Wednesday, November 19, 2014

My Year of Finishing Projects

by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

I write this post with my head hanging in shame.

After finishing a huge editing project of a 500 page translated book, I feel a sense of relief and some sense of accomplishment, but not much.

It took me almost eight years to finish this project, and it didn’t have to. In those eight years, the original author had even passed away. Granted, the book was long, the editing tedious, and I did it in my spare time.

But it did not have to take eight years.

I could have finished it before getting married. I could have finished it before having my first child. I could have finished it before having my second child.

But now that it is done, and in the hands of the publisher, I will share the lessons I have learned from this shamefully accomplished project, and what finally motivated me to finish it.

Lesson 1: When committing to a project, carve out the time to do it. I often listed this project as a task to get done on a day or a week, but I didn’t block out the time in my schedule for it. If I had allotted simply 30 minutes a day to work on it from the beginning, it would have been done in two years, not eight. Because I did not do so, the task was done in fits and spurts – I would get 30 pages done in one sitting, then go back to it five months later, after putting it on the back burner to more urgent tasks. This is a lesson in discipline, project management, and time management. This free ebook, How to Work for Yourself, shares some good ideas for how to carve out those needed minutes and hours. I wish I had read it eight years ago.

Lesson 2: I work better when I work with other people. Editing is a solitary and tedious job. It takes time and concentration, and usually involves me and a computer, or piece of paper and a pen. However, when I joined a translation committee, and there were others who were now checking the sections I edited against the original language, I moved more quickly. It became a team effort, and my teammates were reviewing sections of the book faster than I was editing them – which motivated me to finish more quickly. This means that I should figure out a way to make future projects also team efforts – even when they don’t seem so at first.

Lesson 3: I work well with deadlines. The final push for me to get this done was when the publisher started pressing for the final manuscript, and the translator started holding me accountable. The pressure was on, but because it had taken me so long, I still had to balance this task with responsibilities I did not have when I first started. The lesson for me on future projects that don’t have external deadlines is to create them – perhaps by asking others to hold me accountable to a deadline I have set, or by vowing not to move on to a new, more exciting project till I finish the one I’m working on now.

Eleven months into 2014, I’m sharing my new year’s resolution because I decided writing how I finished a long term project would be more useful than writing about my intentions to do so. 

What helps you accomplish projects you have started? Please share your tips and ideas!