10 effective ways to finish what you start if you can’t finish anything

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Do you feel like you can’t finish anything you start? I used to be that person, so I know how frustrating it can be. 

The good news is it doesn’t have to be your future reality. By making small tweaks to your every day, you’ll be able to shift your outcomes. 

Learn these 10 effective ways that will mean you finish everything you start. 

1) Start with a to-do list

This sounds simple enough, but the simple things are often where the magic really happens. 

How often do you actually write out to-do lists? 

I’ll be honest, there have been periods of my life where I’ve just totally relied on my memory – without using calendars or writing out lists – and they weren’t my most productive moments.

In fact, I hardly finished anything that I started or got anything done in good time. 

You see, I wasn’t clear about what I needed to do. I just had abstract thoughts and felt stressed at the prospect of loads to do. Then came feeling like a failure because I wasn’t seeing things through.

On the other hand, when I’ve taken the time to write down lists, I’ve been able to get super clear about what I’m trying to do and I’ve been able to achieve it.

I’ve been able to follow through on the things I’ve started. 

If you have a bunch of ideas swirling around in your head, you won’t know where to start! I speak from experience when I say: being in this state of overwhelm doesn’t allow you to make progress. 

It’s good to have ideas, but it’s no good if your ideas never see the day of light. The only way to make sense of things is through getting them out.

For example, it’s all well and good thinking there’s a project you want to work on and even setting up a website for it, but if you don’t make the time to outline when you’re actually going to work on it then it’s not going to happen.

Even if you’ve taken the first steps, you need to break down the tasks you need to do to make it a reality.

In my experience, thoughts often feel jumbled until they’re down on paper. 

Writing a to-do list is an effective way to get projects done, and you’ll get a lot of satisfaction from ticking things off as you go.  

Go for the old-fashioned technique of pen and paper, and sit down to write out what you need to do. 

You could list things you need to do that day, that week or that month. 

List writing will help you see how you can go about finishing what you start. 

Don’t underestimate the power of keeping it simple!

2) Try working with the SMART goal metric

Similar to all of your ideas flying around without any order, goals will become overwhelming and you won’t make any progress unless you break things down.

Again, I’ve been there. 

There have been so many ideas of mine that haven’t stood a chance because I’ve never considered how I would make them happen. 

I’ve just thrown abstract statements around like: I want to be this. But I haven’t looked at how I could actually get there and the steps that need to be taken.

This is where the SMART goal metric comes in.

It’s as clever as the acronym suggests. Working with this formula, you need to look at whether a goal is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable 
  • Achievable
  • Relevant 
  • Time-Bound

For example, take the example of someone who’s never picked up an instrument yet wants to be a top piano player. This is a great long-term goal, but it’s going to take some work to get there.

To get to this goal, the person needs to break down their goal through the SMART criteria

They need to ask: what do I need to do to get there?

Looking at their goal within the SMART criteria, they could say that they want to be able to remember what all of the keys are after a month of lessons.

After this, they could say that they want to be able to play a piece of music from start to finish without making any errors.

It might sound like a way off from being a slick piano player, but these are measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals that will help them on their way to their larger goal.

The lesson is: any large goal is made up of a series of smaller goals. You’ll never finish what you set out to achieve if you just want the outcome without recognizing there are micro-goals along the way.

And these need to be measurable and achievable! 

3) Don’t take on too much 

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Us humans have a tendency to think we can do more than we can and in a quicker timescale. 

But pushing yourself too much and overstretching results in one thing: burnout.

And that’s a sure way to mean you don’t finish what you start.

Trust me, I’ve been there.

I remember working a super intensive day job that required me to be on the screen all day long, while also taking a class in the evenings twice a week until 10 pm to up-level my skills.

I was leading a number of projects at work and had to be really on it, plus the evening course required me to start developing a big project to present to the class. 

It got all too much and I felt like I wasn’t able to do my work properly or actually engage with the course. Both required so much time and energy from me.

After getting a series of migraines and having to take time off work to recover, I decided to ditch the evening class.

I wasn’t able to finish what I started because I took on too much and tried to spread myself too thin.

I learned that I wasn’t superwoman even though I thought that I was.

It’s not to say that you can’t take on additional courses or pick up new skills outside of your work, but that it’s not wise to take on more than you can manage at one time. 

I personally think that picking up new hobbies and skills is a great idea, but it’s worth considering whether you’ll have to just do more of what you usually do.

For me, that meant sitting in front of a screen. It was a technology overload!

Unfortunately, I didn’t finish what I set out to because of how it physically affected me. 

I learned that if you want to actually finish what you’ve started, you need to consider whether you actually have the time and capacity, and what that experience would be like for you.

It’s worth taking a bit of time before jumping into something additional. Careful consideration is key!

4) Choose work that aligns with you 

You can’t fake passion.

When you’re working on something you care about, it’s felt.

It’s felt in the product or service you create, and people around you will feel it in your energy.

A sure way to ensure you finish what you start is if you choose to do work that you’re passionate about.

In other words, choose work that aligns with you

When you’re starting out in your career it might not be as simple as this, but as you become more established in your field, choose to work on projects that align with you if you want to get the job done. 

In my experience, I never have a problem sitting down to write because I love sharing my thoughts with people and I could spend all day long doing it! 

Because I’m enthusiastic about what I’m doing, I always finish what I set my mind on.

When you’re doing work that aligns with you, you’ll be in your flow and this will naturally mean you finish what you start.

