5 Steps to Help You Finish What You Start
Failing to finish what you start can be a serious problem, one that can affect both work obligations and personal life. If it happens frequently or at a particularly inopportune time, it can take a serious toll on a person, which is why we’ve decided to use this text to try and lend a helping hand. Below you will find 5 steps which should help you come out on top the next time you find yourself in a situation where you absolutely need to get a lingering project done.
- Figure out Your Motivation
When it comes to finishing whatever it is that you started, motivation is the undisputed king among all factors, and if you only end up reading one item from this list, it should be this. You may tell yourself you’d get that project done if you only had a bit more time, and you may even believe that, but the simple truth is that you’re just coming up with excuses because you’re struggling with a lack of motivation – “where there's a will, there's a way”, as the old proverb goes, and if you were properly motivated to see something through to the end, you’d make the time. That’s why you need to decide why you’re doing something before you can find yourself in the position to actually finish it.
Time for some psychology 101 - in the broadest of terms, motivation can be divided into two types: intrinsic and extrinsic(1). Intrinsic motivation comes from within yourself, you are doing something because you feel you want or need to do it - you are not under any sort of obligation, and there are no external rewards (and even if there are, they are completely inconsequential to your decision-making process). On the other hand, extrinsic motivation is derived from external incentives, such as financial compensation, praise, or avoiding reprimand.
Now, the textbook advice might be to tell you to try and find intrinsic motivation for whatever you do, however anyone who would advise that has clearly never had to pull 9 to 5s for an extended period of time. Intrinsic motivation might be the more “noble” of the two, but there is nothing wrong with extrinsic motivation and doing something because you’ll get paid. For the purposes of finally finishing that project that’s been dragging on for ages, either of them will do.
In practice, this means the following – before you sit back down to try and finish what you started, take a moment to reflect on why you started doing it in the first place. To begin with, try and find some internal motivation to go on – think about how you would feel after the work got done, but also consider your feelings if it never got finished at all. If that doesn’t light a fire under your feet, go the extrinsic route and consider the rewards – is money involved, will someone owe you a favor, etc. Either way, make sure you have something else driving you forward besides the realization that you’ve been dragging your heels for too long.
And if you can’t discover any motivation for the life of you, create it. You can’t really conjure intrinsic motivation out of thin air, but you can do so with extrinsic rewards – pick some item or gadget that you really want and make a deal with yourself that you’ll go out and buy it as soon as the work is done, but not a second sooner.
- Partition Your Workload
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" is a well-known saying which emphasizes the importance of actually starting any difficult or long task. That’s all well and good, but we are acutely aware of just how difficult that first step can be, particularly when it needs to be followed by 10,000 more. If you’ve been putting off finishing a project for quite some time, then not only will you still have the same issues that made you procrastinate in the first place, but you’ll also need to deal with the fact that you’ve probably forgotten some things in the meantime. And this can be extremely disheartening.
That’s why it’s imperative to divide the remaining work into manageable stages. You can even make your initial tasks smaller than the rest, just until you get back in the groove of things. And, in connection with point 1 of our list, feel free to add some mini-rewards along the way to help you get going - once you start nearing the finish line, things are bound to go a lot smoother.
- Plan out Your Day
At least in the beginning, when you’re just getting back to your project, plan out your entire day to the minute. Pinpoint when you will start working on it, for how long, even go as far as to include meal times and when you intend to go to bed. Make sure you’ve taken all of your obligations into account and try your hardest to stick to the plan.
If you’ve divided your work into stages, as we previously suggested, now is the time to set the deadlines for those stages. This is an excellent way to combat procrastination, and procrastination is the “gateway drug” to never getting it done at all.
Now, if this seems a bit harsh and you’re worried the next step is going to be to hire someone to stand behind you and literally crack the whip, you can rest easy. All of this planning will crumble into dust if you’re not realistic with your expectations. Set achievable goals and make sure your plan includes breaks – hard work requires equally hard rest.
- No New Projects
Starting something new may be exciting, but it also makes your previous obligations seem boring and tiresome by comparison. If a project’s been dragging on for too long, you might be forced to draw the line and stop taking on new work. Plus, this will also help in preventing you from feeling overwhelmed by everything that’s going on.
- Forgive Yourself for Procrastinating
Realizing that you haven’t been doing as much as you should have can be a real kick in the guts, and you’re liable to beat yourself up over it. While this realization is important for getting back on track, you also need to move on. Not only will being stuck in the past not help with actually finishing what you started, a research study(2) on 119 first-year college students found that higher levels of self-forgiveness resulted in less procrastination.
If you’re struggling to finish something you started, you should know you’re far from the only one with this problem – we doubt there’s a single person who hasn’t faced it at some point. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, trying these 5 steps is a very good place to start. If nothing else, they should help you get started on your work once again, and you can take it from there.