"A job begun is a job half done", goes the old saying. Unfortunately for some of us, this phrase becomes quite literal and we end up with a long list of unfinished projects.
Is this true of you? Think about it – do you have projects you started with a lot of enthusiasm, and forgot about, as you jumped to the next one? A half-written manuscript for the play you've always wanted to write?
The law of inertia says that things that are put down stay down unless you pick them up again. Maybe not in these exact words, but the logic holds true – when you stop working on a task due to distractions or interruptions, you may find it difficult to pick them up again.
As a result, you end up missing deadlines, losing out on big projects, and in general, see some life goals slipping away. And the reasons for this can be many – procrastination, fear, distractions, to name a few. These are quite common too – research says 20% of individuals identify as chronic procrastinators.
All of these problems have solutions, whose main ingredients are focus, organization, consistency, and abandoning the pursuit of perfection. A dash of accountability helps too! Read on to learn more about why you never finish anything, and how you can break this habit.
Why You Have Unfinished Projects
Before we delve into solutions, it's important to identify the source of your inertia. Here are some common reasons people cite for abandoning their unfinished work:
If you're here reading up about unfinished work, you've definitely come across procrastination and all its evils. Sometimes we just can't bring ourselves to do anything, even if we've already half started the work. Everyone has low-energy days, but if you find yourself doing this too much, admit you're a procrastinator and find solutions!
Also, while procrastination may be your primary problem, it also manifests itself in other ways.
Fear of failure
When assigned a big project at work, it's natural to feel a sense of responsibility and pressure. If it does not go well, you could lose face at the office and your boss would be angry and disappointed. But the more you think about the negative consequences of failing, the more afraid you'll feel.
Then in a subconscious act of self-defence, you procrastinate on finishing the project for as long as possible, because, hey, no one can criticize the quality if it's not complete!
Think about whether this could be the reason why you never finish anything.
Pursuit of perfection
When it comes to taking up your dream goals, everyone wants the journey to be absolutely perfect so that it continues to inspire you and others. But there's never going to be a perfect time to start – and a point where everything is perfect, to finish. If you're still polishing up your work – tweaking the PowerPoint slides one last time, adding one last feature to the code before you ship, or giving your writing one last round of proofreading and revisions, for the forty-seventh time – stop!
And as a side note, remember, progress always trumps perfection.
Can't think of a new idea
Think of all those abandoned blogs on your website because you think they're not funny or unique enough. Or the book you've never published because one chapter doesn't just doesn't have that quirk you want. Creative people know it's always important to stand out and bring something new to the table, but you can't get to that exciting place without doing the work and learning from it to innovate.
Too scared to think about what's next
For some people, it's not the want of a new idea but rather a reluctance to think about it that holds them back. Once your project is over, you'll have to think of the future and what to do next. That's scary, which is why you may want to delay that moment for as long as possible.
Don't want to end the fun you're having with the task
Think of a book you enjoyed reading so much, you just didn't want it to end. Did you find yourself slowing down as the last page got closer? Some tasks are also like that – you're having so much fun just in the process, that you don't want things to change. But stop and ask yourself, is this making you want to self-sabotage and actually stop finishing things?
The goal is too difficult or boring
What if your goal is the opposite of fun, and something that you would rate in the same category as writing a 10-page paper in Latin – monotonous and hard? Boring tasks are part of any big goal, but if you just can't get the motivation to power through, then you'll be stuck in the same place for a long time.
Too much to do at once
Work, school, personal goals, and social life never wait for each other – it's all going on, demanding our attention at the same time, and we somehow need to find time to do everything. In this context, if your big-picture project does not have deadlines or can be pushed, it's likely to go lower and lower on your daily priority list.
How to get your goals actually done
Now that you've identified what's keeping you from finishing things, it's time to see how you can break the cycle, finish what you start, and start crossing off points from your to do list:
Reevaluate which goals actually need to get done
If you've let your projects stew for a long time, start by taking a look at your initial plan and see what actually needs to get done. Maybe some tasks are no longer relevant and can be skipped or replaced. Once you end up with a modified, shorter plan – and most importantly, a relevant plan, it won't seem too hard to get finished!
Create smaller and quicker milestones
You know what your end goal is, but you need to identify smaller milestones through which you can measure your progress. If your goal is to lose weight, decide your ideal range and plan how you're going to get to it. If you decide to diet, first aim for healthy eating, and then reduce the number of cheat days – a similar plan for workouts as well. As you pass these milestones, you'll gain momentum and start to get excited about reaching the finish line.
Set up a progress system
Get organized! Create a brand new daily schedule with your tasks planned in order of priority. If you have a lot to do and are worried you lack the discipline to finish things, set up a routine to help you get in a focused mindset. This could be, for example, an early morning workout routine so you feel pumped for the day, or maybe you get your big-picture goal first thing in the morning (we call this Eating the Frog!) so that you don't have a chance to procrastinate.
When it comes to setting your goals too, try the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant/Realistic, Time-Bound) method to ensure progress. Instead of just saying you'll work on your book, say you'll complete five chapters in 10 days by setting aside two hours each morning to write.
If you procrastinate by spending too much time on your phone or watching TV, keep yourself away from these devices! Set up a dedicated workspace with no distractions so your focus stays intact. Use something like our tool Dopanope to help you avoid time-wasting websites. You can even "schedule" an hour of distraction time, so you're not tempted while working.
Find new ideas for difficult tasks
If your way of doing the work is difficult, find some cheat codes! Consult a friend, family member, or expert on different ways to approach a task to see which one makes it quicker and more fun to do.
Let the work be not perfect - that's okay!
The first draft is always going to be riddled with errors. Rather than painstakingly fixing each one before you move on, just aim towards finishing things. You can always refine work that is already done, but you can't edit something that's not written.
Reward yourself for every step done
Finished studying for an hour? Get some ice cream! Or if you've gotten that A in the exam, go ahead and book yourself a weekend getaway. As you're working hard, you need to give yourself incentives to keep making progress – and these must obviously be proportionate. You can congratulate yourself for doing the dishes, but don't celebrate it with a sports car!
Develop tunnel vision
Sounds counterproductive, but when you have too many things to think about, it's easy to let your mind wander away from what's in front of you. So train yourself to keep your eyes and mind focused on the current task to ensure you get it done.
Get accountability through a coaching business/partner
This is my favorite one of course! Find an accountability coach or partner to keep you on your toes and ensure you're doing what you need to do, on time. Some services like Beeminder and Stickk even penalize you if you don't do as you've promised, adding that extra nudge.
And of course, you can always come to Boss as a Service for some guaranteed progress!
How BaaS helps you finish your goals
Our real (human) bosses will be with you throughout the entire journey, from start to finish, So if they feel you have to tendency to never finish anything, they'll call you out and work with you to bring down the walls and charge ahead till you finally reach your end goal.
Want to make sure you don't start something and then leave it to languish, when the new shinyness wears off? Just tell your Boss, and they'll make sure you actually see it through.
We also have a ton of productivity tools and techniques to ensure you're starting with a good mindset and are geared towards success. Some of them may surprise you and even change your life!
We also have our periodic challenges to help you gain more support from a community of people in the same boat as you, as you work with proper deadlines too!
Finishing things can be difficult for a variety of reasons, especially for chronic procrastinators. But find what'll motivate you to get things done and run with it!