“Projects are mirrors because they reflect back to us what’s really going on in our inner and outer worlds; projects are bridges because it’s only by doing them that we create the paths our souls want to walk.”
It’s right there, in black and white, in Chapter 1 of Start Finishing. Words I’ve read countless times — but only in hindsight, after the completion of a best-work project, do I realize how true they are. Ironically, that project was Start Finishing’s companion workbook, the Start Finishing Field Guide (SFFG). Here’s what I encountered in bringing the project to life, as well as tips and suggestions for how to apply these takeaways to your best work.
The Start Finishing Field Guide distills Start Finishing‘s rich content into exercises that solidify the book’s concepts, and sets them up to make its ideas easy to implement. The structure mirrors Start Finishing, so each chapter meets you where you are, and corresponds to the stage of a project you’re working on.
My original copy of Start Finishing is filled with notes in the margins, where I worked through the many questions or series of steps Charlie includes throughout the book. I was one of many who requested Start Finishing be released in workbook form. I could see that version of it so clearly in my mind’s eye, never dreaming I would be asked to help transform the book into a guide and workbook — but when the opportunity presented itself I couldn’t imagine not doing it.
As with so many of our projects and opportunities, we have an inkling of the path, but it can take a painstaking and personally challenging process to examine our mirrors, and build our bridges.
Mind the Gap: Project Challenges Lie Ahead
Start Finishing describes the many obstacles you might encounter in moving your project from idea to done. This project would be no different. As we built the field guide I had to overcome many of the same obstacles, often coming across a certain challenge exactly when we were working on the chapter about it.
I noticed this pattern early, in the first chapter I worked on. Chapter 2 explains the air sandwich, or that gap that exists between your present reality and the vision you have for your future.
It also entails the challenges you must traverse to bridge that space. Right out of the gate, I was in that gap, tripping over the very five challenges I was writing about.
Challenge 1: Competing Priorities
Starting this project, I may have overcommitted myself across more than five projects — a move that tends to cause a fair share of competing priorities. All the projects I had taken on were competing not just for space on my calendar, but in my head.
Another hidden cost of competing priorities: all the context switching involved in going from one project to another over the course of a day, week, or month. I’d finally get into a flow only to have to stop and move on to something else — then when I finally got back to where I had been in the project, I would flail about struggling to find my place.
Challenge 2: Head Trash
We all have stories we tell ourselves that hold us back from making progress on our goals. This often manifests itself as head trash, that negative-self talk that suggests that you’re less than capable. The material was precious to me and the fear of messing it up, of failing, was so strong I’d often find myself in a thrash crash. I doubted my abilities, I worried I’d crash and burn, that I’d be found out as an impostor, that everyone would laugh. Oh you name it, the gremlins were there:
“Who am I to do this? I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m going to let Charlie down. I’ll disappoint the PF community. I’ll make a mess of it. I’ll fail to get it right.”
And the more something matters, the louder and more vicious the head trash — and this project mattered.
Challenge 3: No Realistic Plan
Like with all projects, you create a plan as best you can with the information you have at the time and adjust as you go. We believed we were 70% there when we started. Start Finishing stems from years of work, so in addition to the book, we had worksheets, blog posts, courses, and other sources to pull from.
It turns out distilling years of content into exercises that need to fit into a reasonable number of pages only added to the complexity of the task. We most definitely had a plan, but the assumptions on which we built it were not as realistic as we thought, at least at the start.
Challenge 4: Too Few Resources
With any new undertaking, it’s hard to know exactly what resources you’ll need, and the most difficult resource to assess is time. I severely underestimated the number of hours I would need for this project. I’d never done something of this magnitude before, so it was hard to estimate how much time I should give myself for the work. And, as I shared above, I certainly didn’t allow for the time needed to work through the competing priorities and head trash.
It’s equally easy to fall into the trap of considering all time as equal, and not accounting for your ability to be effective in a particular time span or time of day or the week, as opposed to another. In this case, I considered how much time I had on any given day or week, but not that this work would require a certain level of focus that wasn’t available at any time of day. I eventually learned that mid-late afternoons would be my magic hours for this project.
Challenge 5: Poor Team Alignment
This last challenge of finding alignment was harder to identify due to a misconception that poor team alignment requires conflict to be present. In truth, misalignment may simply mean that team members are not on the same page, which happens when any number of variables are present.
This certainly was the case during this project as we were dealing with Team PF musical chairs. New team members, myself included, came on board while others moved off. And while I’m no stranger to PF content, it took some time (a resource I had already underestimated) to get acclimated to these new processes, routines, and personalities.
