The one secret you need to: write a book, earn millions, and save the environment (it’s called completion).

Updated to Habits on December 14, 2022.

I’ve got a dirty secret for you. Maybe it’s one of the best kept secrets of uber-successful people – I don’t know – I just know it works like a damn. It’s called completion.

You might be thinking: here we go with more mother and apple-pie advice that’s too simplistic for my zoom, zoom, digital world – right? Fine, here’s the deal: if you’re so awesome at completing things, pat yourself on the back and I’ll see you next week (maybe that blog will be on self-delusion).

If not, maybe take 4.2 minutes and read this.

3 juys insert

  • Stephen King didn’t become the world’s most prolific novelists (over 60 full length works of fiction and almost 200 short stories) by half-starting books.
  • Richard Branson didn’t build a $50 Billion empire by just talking about great business ideas.
  • and Elon Musk didn’t become (among other things) the largest solar power provider in America by just researching his ideas.

They all finished what they started or abandoned the idea. Decisive, done, finito.

Now, think about your day…you scan your inbox, open an email from a colleague, decide to respond later, mark it unread, see a proposal you’re working on, pick it up, think about getting advice, the phone rings, you answer their questions, go to Facebook, see an update, respond, scan your To-Do list – feel undecided, Oh! that colleague emailed again asking for a response. Now, frustrated, you go on-line searching for a better way to manage emails. Oops, you have a conference call in 30 minutes. You get up, go to the other room to get the file. But, now, because you’re in your 50’s, you find yourself standing in the other room not quite sure why you went there. Ah! The file, back at your desk, six more emails have come in. Damn! I won’t be ready for the conference call! Just then your phone buzzes, it’s your child, can he go to a friend’s after school?

But, now, because you’re in your 50’s, you find yourself standing in the other room not quite sure why you went there.

Sound familiar?

Dozens of lane switching, maybe hundreds, and nothing completed.

When you complete you win. You cross tasks off, move the project forward, get results and build confidence. Plus, your sub-conscious learns you’re not someone that flits between bright shiny objects, and thrives on drama – you get stuff done.

It’s no wonder there are now tools to keep us honest. Like Stickk – a site where you make a commitment (lose weight, stop biting your nails, stop calling your ex, whatever), place a wager, even have that wager go to your “anticharity” of choice. There’s also Covenant Eyes which monitors your on-line activity then emails that list to your “accountability partner”, say your spouse or boss.

And there are simple changes you can make, starting today.


I’m no different – bright shiny objects easily lure me away and before I know it I’m eight To-Do’s from where I started and spinning my minutes on low-value tasks. Here are four simple ways to practice completion every day. Pick one and, you guessed it, complete it for just a week.

before I know it I’m eight To-Do’s from where I started and spinning my minutes on low-value tasks.

1. start with intention – decide the kind of day you’re going to have and what will keep you on track. Psychologists call this “implementation intention” which can be an if-this-then-that type response. For example, after every interruption I will return to my Flight Plan (top priorities for the week).

2. remove temptations – AA has great advice for recovering alcoholics: “If you don’t want to slip, don’t go where it’s slippery.” Create a work environment that allows you to complete: remove all business cards, mail, unfinished work, laundry lists of unfinished work, close your email tool and other software, turn off all pop-up reminders.

3. batch email – the simplest way to spend less time on email and be more decisive is to batch it. In one study, batching email into a minimum of 15 minute blocks of time (and not going near email in between, which might be for an hour at a time) resulted in no loss of productivity. The only challenge was to convince the subject in the experiment that the world would not end while they were off email, working on more important work. (see also “15 ways to spend less time on email”)

4. work from Boundaries – a boundary is a reoccurring block of time when you are strategically unavailable. It’s no different than being in a meeting, having lunch with a client, or traveling to a conference – there are times when you need to be unavailable. My first boundary, at work, is from 9:00 to 10:30 when I get done 50% of the hardest work of the day. Ten minutes of email triage and then it’s completion time. That single boundary sets me up for success for the rest of the day.

The world is conspiring to keep us busy. Fitbits, iwatches, ubiquitous wifi, and smartphones are great and all distract us from completion. Let’s get real: there’s no award for the most Facebook posts or number of tasks done in a day – we are only measured on what we completed.

What do you need to complete today? I’m curious to know what you do to get things done and off your list – tell me in the comments below!

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