The hard thing about finishing

This article is my first original piece posted on Medium.  If you are on Medium, make sure you follow me!

The hard thing about finishing

It is really easy to start something. Especially today in our digital world where the tools to translate ideas into action literally at your fingertips.

I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to starting things. I have started lots of things. We have all started things. But for some reason, for the longest time I have found it really hard to finish things worth finishing.

Maybe you have a new business idea? Maybe it was a project at work? Maybe you were going to the gym to increase your strength?

After a flurry of activity at the start… after a while you start to lose motivation. Life gets in the way. Something new and more interesting comes along and captures your attention. And before you know it, that think you needed to finish is no where near complete. Finishing things is hard!

But what sets starters apart from the finishers?

Over years of “false starts” I have started to realise what the secret sauce is for finishing (or if there is no finish line, how to focus on incremental (or exponential) growth).

As I type this article I realise what I am about to say is complete common sense. The problem is that I didn’t have the common sense to realise it when I needed to. I suspect if you find finishing things hard… that you may not have the common sense to realise it either.

It is simple. Commit to doing a little bit every day. And share your progress with others.

Whilst the above statement certainly does not sound earth shattering, the impact of doing just that certainly is. Doing something daily adds up very quickly over time.

Here is an example. You know that your $5 coffee every day is costing you over $1500 every year right? Paying $1500 is tough. Paying $5 per day is easy. Simply focusing on small short term wins every day takes the pain out of finishing things.

And from my experience the return on your investment of emotional, intellectual and physical energy compounds — just like if you put that $5 per day in a high interest bank account, or an index fund.

Sharing your progress with others not only helps you stay accountable to execute daily, but also allows you to feed on the energy of your supporters — the kick in the pants you need if you ever start wavering from your goals.

So whether you are trying to finish your Masters thesis (just like me), or wanting to finish an Olympic distance triathlon in under 2 hours 45 minutes (just like me), or are wanting to grow your business 2 fold every year (just like me)… make a commitment to yourself to take action every day and share your progress with others.

Because one day… you will look back and be surprised where it took you!

Blast from the past: 10 Lessons I learned as an intern at Microsoft

This afternoon I spent an hour looking over some of my original posts here at I first started blogging in 2005-2006 – over 8 years ago now, over that time I have posted 100s of posts – including essays like “The Productivity Myth” which was nexus of an idea which would become the Business Productivity Services team at Data#3, through to the time I got an email from Bill Gates.  Whilst my publishing has been very “ad-hoc” over that time, there was one post I read stuck out though.  Back on 23 July 2006 I posted the classic car insurance 10 things that I learned during my one year as an intern at Microsoft.  Looking back at this list it is amazing that 100% of it still holds true today – and how that 12 months set a very solid foundation for my career (and career growth) since then.

Here is what I wrote…

I thought it would be great to share with everyone the top ten lessons I learned whilst an Intern at Microsoft.  The following list essentially is how I continue to analyse what I am doing every day… to keep on track.  Hopefully you will also find it a useful tool.

In no particular order…

10) Be Passionate
Dive in and give it your all.  Be excited, believe, and most of all encourage everyone else to believe as well!

9) Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
This is a big one!  12 months ago I was a nervous wreck whenever I even thought about presenting to a small group of people (… I was even nervous when I didn’t have to speak!).  Now I absolutely love getting up on stage and sharing a story with 5 people, or 155 people.  I would never have found this out if I had not stepped out of my comfort zone.  Likewise, when I went to university I stepped out of my comfort zone and picked a major I had no real interest in before, and now I absolutely love anything to do with Marketing.

Step out of your comfort zone, and live!

8) Take on Big Challenges
… because when you succeed, it is sooooooo much sweeter!

7) Give More
Live to give, do not live to receive.  Not only does it get peoples attention (which is great for building relationships), but you will get much more in return.  Offer to take notes at the meeting (you are the one writing the history books. As a friend of mine once said… “He who controls the definitions, controls the argument“), offer to present at the user group (you are the one igniting the passion of many in the room), offer to take the stretch assignment or the big challenge (people will remember you!).

Plus, it feels great to give.  Trust me!

6) Soak Up All That You Can
Try to learn as much as you can from as many people as possible.  Learn from their mistakes, their experience, and their stories.  Pick up as much advice as you can.

But don’t just soak it all up, actually use the information gathered in your analysis, your processes, and your decisions.  Act on what you have learnt.

5) Don’t be Afraid to ‘Geek It Up’
… just be sure to do it at your pace, and with products/technology you love.  Everyone I met at Microsoft did this (although many will not share that publicly!).  Whether it be Virtualisation and Development, or Cars and Photography, make sure you have something you can really stick your teeth into and know in depth.  Because there will always be someone, somewhere that you can strike up a conversation with, and build a relationship very quickly based on your knowledge of a particular topic.

So if you want to get to know me, lets ‘Geek It Up’ and talk about Flying Aircraft, Digital SLRs, or v.Next Software (or all three!)

4) The Result of Taking Shortcuts is ALWAYS Less Than You Expect
I have never really been one for taking shortcuts in the past, but this time I thought I could get away with it.  I can’t think of one time in history where this lesson hasn’t held true.  In this instance I had a product brochure (for BizTalk Server 2006) in PDF format, with all the extra bits that professional printing places need to figure out colour matching, where to cut the paper etc.  Being a little tight, I thought I could get away with simply printing the brochure on our unreliable colour laser printer at work, and then get the good old guillotine out and cut the pages to fit.

End result was a pretty lack luster colour, uneven cuts, and an overall unprofessional feel to the printed document.  Sure it saved me $500, but I am pretty confident that it also saved a majority of customers tens of thousands of their dollars for disregarding the product based on their first impressions alone… the brochure.

3) Do Not Tell a Cab Driver Who You Work For!
… unless you have quickly refreshed basic PC troubleshooting 101, the latest deals at Dell, and most importantly what garbage was published about computers in the weekend paper.  At one stage I was commuting to a client site in a cab every day for 3 weeks.  I learnt this lesson very quickly.  Every now and then there were days I would wear a Microsoft shirt.  You can’t talk your way out of that one!  They were the bad trips.

Note this lesson also applies to people sitting beside you on Aircraft, whilst waiting in Airports, sitting on the bus etc.

2) Relationships, Relationships, Relationships
Everyone by know should know that it not what you know, but who you know that gets you anywhere in this world.  From a personal perspective, all my job offers when I left Microsoft were unadvertised positions (some even created just for me!), and all were from people who I had a professional relationship with already.

The worlds economy runs on trust… people need to know you before investing in you.  Sure… pieces of paper and letters after your name count, but in the end the key differentiator for between you and another candidate, or your company, and another company, is the level of trust in the relationship.  No relationship = no trust = no sale, or no job offer.

Plus it is nice to have plenty of friends :)

1) Change the World Every Day
Otherwise it gets harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning.

What are the lessons you have learned from your current job or project??

Nigel Marsh on Work-life Balance

One of my favourite videos from TED… this presentation by Nigel Marsh at TEDx Sydney is an interesting perspective on the idea of practical work-life balance.  Managing your boundary between work and home, and how small changes in your approach to your day can positively influence your relationship with your family, and yourself.


What small changes are you planning to make today to swing the balance back in your favour?