Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

See Projects To Their Completion

Most of us have projects on the go. Sometimes these are small things, like writing a block of code, and sometimes these are larger, like growing a garden. Whatever these projects are, it’s great when you can see them to their completion.

There are a few important things to remember.

Make sure you define exactly what constitutes a completion. Sometimes we don’t have a solid criteria for when we will consider a project complete, such as when we set out to “get healthy” or “lose weight”. In such pursuits, it is fundamental to write something down, or simply break the project up into components – each with a defined conclusion point.

This brings me to my next point, which is to realize when a project is too grand to sustain momentum over a long time. In these situations it also helps to break the project down into cascading sub-projects.

One benefit of subdividing a project into components is that it becomes practical to really give one hundred percent. I am someone who loves to get totally absorbed into my work, but I also know from experience that large tasks can easily dissolve under the power of my own dissatisfaction. Getting a cold (or getting really hungry) is often the first sign that I’ve been giving too much.

The trick is to feel accomplished at numerous points along the way, and at those points to fulfill the requirements of your mind and body. Personally, I find that I like to knock off sub-goals once about every one to three days, but I’m sure I could benefit from crossing more than one finish line per day (otherwise I find myself working ten or twelve hours a day on one project, with minimal breaks).

Of course, an integral part of all this is knowing how best to celebrate these milestones with yourself, and surely this is best devised individually. You should really feel like you’ve accomplished something, and that goes back to what you told yourself you wanted to accomplish at the beginning of the module. At the grand finale, you can then look back and remember all the small parts you accomplished along the way, and you’ll no doubt feel awesomely satisfied with the unified whole.

One last thing I would like to mention is that there is a fine balance that must be struck between pushing yourself in the interest of personal growth, and holding yourself back in the interest of pragmatism. This is probably the most difficult line to draw, especially because we like to push ourselves very hard.

I think we need to disassemble the notion that the amount of success we feel is directly proportional to the degree of grueling work we put in. True, we feel more accomplished when we surprise ourselves with unexpected results, but I’m convinced that this will happen at the very last finish line, and not necessarily at each lap completion along the way.

The primary determiner of how successful we feel is our own willingness to celebrate ourselves. I think we will also find that our success is tightly linked to how well we split up our goals into one-ounce stages.


Special thanks to my good friends Rafferty and Will, who reminded me to think about how I spread my energy over time and project-space.

Chris Gerber is 33 and lives in Vancouver, Canada.

After graduating from a B.Sc (Physics major) program in 2007, he spent seventy days in Southeast Asia with the goal of discovery, on both personal and cultural levels.

Since his return, he has resisted automatic entry into the work-force, spending his time instead wondering how best to serve the world.