The Importance of Being “a Finisher”

Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work, has invested years studying the habits of successful people, and he believes the most common trait in successful people is their compulsion with completion. They are finishers. They may finish in different ways, depending on their personality or approach to work, but they are committed to finishing. He wrote: “If they’re organized, this might happen in scheduled chunks. If they’re not, this might happen in all-nighters. But they get it done. Fast and consistently.”

For Christians, there is a holy perspective to finishing. Our King finishes what He starts. As Christians, we desire to display the characteristics of our Father. Because He is holy, we desire to walk in holiness. Because He is love, we seek to love. Because He is gracious, generous, and compassionate, we desire to be people who are the same. He also finishes what He starts. He finished the work for us on the cross when He paid in full, not in part, for our sin. And He is going to keep working on us and in us until we are with Him in eternity. The apostle Paul reminded believers, “He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). When the apostle Paul knew he was about to die, he declared, “I have finished the race” (2 Timothy 4:7). He had walked faithfully, though not perfectly, with the Lord. Finishing the race as a Christian is much more important than finishing a project, but we can look to our Christian faith to motivate us to be a finisher in all that we do.

But how can we practically grow in our ability to finish what we start? How can we avoid being “90 percenters,” people who are great at starting things but struggle to complete them? Here are three suggestions:

1. Give yourself artificial deadlines.

One of the reasons people don’t finish is they run out of time because they fail to plan the pace of the project on the front end. They waste incredible amounts of time at the beginning and find themselves in a position as the deadline looms where there is more work than time. A solution is to break the project into smaller chunks and give yourself artificial deadlines for those smaller chunks. I do this, for example, when writing a book. I don’t just put the final deadline for the whole book in front of me but I also set deadlines for each chapter. (These are not real as the publisher does not hold me to these.) By having mini-deadlines that are artificial, I have always been able to deliver the project before the overall real deadline.

2. Finish in the small things.

Developing the discipline to finish in the small things will train you to be able to finish larger ones. If you don’t finish smaller projects, you won’t finish big ones. If you are not a faithful steward over a little, you won’t be a faithful steward over much. Ironically, some folks who don’t deliver on smaller projects insist they can manage larger ones.

3. Mark and celebrate the completion of whatever you finish.

When you finish something, mark the completion of it symbolically. It gives you the sense of accomplishment and finality to the project. This can be small, such as cleaning your desk off when important tasks from the day are done. Or this can be big, such as celebrating with the team when a project is completed. When you mark the completion of the project, you build into your mind (and the mind of your team) that finishing is what we do.

Don’t be a 90-percenter. Be a finisher.