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Getting Past Done: What to Do After You’ve Finished a Big Project

Getting Past Done: What to Do After You’ve Finished a Big Project
What to Do When You Get to Done

There’s no feeling in the world quite like the mixture of triumph and sadness that comes after finishing a project you’ve been working on for months or even years. On one hand, you’re done and can finally release your finished product, whatever it is, into the world. On the other hand, though, completing a big goal leaves a little emptiness in your life, like sending your kids off to college — one of the major driving forces in your life is gone.

Since you likely have a little more time on your hands now that you’re not working on your big project anymore, take a moment or two to to reflect on what you’ve accomplished, how to build on your success, and how to avoid the mistakes that you’ve made on the way to your achievement. The end goal is to weave the finished project into the overarching fabric of your life — your mission, your vision, your raison d’être — and to capture the energy and momentum of one success and roll it into your next.

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Debriefing

What you need to do is debrief. Like a soldier returned from a successful mission, you need to ask — and answer — a few questions about what went wrong and what went right. Consider sitting down someplace quiet with a notebook and ask yourself these questions:

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  • What was the outcome of this project?
  • What is good about the outcome of this project?
  • How do I feel about my performance?
  • What mistakes did I make that slowed or otherwise negatively affected the completion of this project?
  • How could I avoid making those mistakes in the future?
  • What was the best part of the project? What was the worst?
  • What strengths did I discover in the completion of this project?
  • What new abilities or knowledge have I learned from doing this project?
  • What do I wish I had known when I started this project?
  • In one or two sentences, what were the lessons of this project?

Building on your success

Once you have a good idea of what you’ve learned, it’s time to consider how to put that learning to good use. This might not be something you sit down and figure out in one sitting; finding your next steps is a process that might take a little while. Still, there are a few questions you can ask yourself to get the ball rolling.

  • Is this kind of project something I enjoy?
  • How can I capitalize on the success of this project?
  • What personal connections did I make in the execution of this project that I can draw on in the future?
  • What sort of project would best complement the one I’ve just completed?
  • What questions were left unanswered, or new questions were raised, in the project I’ve just completed?
  • What is the audience I’ve cultivated with my last project, and how can I appeal to and satisfy that audience again?
  • What have I put on the back burner so I could focus on my completed project?

Looking at the big picture

After pouring our heart and soul into something over a long period of time, we often find that we’ve changed — that what once interested us no longer does, and that we’ve developed new interests in their place. After completing a big project, it’s time to consider those changes and revise our goals and our vision of ourself.

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  • Sit down and write a mission statement. If you’ve written one before, take it out and ask yourself what’s changed?
  • Revise your resume or CV. How does your new perspective affect the way you describe what was important about your previous experiences?
  • Who are you now? Does your old job title still fit? What will you tell people who ask “What do you do?”
  • How has your social position changed, if at all, as a result of your project? Are you financially more secure, do you enjoy new respect among your colleagues, are you famous? How will your life have to change to accommodate these new elements?

It’s totally natural to experience a bit of “hang time” after completing something big in your life. You need a few moments to reflect on and savor your success and to figure out what to do next, before your feet hit the floor again.

It’s natural, too, to feel sad, disappointed, even depressed at the end of a big project, even one that’s a resounding success. The things we do define us as people, and the biggest things we do are the biggest part of us; losing them, even by choice and design, is hard. I think this is why so many people seem to experience a fear of success that’s as paralyzing, if not more so, as the fear of failure: they are not prepared for the changes in their life that success would bring.

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The important thing, though, is to embrace all the mixed feelings that come after a project, understand where they come from, and use them to propel ourselves forward. Use the end of one project as the beginning of the next and keep working to fulfill your life’s purpose and vision.

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Last Updated on January 13, 2020

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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