Bridging the Gap by Using the 5 Keys
Not until I’d bumped into each of the five challenges a few times did I realize what was happening. Realizing didn’t make the challenges magically go away though, nor did it prevent them from popping up throughout the project. But simply knowing they were there helped me (us, as it was a team effort) figure out how to address them. To finally get from idea to done, we’d need to apply the five keys: intention, awareness, boundaries, courage, and discipline.
Key 1: Intention – Getting Clear on My Why
If we get at the heart of why we’re working on a project, we’re better able to direct our time, energy, and attention where it needs to go. This project was important for many people, for many different reasons, but to keep me moving forward I’d need to get clear on my own why. I was creating this because it was what I personally needed. I longed to have a centralized place where I could work through the steps of a single project from start to finish. I knew if I needed it, then others must too.
Key 2: Awareness – Figuring Out What Was Really Going On
No matter how clear my reason for undertaking this project, if I was unable to see what was working well in my efforts, and what was getting in my way, I wouldn’t be able to address the issues. By paying attention and honing my awareness I was able to:
- Get honest about just how many projects I had taken on and clarify which mattered
- See my head trash for the self-defeating beliefs they were and rewrite the script
- Rework the plan to address what was working and what wasn’t
- Readjust my schedule based on the days and times that best suited the work
- Identify what I needed to succeed so that I could ask for help
By stepping back and paying attention I was able to see the bigger picture. That helped me to both remember my why, and determine what steps or adjustments were needed to get me closer to my best work.
Key 3: Boundaries – Make Space for the Work that Matters
Setting boundaries helps create the space to do the work without falling into the land of overwhelm (a place I’ve been known to frequent often). Recognizing I had taken on too many projects, I used time blocking to work through my competing priorities.
Those blocks were frustrating to implement at first, but provided me with useful constraints, which helped me focus on getting the work done. Being clear about when and what I was working on with the team made it easier to make more realistic plans moving forward.
Key 4: Courage – Small Acts over Time
Taking on a project of this size, which I had never done before, took courage. But it was the small acts of everyday courage that would bring me across the finish line. I had to confront all the head trash, challenge my limiting beliefs, and disrupt the unhelpful patterns of behavior that they caused.
Some days, simply showing up to the work felt like the most courageous act. Each time I shared my work took courage. Being willing to cut, edit, and rework things that have taken so much effort takes courage. Being brave enough to take up space and ask for help: courage.
Key 5: Discipline – Keep Going
“Courage without discipline leads to fits and starts rather than deep change.”
Charlie’s words from Chapter 2 of Start Finishing served as a reminder for me throughout this journey. No matter how difficult or scary this project could be at times, I’d need to keep at it. And by doing so I found myself changed for the better. I learned I’d need to meet the challenges head-on. To come back to it day after day. To ignore the bright shiny objects that competed for my attention. To use my time wisely, recognizing that time was a scarce resource, and to work on the project during dedicated focus blocks at the times where my energy was best suited for this work.
Holding Up the Mirror, and Showing the Steps to Build the Bridge
Looking in the mirror your project creates can be incredibly scary. But it’s only through acknowledging what’s really going on that we can address it and move forward. I bumped into the five challenges over and over again over the course of this project. Each challenge I encountered reflected what was happening in my inner and outer worlds. They showed me what needed to be addressed:
- I was overcommitted and needed to let some things go so I could make space for the work that mattered.
- The head trash was really just my fear — and seeing it for what it was lessened its power over me.
- My expectations for myself were unreasonable and unrealistic, and I needed to get real about the amount of time I actually needed (usually 3x more than I anticipated).
- That all time is not equal and I only had so much focus time in a day to use.
- Projects can’t be abstracted or taken completely apart from their context. The fact we were in the midst of a team transition had an inevitable impact on the project. We needed to take that seriously in order for it to be the best work we hoped it would be.
The five keys helped address each of the challenges I faced in building the bridge that took this field guide from idea to done. As they did for me, the five keys are available as tools to help you:
- Get clear on your why, and motivate you to keep going.
- See what’s really going on in your team, or in your head, so you can make more effective plans.
- Hold the time and space needed to do the work that matters.
- Have the courage to come back again and again even when it feels impossible.
- Create a realistic plan and stick to it.
For each and every project we take on we’ll meet up with some or all of the challenges. And the more a project matters to you, the bigger the challenges will seem. Luckily, you also always have the five keys at your disposal. (To keep them at the top of my mind I keep a sticky note over my desk with the mnemonic I-A-B-C-D to remind myself there is always a way through.)
The Start Finishing Field Guide is designed to help identify which of the challenges are most likely tripping you up, which of the five keys need more or less cultivation, and which are best suited to address your personal challenges. As I discovered, addressing those inevitable challenges is an integral part of getting from initial idea to finished project — and the bridge to the path your soul wants to walk is never visible before you start.