​Although the push for efficient productivity seems to be waning, the desire to discover a new app, method, or model to spur a project to completion will always wax. We’ve read lots of books and implemented lots of models, and—lucky for you!—we’ve discovered the secret.

The best way to finish a project is also the simplest: First, define your audience, your message, and your method. Then, create a shared calendar or timeline. Third, stick to it.

Project completion is often obstructed by too many people knowing too little. This is a variation on the old too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen trope. Typically, the issue is not that there are too many bodies working over one stove, it’s that few of these bodies can be considered “cooks,” and none of them are working with a recipe.

Do better by designating yourself the chef and creating a recipe that anyone can follow. In terms of a project, this means straightforwardly defining—but then recording and sharing—your specific audience, your message to them, and the most efficient, most welcome form of delivery.

For a nonprofit communications project, this might mean that after you determine a fundraising goal, you identify your supporters most likely to contribute to that goal, and then develop a social media-based fundraising campaign and marketing collateral that will reach and reward them. For a coauthored book project, this might mean that after you determine a self-help-book goal, you determine readers most likely to be moved by your message, and then develop an organization scheme that will reach and resonate with them.

If you want to finish a project with a minimum of detours, it’s necessary to do this relatively low-effort work. If also necessary to create—and to record and share—a calendar or timeline.

We’ve frequently discussed calendars in terms of editorial calendars—and those are great. However, our nonprofit and book-making clients are often overwhelmed by the inputs required by the editorial-calendar format. For these clients—and for you—a calendar can be as simple as an auto-formatted Google Sheet that breaks down the calendar you’re already using in a more granular, more accountability-fostering way.

Ultimately, project completion requires getting back to basics: Defining and sharing your audience, your message, and your method ensures everyone is on the same page. Putting together a project calendar will provoke participation, and sticking to it promises completion.