Here’s how to polish your completer-finisher skills

Do you start off fired up with enthusiasm then steadily deflate? If you have issues with deadlines, here's how to polish your completer-finisher skills.

Starting a new project is like falling in love. It’s exciting, emotionally arousing, infused with the natural motivator of novelty. Perhaps we even get obsessive about this new activity. We imagine it as “all good” and don’t pay much attention to potential obstacles, negatives, or challenges we may soon face. Then, after some time goes by, the activity or book or lessons (or relationships) turn into harder work than we expected. It takes longer to complete than we’d hoped, or there are some tedium and drudgery involved. We realise we aren’t sure about the next step. Stuck, we grind to a halt.’’

– Psychology Today

You’re a manager, or maybe your role is more operational. Whatever your job title, your day involves organising something or other, whether it’s projects or people. What kind of organiser are you?

Are you a great completer-finisher?

Are you known for delivering? Do you have a reputation for following through on your word? Do people trust you to do what you say you’ll do by the deadline you’ve set? Being known for completing on time and always delivering is one of the key ways to build an exceptional professional reputation. It helps you gain credibility with your colleagues and team, and it makes you accessible in a work context because people always know where they stand. If that sounds like you, you’re already a great completer-finisher.

Do you fall when it comes to delivering results on time?

On the other hand, you might be an enthusiastic starter but not a completer, someone who kicks projects off with the best intentions, but somehow doesn’t quite manage to complete them. Do you frequently almost miss deadlines but manage to deliver by the skin of your teeth at significant personal cost? Are you always scurrying across that finishing line in a panic, stressed out by the rush?

If that sounds like you, you’ll already know that taking on too many projects or championing initiatives that you can’t possibly deliver can have a negative impact. Your working days will be littered with loose ends. When you are ‘wave hopping’, and it can be soul destroying. You’re not surfing the waves


You’re leaping from the top of one wave onto another without that lovely rhythm you get, that inner satisfaction you enjoy when completing things well, where you experience that satisfying sense of conclusion.  Always jumping onto the next new exciting initiative, and you lack that vital quality of follow-through.

The advantages of being a completer-finisher

As an effective completer-finisher, you get to naturally build pause points into your work, times where there’s clear space for reflection. This means you learn what goes well and what doesn’t. Miss out these important stages and you miss out on real insight and learning. You live on autopilot, and it’s a pretty uncomfortable place to be. Starting and not finishing creates background stress, an insidious kind of professional indigestion. It can, if you are not careful, become a habit. And like all habits, it can be tough to break.

Regarding working relationships, not finishing can also cause difficulties. It means you’ll probably give out mixed messages, never a good thing at work! You kick things off with enthusiasm and lots of activity, but as the project proceeds, you visibly go off the boil, despite the deadline. This can breed distrust and disappointment, and it can also be very stressful for the people you manage. Especially if they happen to be strong completer-finishers themselves!

There’s room for all sorts of people in a work context, of course, but if you want to scale the heights and achieve your full potential in a people management or organisational role, it’s vital to have the ability to start and finish projects in a satisfying, logical and appropriate manner. Luckily you can teach yourself a bunch of crucial completer-finisher attributes. Here are our tips on how to do exactly that.

14 tips to polish your completer-finisher skills

  1. First of all, self-knowledge is essential. Once you acknowledge and understand your working personality, you’re in a position of power, able to control your less-than-positive inclinations and make beneficial changes.
  2. Know that every project has its boring bits, it’s sticking points, its problems. When you expect them, they’re easier to deal with positively and affect your enthusiasm less.
  3. It helps to understand why you are saying yes to a new initiative. Does it fit in with your priorities or will it turn into a nightmare? The act of formal prioritisation helps you understand when there’s just not enough time. There’s plenty of information about prioritisation in this post.
  4. Are you too eager to please? If there’s no way, you’ll achieve a deadline it makes a lot of sense to say so rather than agree to something impossible. Can you negotiate the timings and the nature of the project, so they work better for you?
  5. Assess the longer term implications of the project before agreeing to it. Do you have the time, resources and energy to follow through? Are you the best one to do it? Is it better delegated? Here’s some essential insight into delegation, another handy attribute in a complete finisher’s toolkit.
  6. Plan the stages of the assignment carefully, putting in the time required to structure everything practically and realistically. This kind of ‘work before the work’ always pays dividends.
  7. If you agree to a project build in extra time, in the end, the phase that counts, bearing in mind that the final 10% of a task usually eats up 25% of the effort.
  8. Begin with the end in mind” as Stephen Covey says. It helps to visualise the end point of the project and hold that picture in your mind. Decide what symbolises the end point for you, for example, imagine yourself finishing the project and celebrating with your team
  9. Rally the troops early, so you’re not left standing at the exact stage when the hard work needs to happen quickly.
  10. Set a series of interim targets rather than just one end-date, to make it more likely you will stay on target as the project progresses and help you minimise delays before they become a real problem. Then celebrate achieving these objectives, an excellent way to feed your enthusiasm and keep it going.
  11. Ask for people’s help – there’s nothing wrong with admitting you’re not so hot at the completing and finishing side of things. Your team will respect you for it, and will support you in achieving deadlines as long as they’re reasonable.
  12. Recognise any perfectionist tendencies and make sure they’re not running you. Remember Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s famous quote, “Done is better than perfect”. If you struggle with rampant perfectionism, there’s some guidance in this post.
  13. Consciously build in pause points, times where you reflect and review progress. Consciously look out for the learning inherent in the activity, and seek feedback from those you respect.
  14. Formally track your progress so you always know exactly where you are along the timeline to completion, heading delays off at the pass before they become an issue.

Get professional help with consistent delivery

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