For some of us, project ideas come a dime a dozen. We’re self-starters who are motivated and idea-rich. For others, we’re able to hone in on just a handful of profound ideas that mean the world to us and leave everything else off that idea list. It doesn’t matter which end of the inspiration spectrum we lean toward — we all can have a difficult time making our ideas become reality.

We struggle to move our ideas to finished projects because:

  1. We haven’t turned our idea into a project.
  2. We haven’t created SMART goals for the project.
  3. We haven’t drawn a roadmap for the project.
  4. We haven’t built a team for the project.

Each of these steps are important for taking catalyst of our ideas, and turning that kindling for our fire into the bonfire of the work itself, the blaze that shines the light of our unique, best work into the world. So let’s take these fire-building steps one at a time.

1. We haven’t turned our idea into a project.

We don’t do ideas — we do projects.

So before we do anything else, we need to turn our idea into a project. This takes a mindset shift but also some tangible, big-picture action items:

  1. Start at the end and know what you’re trying to accomplish. Grab a pen and some paper and write this down in bold letters. “I want to _____.”
  2. And just as our habit tracker teaches us to know our why, write down why this project is important to you. What will be the benefit when this project is complete? Simon Sinek talks about the power of why in a well-known TED Talk — the why is what carries us, motivates us to action, and encourages us when we’re slogging through the hard parts. It’s the compelling part that differentiates from all other items.
  3. Who will the end result affect? Aside from ourselves, who are the beneficiaries of this work? List them (and be prepared to include them in our success pack — see #4). For many of us, knowing who else will benefit from this work gives greater clarity and weight to our why, and stronger motivation for completing our project.

These questions are usually easy to respond to, but when we fully embrace the heft and power of our ideas, the impact they’ll have, and the legacy they can carry far into the future, we’re so much more likely to continue pursuing our goals.

2. We haven’t created a SMART goal framework.

We have to come face to face with the project and ourselves. This can be difficult because it means we have to get into the nitty-gritty of all the “stuff.” We have to get honest about our abilities and our weaknesses, our time and availability, and all the other things in life we’re juggling as we add this new project to our life.

SMART goals are vital because they force us to confront the difficulties that often trip us up and find a way through instead of stalling out. SMART goals are always:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable
  • Realistic
  • Trackable

Each of these elements is important to the success of a project. If we aren’t specific, we can wobble off course and get stuck in project paralysis. If things aren’t measurable, we’ll have no way of knowing how far along we are on the project path. If we don’t make things actionable (i.e., start every goal with an action verb), goals lose punch and efficiency, and important details get missed. If we’re not realistic in our planning, discouragement can set in, financial hardship can hit, and the final end date can stretch out indefinitely. And if we don’t make things trackable we can easily miss key points throughout the project that can make or break our success. SMART goals are just that — smart.

3. We haven’t drawn a roadmap.

Getting from one point to another in the car is great when we have our navigation system up and running. We get turn-by-turn directions, an ETA, and are notified of heavy traffic and roadblocks along the way.

The same is true of project planning. It’s great to have the idea, know our way, be specific about our goals, and have a great set of cheerleaders surrounding us. But in the end, we have to get in the car and drive.

Chunking down the entire project into two-hour tasks is vital. These are our turn-by-turn directions that keep us from getting lost. This requires effort and discipline every single quarter, and keeping every month, every week, and every day in line with that quarterly goal. It means being willing to be flexible as we learn more and more about how we’re most productive, building habits that support our productivity and visualizing the end of the project continually at every step.

4. We haven’t built a team.

Projects can be daunting in their scope, even with the best plans. Doing it all alone is almost impossible. That’s where building a team — or success pack — to support us and our project becomes vital to staying on track and seeing our project to completion.

Our success pack may include guides who are willing to help us strategize at various points along the way or supporters to provide additional juice to help us work through difficult patches. They may be the peers who connect us with others who are vital to the ultimate success of the project. They may be those guides or peers or supporters who check in with us each month or each quarter, to hold us accountable for the goals we’ve set.

And they might be our beneficiaries: those who are waiting out in the world to receive our best work. That’s why completing projects is so critical. We can’t grace our beneficiaries with our best if we don’t finish it and deliver it to them.

Which Number Is Your Nemesis?

Which of these challenges are you facing in your current project? Is there one glaring issue of the four that, if you stopped and dealt with it, would most help you move your project forward?

Keep in mind, too, that we may (and most likely do) have several of these challenges working on us at the same time. If that’s you, how might you prioritize tackling those multiple challenges? For example, might building your team provide support and alleviate the stress of creating a roadmap, or making your goals SMART?

In every project, these challenges are real. But so are the victories. By turning these challenges into action steps, we all can achieve the focus and support necessary to go from idea to done. You’ve got this, and you can start finishing your projects.

Need additional support or detail on these challenges and others as you strive to finish your project? My book, Start Finishing, distills more than a decade of experience into a step-by-step process for you to projectize your ideas and finish them.

Originally published at


  • Charlie Gilkey

    Author, Speaker, Business Strategist, Coach

    Charlie Gilkey helps people start finish the stuff that matters. He's the founder of Productive Flourishing, author of the forthcoming Start Finishing and The Small Business Lifecycle, and host of the Productive Flourishing podcast. Prior to starting Productive Flourishing, Charlie was a Joint Force Military Logistics Coordinator while simultaneously pursuing a PhD in Philosophy. He lives with his wife, Angela, in Portland, Oregon.