Finishing – The Second Hardest Thing

Much is made of starting; it is the hardest thing. We lament its prospect. We’ve named the behavior of non-starting – procrastination – which many consider a condition or a failing or a personality type.

In “Do the Work,” Steven Pressfield’s insightful analysis of this difficulty with starting, he names the force we experience Resistance. Resistance, says Pressfield, is the ever-present enemy within us all that must be battled daily so that results can be produced.

Many have addressed starting and its accomplice, proscrastination.  Here are a few:

Techniques and suggestions for beating procrastination and getting started can be found in those works.

Fast Forward to the End

But what of starting’s silent partner – finishing? Getting our work to closure is often a struggle too. If fact, behind starting, finishing up is the second hardest thing to accomplish.  Whether it’s the actual work or its remnants, failure to lay tasks and projects to their final rest can create just as many problems as failure to start can.

Interestingly, doing the task or project is often quite easy and many times enjoyable.  It’s as if doing is the beautiful valley between the mountains of starting and finishing.

Stated differently, imagine a curved line written horizontally across a piece of paper.  If the first uphill portion of that line represents starting a task, then the downhill segment that follows is the doing part of the task.  As the project nears completion, we reach the bottom of the curve and begin to ascend the next hill. Our momentum slows, we begin to lose interest and are easily distracted by other things.

Somethings we succumb to this repelling force before we finish, leaving the work dangling. Often we press on and shove the completed effort out the door, relieved to be done, and justify not attending to the final steps of closure as our reward for a “job well done.”

The Penalties for Failure to Finish

The first failure to finish – literally not finishing – holds obvious penalties. Whether we report to those internally or externally, not getting the work done is never good.  However, there are also less obvious problems associated with the failure to tie up loose ends.  These include:

  • Sense of Disarray. Most of us do not relish clutter. We abide it at work because we are busy and don’t have the time to or a process for cleaning up. The unfortunate result is that we regularly view our cluttered workspace as a project that never gets done. This is a negative feeling.
  • Lost or Missing Information. Organizations spend vast amounts of time and money on capturing information and storing documents. When the work product related to a task is left scattered about, this valuable asset is lost or, at best, difficult to find. This can affect us individually too when we have to dig through our piles for that document that’s “right here somewhere.”
  • Lost Revenue. Whether you bill your time or not, failure to close – often a billable activity – represents lost time and, therefore, lost revenue.

This last item is a situation I encounter regularly with my coaching clients.  Closing files is generally billable, so there’s a direct financial benefit to doing so.  But more importantly, the clutter of old work product has a dramatic effect on my clients’ ability to get the current work demands handled effectively and efficiently.

On the other hand, whenever we get something (a) finished and (b) closed up, we feel a great sense of accomplishment … and that’s a good thing.

Getting to the End Better

Pushing ourselves to finish and close up takes some mental discipline – to focus and to drive ourselves all the way to the end. Developing processes can facilitate this effort, but understand first that the true “ability” comes from within.

  • Sequestering. Juries are sequestered – sent away to deliberate on their case and reach a verdict. We can leverage this same behavior to finish up work. Take one thing to a separate, quiet place and work on it until it is complete.  We stay focused and drive to the end.
  • Specifically Identified Time. Do you do your best work in the morning? Or is it in the afternoon? Slot the work that must get finished into the most productive time of your day.  This will reduce the sense of resistance you will experience.  See 10 & 2 – The Rhythm of Productivity for more on this concept.
  • Scheduled Maintenance. Housekeeping is always an administrative task, but we find ways to make it happen at home and for our vehicles.  Why not the office?  It could be daily.  See Closing Time – What a Dishwater Can Teach a Professional for more on that.  It could also be weekly or monthly.  Setting aside specific time to close up all that is dangling will ensure it gets done.
  • A Place for Everything and … Spend a few minutes identifying where everything should go. Once a spot is identified for everything, everything can be organized. Seems too simple, but its a highly effective way to keep work separated from work product and junk.  For the  work pile, see the first two bullet points.

Every End is a New Beginning

The most important  benefit to finishing is the accompanying sense of accomplishment. Job performance and greater customer/client satisfaction are also benefits of getting things all the way done and cleaning up the remains. Climbing the hill to get started is hard, but remember these tips whenever you find yourself climbing the second hill of finishing.

2 thoughts on “Finishing – The Second Hardest Thing

  • Nothing to do with minimization, but this week I “started” Crossfit. For those that don’t know, it is a super intense workout program. For me, getting there for the first class was the hardest part. I had been “procrastinating” for some time on it and was sticking with my usual fitness program. I knew that I needed that change, but I just could not get my self to “start.”

    I’m glad I did. I now have new goals that I am setting and working towards.

    • Hey Frank,

      I “decided” to drop some weight about a year and a half ago. Used an “app” for it. Yep, there’ s an app for that. A client had been successful, so I thought I’d give it a try. Interestingly, I found that a couple of simple disciplines made the effort successful. I wrote about it at

      Good luck with Crossfit!

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