As I finished grilling out the other day, I was reminded of the biggest secret to achieving sustained success in anything.
Most people are familiar with the phrase, Begin with the end in mind. It’s the second of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s incredibly useful advice that applies to everything from grocery shopping to succession planning.
Far fewer people, however, understand or practice the habit of Ending with the beginning in mind. This habit is where you make your money. Where the battle is won or lost. Where the seeds of success are sewn.
Most of us, when we near the completion of something—anything—can’t wait to finish and move on. The only reason we linger is to celebrate our successes or to mull over our mistakes. The exceptional leader, however, finishes well not by looking backward, but by looking forward—and setting themselves and their team up for future success.
The concept is simple, but not easily executed. It takes a great deal of discipline—when you’re exhausted and excited about being done—to focus on preparing for “next time”. In the Army, no operation was complete and no one was released until all our vehicles and aircraft were washed and refueled and all our equipment was cleaned and accounted for.
Here are nine areas to practice ending with the beginning in mind. Some are fun. Some are serious. All of them build the habit.
1. Clean the grill directly after cooking. A buddy from flight school taught me this. Take some water and wash your grill while it’s still hot—it’s easier, faster and you’ll be all set for next time.
2. End meetings thinking about the next one. Leave time to discuss who is doing what between now and your next get-together. Agree on where and when that next meeting is, as well as who should attend.
3. Stretch after exercising. A little stretching before you run is good, it warms and loosens your body, but taking time to stretch your muscles after your workout is where you build the flexibility that will keep you safe during your next session.
4. Clean the dishes right after eating. I think you can work out the benefits of this one on your own.
5. Wash your bike/motorcycle/horse after a long ride. If you want your ride to take care of you, you must take care of it. Never put it away wet, dirty, or empty.
6. End today thinking about tomorrow. Lay out your exercise clothes. Fix your lunch. Set your alarm. Decide on your priorities for the next morning.
7. Cue the music. When you leave your car (or music player) in the evening, take a few moments to cue up the song you want to start your commute with in the morning. (My wife often surprises me with this one)
8. Think about Monday on Friday. Tom Peters is constantly reminding people before the week starts to script their first 5 plays for Monday morning. Don’t let Monday surprise you. You surprise it!
9. Don’t turn your clothes inside out. Before throwing them in the laundry hamper, make sure your clothes are turned right-side out. It takes no time at all but makes folding laundry much quicker.
This list is just the beginning. Odds are if you’re finishing a recurring task or event, you can find a way to invest a little time at the end that will pay big dividends the next time around.
Where do you end with the beginning in mind?