Learning · Smart Thinking

Starting and finishing, and the bit in between

We all have strengths and weaknesses. We all have a strength for starting projects, or for finishing them, or for the bit in between (maintaining or managing projects). Similarly we all have a weakness in one of these three areas. You might be one of those very rare people who is equally good at all three things: starting, managing and finishing. I have one friend who might fit that description. Most of us do not.

I came across this concept on a training course over 10 years ago and it has played on my mind since then. Many of the topics covered on such training courses (which fall into the category of personal productivity or personal development, or Smart Thinking or Self-Help, according to your preference) can be found in a variety of places. Concepts like Pareto’s Law (and 80/20 thinking) or avoiding judgment or the difference between Introverts and Extroverts come up again and again in training materials and general reading, but the subject of Starters and Finishers has not. Before digging any further into it I want to finish this short piece as an introduction to the topic.

My strength (in my view) is for finishing things and my weakness is in starting things. It took a long time to get this Blog started and available to read. Some of these pieces (including this one) were first drafted over three years ago, with the aim of posting them in the summer of 2013. Now that there are over 160 posts (and over 100,000 words) I have done what I set out to do: set up a Blog and posted some content. My natural inclination is to stop, to regard the job as done, and move onto something else, but I plan to post regularly even though part of me wants to write “The End” and then look back at what has been achieved. I get a sense of completion with each item that is posted, so that satisfies my need to finish things.

An idea as simple as this (knowing whether your strength is as a Starter, a Manager or a Finisher) may be all you need to take your next step, or to make decisions both big and small. Does the work that you do, the career that you have chosen or fallen into, suit your specific strength?

Most of my work in the last 20 years has been project-based. It suits me. Even if a new project begins the day after a previous one has finished I still welcome a sense of completion. I get the same feeling in smaller ways – when reading a book, or even finishing a cup of coffee. However enjoyable the process of reading might be I still want to finish the book. When describing a book or a movie I have never used the expression, “I didn’t want it to end”. I always want it to end, and move onto something else. For favourite books and movies I go back and read or watch them again. Unlike some members of my family I will never leave a half-drunk cup of coffee lying around for hours, with the attendant risk of it being knocked over and staining the carpet. But people who are unable to finish a cup of coffee are probably very good at starting projects. I understand that.

On that training course, over 10 years ago, the trainer confidently linked starting and finishing with other personality traits. He told us that people whose strength is for starting things are likely to be happy with how they are; people who are best at managing things are happy with what they do; and Finishers are happy with what they have. For some reason this relationship has never stuck in my mind. It has never felt instinctive. I even keep a reminder of it on my phone and will finish this piece with that reminder, so that I’ll know where it is.

Starting = being
Managing = doing
Finishing = having

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