How to Finish What You Start

I have a problem. I love starting projects, but it’s hard to finish them, especially if they are long term and creative. Starting them is a rush as I explore new territory. After that initial dopamine hit, I get bored. My mind starts wandering towards other novel and exciting things to do. It’s cursing of being creative, especially in a world that has put the greatest “research” tool at your fingertips.

The story I tell myself is “I want to live my life to its fullest”. But I know how clever I am, and have to correct myself. “You are just having new experiences. Mastery would be living life to the fullest.” If only I could curb my focus and curiosity, I could be awesome. That’s not who I am and you have to work with what you got.

I’m never going to “fix” this problem, but I can mitigate it. Here are some strategies I use to stay disciplined and finish what I start:

  • Set a deadline – Deadlines get shit done. Time and money are both effective constraints. Try not to let things get too bad.
  • Limitations will free you – Almost all photos ever shot were rectangles, but nobody has ever shot the same photo twice. By constraining myself to 500-word blog posts, I am forcing myself to be concise.
  • Do smaller projects – Smaller projects are easier to complete than long-term projects. Simple. I complete small projects all the time.
  • Make “Finish it” your mantra – Keep saying it over and over and over. I have to finish this. I have to finish this.
  • Externalize accountability – We are more likely to finish projects when other people are depending on us. I edited a 135,000-word novel because my wife was depending on me to do the work. There was no way I would let her down.
  • Turn off all distractions – Turn off your devices and notifications. Take back control of your life. Trust me, it can wait.
  • Have a clear, constrained goal – Play is fun, but it’s also a great way to drift aimlessly. Start at the end and work back.
  • Stop being a perfectionist – Perfectionism is the enemy of completion. It is an arbitrary illusion. Most people will never notice your “mistakes”. Get over it. Do your best, then move on.
  • Use the Pomodoro Technique – Multi-tasking is a great way to not finish your work. I work in twenty-five-minute mono-tasking blocks. Then I take a five-minute break and do it again, and track my progress. Its worked wonders. It’s how I wrote 90,000 words in 5 weeks.

    My past year has been unimaginably productive, because of my Magic Pomodoro Technique.

  • Eliminate distractions – Simplify your decision set. The more options you have, the harder it is to decide which one to choose.
  • Persist like a terminator – You won’t get it right the first time, or the second or the third. Cultivate patience and persistence. It’s hard, but it really, really matters. I tried writing five different articles done this morning. This is the one I finished. Yay!!!

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