where you’re not in the zone to do the work that requires heavy lifting, but there are still other types of work you can do effectively.
  • Social blocks: 90–120 minute blocks of time where you’re primed and energetically in the right space to meet with other people.
  • Recovery blocks: Variable-length blocks of time that you use for exercise, meditation, and self-care.

The frequency of each block you’ll have in your week varies, but Gilkey has an example of what your time-blocked schedule might look like here.

Build Your Success Pack

At the conference, Gilkey led a session on building a “success pack,” a group of people you assemble to help you reach the finish line. Your success pack consists of four types of people:

  • Guides: Mentors or role models who have done what you want to do or can help you along the way by serving as a beacon.
  • Peers: Colleagues at your level who can give you honest feedback as you complete your project.
  • Supporters: People who give you the time, space, and encouragement to finish your project, often by taking on other tasks that you delegate to them.
  • Beneficiaries: People who will directly benefit from your finished project.

Pick a few people in each category. This can be hard to do (honestly, I had trouble finding more than two people per category and some of them overlapped), but the more people you have, the more accountability you’ll have. 

From there, come up with a few specific ways these people can help keep you on track. If you’re guide isn’t someone you know personally, that can prove difficult, but there are ways around it. (If you’re writing a book, for instance, you might have Anne Lamott as a guide, and she can help you navigate the process indirectly in her book Bird by Bird.)  Gilkey then recommends reaching out to as many people in your success pack as you can, telling them about your goal, and asking if they would be willing to help you in those specific ways you’ve outlined.

The book is equal parts motivational and practical. So is Gilkey, for that matter  — he’s insanely good at convincing you that you can do the thing you’ve been too intimidated to do. (The day after our interview, I started my difficult essay.) “The reason I focused the last decade of my career on this is that I’m out to help the most people thrive as I can,” he says. “I believe we thrive by doing.”

Your Turn

What project do you want to finish next? What helps you see projects through when you’re feeling stuck? Share your ideas below in the comments!

neil_2017_2Kristin Wong has written for the New York Times, The Cut, NBC News, and Glamour magazine. She’s the author of Get Money: Live the Life You Want, Not Just the Life You Can Afford. Kristin is a writer, but she’s also an amateur photographer, speaker, podcaster, and recovering workaholic. You can find her on Twitter or Instagram @thewildwong.

14 Comments

  1. This is a wonderful article, Kristin, and not just because it’s about me and the book. Thanks so much for finishing it!

    My favorite part of the article, though, was in the end when you mentioned that you’d started your essay. I’m looking forward to clapping during your victory lap, so let me know when you’ve hit 5k, okay?

  2. Kristin says:

    Absolutely! It was a pleasure to meet and chat with you. Thank you for taking the time!

  3. This is so relevant to how I’ve been feeling for years (and now I’ve subscribed!). I often start things and get to a point of feeling that “well, I know I can do that now, and I could excel if I put the time in, but I don’t have the inclination to excel at this skill.” But other things I feel too intimidated by failure to start.

    I’m going to try time-blocking, I think. Though my biggest problem is working it around my full-time job at the moment. Hopefully that will help me make a start, at least!

  4. vavaly says:

    I use to have projects waiting for me to finish them. But many times I simply cant do something else until I dont finish one project wich is stunck in my minde.
    It halps me very much if I find a purpuse for why I should to finish: to sell, to make a ghift, to put in a corner like decoration (if is something handmade), to donate for a charity event.
    I notice that I work very well if I have a dead line. If is something that I want to experiment many times I can have only unfinish projects :).
    Thank you for your articles and emails!

    • Kristin says:

      I’m the same way. It’s hard for me to get started on something new if I have unfinished business elsewhere. You make a good point about staying connected to your purpose. Thanks, Vavaly!

  5. Aden Curtis says:

    Such a timely article! I was just posting to a Facebook Group regarding my “tribe statement,” expressing that I’ve yet to finish it. With the wealth of information you conveyed and summarized, guess what will be finished tomorrow!

  6. Susan says:

    Dear Kristin,
    you really made my day. I have a list of things i want to be done, but no clue where and how to start.
    I just sit like the bunny in front of the snake (is this something one says in english?)
    But now i take a look at my list and go for it. I am curious which project will make it into doing (and hopefully finishing.)
    Susan

  7. Andy Mort says:

    This is a fantastic article, Kristin. Thank you. Love the idea of defining what finished will look like. It seems so simple and obvious, yet it’s not something I ever take time to think about with my various pursuits. And as such feel this sense of leaving open loops to so much of what I do. It’s something I always focus in on with coaching clients ‘how will you know that you’ve achieved your goal?’ Like many things, could do with raising my own awareness in the same way! ha. Thanks! ?

  8. Gene Smith says:

    Amen, Kristin. Most of my life, I have said I wanted to be a professional writer and have pecked at a novel, on and off, for about six years now..

    I am about a quarter into Start Finishing. It has been a helpful guide into seeing how I got stuck and how to get traction and move forward again. I just created a production schedule for myself and set up a contract with a writing buddy to meet twice a week for the next month and spend two hours working across the table from one another. I’m feeling hopeful and excited.

    I highly recommend the book!

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