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The Art of the Finish How to Go From Busy to Accomplished

The Art of the Finish How to Go From Busy to Accomplished

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Published by Naraykln

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Published by: Naraykln on Jun 26, 2009
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08/21/2010

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The Art of the Finish: How to Go From Busy toAccomplished 
Today I have a treat for you. Cal Newport from
Study Hacks
is going to share some of hisinsights on productivity. Cal is also the author of  How to Become a Straight-A Student and  How to Win at College. He is currently studying for a PhD at MIT.
Last August, I published an essay on my blog,Study Hacks, that was titled:Productivity is Overrated. The basic idea: productivity systems, like Getting Things Done, reduce stress andhelp you keep track of your obligations, they do not, however, make you accomplished. In fact,
Iwould go so far as to say that the act of becoming accomplished is almost entirely unrelatedto being productive.Productivity is Overrated
 That is, the two don’t need to go together. Indeed, as an author, I’ve spent the past five yearsresearching and interviewing unusually accomplished young people, and I would estimate thatthe
majority
of them are terribly disorganized. The minority that did have good productivityhabits were certainly less stressed. But it played little role in predicting their ultimate success.
What Accomplished People Do Differently
From my experience, the most common trait you will consistently observe in accomplishedpeople is an obsession with completion. Once a project falls into their horizon, they crave, almostcompulsively, to finish it. If they’re organized, this might happen in scheduled chunks. If they’renot — like many — this might happen in all-nighters. But they get it done. Fast and consistently.
It’s this constant stream of 
 finishing
that begins, over time, to unlock more and moreinteresting opportunities and eventually leads to their big scores.
 
 
If you are productive without harboring this intense desire for completion, you will end up justbeing busy. We all know the feeling. You work all day off of your to-do list. Everything isorganized. Everything is scheduled. Yet, still, months pass with no important projects gettingaccomplished.
 In this post, I want to present a simple system, based on my observation of the highlyaccomplished, that will help you cultivate your own completion obsession.
 
Introducing Completion-Centric Planning
 With traditional GTD-style methodology, during each day, you look at your current context andat your next action lists and choose what to do next. It’s easy, in this case, to fall into a
infinitetask loop
where you are consistently accomplishing little actions from your next action lists butmaking little progress toward completing the big projects. This is what I call theZeno’sParadox of Productivity. Give me any project, and I can fill days with easy, fun little tasks on the projectwithout ever finishing it.Here’s the reality:
Real accomplishments require really hard pushes.
GTD style, “oneindependent task at a time” productivity systems make it easy to avoid these pushes by insteaddoing a lot of little easy things.Completion-centric planning rectifies this problem. It refocuses you on
completion
of projects —not tasks — as the central organizing principle for each day. It works as follows:
Setup: Construct a Project Page
 Using a single-paged document in your favorite word processor, do the following:1.
 
Make an Active Projects List
List 6 - 12 of the most important projects in your life. Pull from all three relevant spheres:
 professional 
(e.g., school or work related);
 personal 
(e.g., home, family, fitness); and
extra
(e.g., big projects like blogging, writing a book, starting a club).2.
 
Label Each Project With A Completion Criteria
To quote David Allen, to finish a project you must “know what done looks like.” Next toeach project type a concise description of what action must be completed for the projectto be completed. (When you do this, you’ll notice how easy it was for you before to think about projects in a much more ambiguous, impossible to complete style).3.
 
Label the Bottom Half of the Page as a “Holding Pen”
 This is where you can jot down new projects that enter your life while you’re working onthe active projects. They can be stored here until you complete the current batch.
Example: My Current Project Page
 Below is my current project page, just started, on October 12th. Excuse the wrinkles, I keep it inmy pocket all day:
 
 
Using the System: The Daily Check-In
 Each morning, look at your project page and ask: “
What’s the most progress I can make toward completing this list today?
” Your biggest goal should be to complete projects. If you see a way todo it (even if it requires a big push, perhaps working late) go for it. If you can’t finish one, think of the single thing you could do that would get you closest to this goal over the next few days.Harbor an obsession for killing this list!At the same time, of course, you should still reference your existing productivity system. Outsideof your projects you probably have other, more mundane tasks that need to get done. Your goalhere is to make as much progress on your projects as possible
despite
the other responsibilitiesyou have each day.
Finishing: Rest and Reload
Don’t start new projects until you’ve finished the projects on your current project page. If youdynamically repopulate this list your are liable to let the least fun projects lie fallow indefinitely.If you come up with new project ideas before you complete the current active projects, simply jotthem down in your holding pen.Work as hard as possible to finish your projects as fast as possible.
Once done, take a break.For at least a week.
Try to do a minimum of work during this time. Recharge. Then, onceyou’re ready, build a new project page and start over again.
Why This Works
 

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