Time to pull the trigger. Or just add a few more finishing touches. Time to wrap up the research phase, or just get a bit more data. Time to LAUNCH, or just get a few more testimonials. Time to hit publish, or just re-write that one chapter.
Or maybe…maybe your work is really finished. It’s time.
The bottom line is that you’ll know when you know. Except, if fear gets in the way — from mild doubts to extreme performance anxiety, it becomes hard to know when you know. Here are some ideas for knowing when your work is really finished:
Fear can be a persnickety perfectionist. You might think that you’re being responsible and high-standard’ed (new word), and all like, impeccable — but fear might be stringing you right along. Because if you keep on perfecting you don’t really have to launch now. Or ever. And if you keep perfecting maybe you can avoid some criticism, because perfectionism loves to people please. Even though perfectionism acts like it doesn’t give a shit about what anyone thinks, it does.
One of my favourite genius friends, like a for real genius human because he took the official smart person test (the test that the rest of us don’t even know where to apply to take it), anyway, he drew a little diagram for me and passed it to me in a meeting I was trying to run. A stickman was aiming his arrow at a target marked “PERFECTION”. The arrow was going to miss the target and land on “BEAUTY”. Moral of the napkin drawing:
Hey! AIM for perfection, but it’s out of reach. And hey! That’s okay, because you’ll probably land on something beautiful…maybe your work is really finished. It’s time.
Fatigue doesn’t mean it’s time to pack it in yet. Sometimes exhaustion is THE indicator to be DONE. Absolutely and unequivocally, wrap it up. And I’m the first one to say that if something’s draining the life out of you — quit. But…so many worthwhile things are juuust…fuh-cking…ex-hauust-ing. Every new parent will attest. Every athlete. Anyone who’s delivered a manuscript, a play, a pageant, or a product to market — anyone who’s ever done something bigger than themselves. And when you’re doing something epic and innovative, or something deeply caring and restorative, you don’t let fatigue get the better of you because you know that…maybe you’re not finished. It’s not time yet.
You’re finished when you want to move on. Sounds trite, but a lot of us ignore the inner call to just be done with it. Maybe your work is really finished — just because you want to do other things more. And so, it’s time.
Beware of these words: grinding, cranking, heaving, plowing, crawling. If you are using these terms VERY OFTEN to describe your final phase — well that’s a drag. The last 10% of the project can feel like 90% of the work. So ya, it can be a grind. But the final stretch should be full of exhilaration and optimism and anticipation. When those good things run out, then maybe your work is really finished. It’s time.
You feel deep calmness, even tho’ you’re totally spent. I can always tell when a written chapter is done because I sleep great that night. And it’s not that I sleep well because I burned the midnight oil. It’s because I’m content with what I made. Calm AND spent. Delighted exhaustion. Maybe your work is really finished. It’s time.
Your team resents you. My experience is that when you’re aiming to make a difference and do your best work in the world, people will get on board, fully. They’ll stay up late, they’ll triple check details, they’ll ask hard questions before a deadline. But when you start looking for BIG, SUBSTANTIAL, NEW things to add to the project at the last minute (probably because you’re feeling insecure or because you’re addicted to chaos), then your crew says through clenched teeth, maybe our work is really finished. It’s time. Then it’s very likely that your work is really finished. It’s time.
You’ve simplified as much as possible. Any sculptor or mathematician will tell you that the most beautiful solution is the simplest one. And that to get there, you just keep removing everything extraneous. When you’ve distilled your speech down to the one paragraph that says it all, when you’ve you sanded the wood to its grain, when it can be easily understood by the people you want to understand it, maybe your work is really finished. It’s time.
It starts to feel confusing, sticky, cluster-fucky, or circular. Stop. Feeling light is always right. Maybe your work is really finished. It’s time.
Your whole body exhales. Your body knows before your mind does. Always. And THAT’S when you know to keep going, or…maybe your work is really finished. And it’s time.