Keep the momentum – don’t fizzle out

Hard work pays off later, laziness pays off now.

Many times in life we decide to pursue a goal (personally or professionally) and jump right in with excitement looking toward the positive benefits we hope to achieve.  It’s often easy at the outset of a decision to see the end goal and the benefits without all the intervening work and struggle.  Frequently the means (often hard work and consistency) get in the way, and we struggle to maintain that initial momentum.  Let me offer an example.  As a first-time home buyer, and having a background in home construction, I thought it was a brilliant idea to buy a fixer-upper for my primary residence that I could easily renovate for some quick sweat equity.  I can imagine many of you thinking, “I know where this story is headed”.  Well call me naïve if you will or maybe just over-zealous.

After three years of spending many nights and weekends working, dealing with constant messes and dust, and a less-than-enthusiastic spouse, I have some observations that resonate with my professional experience.  The first month it was easy to be motivated thinking of that big payoff on closing day, but as time wore on the reward seemed much more distant than the headaches that were front and center, such as being without a kitchen for much of June.  It’s not that the goal or decision was bad — in fact, I did see great benefit in home value.  I just didn’t realize the full effort required, and needed to plow through.

There were a number of things that helped keep the ball rolling.  It was critical to have a real sense of purpose in the short and long term – immediate comfort now and later higher resale value.  What I also found time and again was that I needed a sense of urgency to finish the house…purpose alone wasn’t enough for me.  I was literally putting up the last light fixture the night it went on the market.  This is where setting interim, or even artificial, deadlines can be useful.  Finally, being able to track and see progress was big in keeping motivation. Detailed project plans, and subsequent “punch lists”, are popular and useful to the builder for a reason:  nothing is quite as motivating as seeing clear progress toward a goal.  At the end of the day, and to close out my home renovation epic, just this week we sold the place for significantly more than we bought it for, market adjustments included.  Turns out it was worth it.

Taking this into the professional realm, imagine we sit through a strategy off site and decide to take any number of actions in support of our organizational goals – assuming we have goals but that’s another topic.  Let’s say one action is to develop/implement a better process for tracking resources. It’s a good idea with potential to better meet client needs, track performance, and drive efficiency…but we need to understand and plan for the effort required and be prepared to pay the price.  It requires a lot more work, with short and long term actions.

Given these two scenarios, here are some basic principles I’ve found useful for keeping momentum:

  • Have a Purpose
    • Don’t undertake something that doesn’t have a clear and explainable benefit
    • Maintain a common sense of purpose – what’s in it for me?
  • Have a Plan
    • Create a plan with measurable tasks and milestones (think classic program management)
    • Celebrate success along the way – e.g., go to dinner when you finally finish painting that basement
    • Build in accountability for actions (owners and scheduled check ins)
  • Maintain Urgency
    • Set and meet deadline (see “Have a Plan”)
    • Keep an eye on the big picture – why did we start this in the first place?
    • Motivate through focus on achieving both short and long-term benefits
    • Model culture of energy and positivity – nothing kills momentum like negativity

These ideas are only the tip of the iceberg here.  What techniques have you seen that help individuals or teams keep the ball rolling?