I’ll be honest: it’s something hard to get me to stop because I’m so in my flow!

But there have been times, at other points in my life, when I’ve felt less than inspired to finish the task at hand.

I was once in a job where I was practically doing admin. I was like a robot who spent most of my time copying and pasting cells in spreadsheets and answering emails.

It got to a point where I would dread having to turn up and do my work. 

I was less than enthusiastic! I didn’t want to finish the tasks at hand and I would end up asking someone else to pick up where I left off, while pretending I had something else to do. 

Essentially, I just didn’t want to do the work because I was so unmotivated.

If you’ve ever been in a job where you’ve felt like the work didn’t align with you, I’m sure you know what I mean!

5) Give yourself a break 

Now, even if you’re doing work that really aligns with you, you still might have moments where you feel like you’re struggling.

It could be as simple a creative block.

Rather than getting upset with yourself and throwing the towel in, give yourself a break.

Taking breaks throughout the day is something we should all be doing for our optimal performance. 

It’s said that short breaks can increase productivity and focus. 

I personally think that breaks also help me with my mood and general outlook too. 

Taking short breaks every hour for 5 to 10 minutes is recommended, instead of taking chunks of 20-minute breaks every two hours. 

Whether you’re staring at a computer or doing something manual, a break is a great way to recharge and allow you to regain your focus.

In doing so, you’ll be able to ensure you finish what you’ve set out to achieve. 

6) Drop the need to be a perfectionist

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Being a perfectionist won’t only prevent you from finishing what you started – but it will potentially hold you back from getting started in the first place!

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do a good job and having a high standard, but being a perfectionist will prevent you from ever getting anything out into the world. 

It’ll freeze you in your boots, as you fear that what you’ve created isn’t perfect.

You’ll never be able to finish what you’ve started working on if you’re too much of a perfectionist, as you’ll spend your time thinking it’s not quite right. Just not quite perfect.

You see, perfectionists often tell themselves that it’s not the right time because there is always room for improvement. 

But here’s the thing: you can put your project out in the world and make changes as you go. 

Take Facebook as an example – the product looked pretty different when it started out, don’t you think? It’s evolved over time since being out in the world.

If Mark Zuckerberg was too much of a perfectionist and he wanted it to be super slick and perfect, we would’ve never had Facebook. Now, some people might say that’s a good thing but that’s for another conversation. 

The point is: what you create doesn’t have to be perfect but it can be a work in progress. The best thing you can do is to take the step to put yourself and your work out there. 

Take the brave step to finish what you’ve started and get it out – even if you can see it’s not perfect! Accept that it’s your best effort in that moment, and that’s good enough!

7) Step back from what you’re working on 

If something isn’t working, don’t force it.

It doesn’t mean you should drop something entirely, but you can perhaps take a step back to breathe and think about your next step.

This could mean pausing what you’re working on for an hour, a day, a week or a month.

It’s a good thing to give yourself some breathing space from your project so you can get a new perspective.

It’s true that perspective is everything.

When we’re all consumed with the details of a project, we can struggle to see the bigger picture or even forget why we’re doing something.

If you find this is happening during your project and you’re worried that it’s going to cause you to not finish what you’ve started, step back.

This just means ‘down tooling’ for a window of time.

As I say, it could literally just be for the hour or a day. In other cases, it might be beneficial to take a week or even a month off while you collect inspiration and get a new perspective. 

8) Embrace some blue-sky thinking

As much as plans are great and there’s merit in working out how you’re going to do something, sometimes things don’t go to plan.

That’s life. 

When this inevitably does happen, you’ll need to think on your feet and think ‘outside of the box’ to find solutions. 

If this is your default instead of giving up, you’ll be able to finish what you’ve started.

Let’s say you’re designing an app and you’ve realized a function isn’t going to work. Rather than thinking: ‘oh, well that was a rubbish idea, I’ll just scrap the whole thing’, it’s instead about coming up with a new way of making it work.

It’s about thinking there must be an answer and not giving up before you’ve tried. 

It’s about being solution-oriented.

This is necessary if you are to continue on a path of finishing what you’ve started. 

What I’m saying is: don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board. It might be necessary throughout the process of getting your work out into the world, but it’ll be worth it in the end!

9) Commit to it 

If you want to finish what you’ve started, you need to commit to it.

This means it becomes a priority in your life.

In our busy lives, if we want to get something done we need to bump it up the priority list and stick to it when other things come up.

You’ll need to weigh up what’s important.

For example, say friends spontaneously invite you to hang out with them during the week.

You’ll need to weigh up how you were intending to spend your time and to think about what’s important to you.

If you have allocated two evenings to work on your project, stick to it.

Other things, like hanging out with friends when you didn’t plan to, could derail you from your goal. 

This is the only way you’ll finish what you’ve set your mind on.

By committing to your plan and what you’ve set out to create, you’ll be able to finish what you’ve started.

10) See your end vision 

Remembering why you’re pouring your time into this will ultimately be what carries you to the finish line.

It’s important to remember why you’re working on this.

On the other hand, if you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing, you’re going to lack the motivation to see anything through.

If you can connect with your end vision throughout your journey, you’ll stay inspired to work hard towards your goal.

Creating a vision board is a powerful action you could take to keep your motivation and spirits high throughout the process – and the hard times!

Print out a series of photos and quotes that inspire you and capture the energy of your project. You could stick them together in an aesthetically pleasing way on a board and keep it within sight.

Simply put: include anything that makes you think about your end goal and gets you excited!

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