10 effective ways to finish what you started (if you can’t finish anything)

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Do you find it difficult to finish what you start?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many people have a bad habit of starting projects but never finishing them.

The good news is:

With a few tweaks to your habits and routines, you can let go of distractions to focus on completing what you need to finish.

Here are 10 tips to finishing what you start if you can’t finish anything.

1. Only take on projects that you really want to do

If we’re not enthusiastic about doing something, then we’re less likely to finish it.

You’re more likely to finish something if it sets your soul on fire.

You want to avoid doing projects that you don’t enjoy.

Now, this isn’t going to apply in all cases. However, there is such a thing as responsibility, and we need to finish some things to be mature and responsible human beings.

But what I’m really talking about here is self-improvements projects, hobbies, and activities that don’t necessarily fall into the responsibility category.

If you don’t have any reason to learn Spanish, you’re going to struggle to gather the motivation needed to memorize Spanish words.

If your project doesn’t speak any passion in you, then you’re less likely to follow through with all the work and practice.

Best-selling author Stephen King explains why it’s important to do things for the pure joy of the thing:

“Yes, I’ve made a great deal of dough from my fiction, but I never set a single word down on paper with the thought of being paid for it … I have written because it fulfilled me. Maybe it paid off the mortgage on the house and got the kids through college, but those things were on the side–I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for the joy, you can do it forever.”

2. Use SMART goals

The problem might not be your willpower but how you’re setting your goals.

SMART goals are proven goal-setting techniques that help people achieve their goals.

A SMART goal is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

If you use this structure, you’ll be well on your way to finishing what you start.

SMART goals really help you see that a big goal is really a collection of small goals.

As James Clear says in his book best-selling book Atomic Habits, all big things come from small beginnings:

“All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger. Roots entrench themselves and branches grow. The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.”

For example, The long-term goal of becoming fluent in Spanish is a collection of many smaller goals and habits that you can break down.

  • You’ll need to learn lots of new words in Spanish.
  • You’ll need to learn how to pronounce those words properly.
  • You’ll need to learn the grammar structure of Spanish.
  • And you’ll need to practice regularly speaking and listening to Spanish to build your skills.

Putting all of this into smaller goals provides a structure of how you’re going to improve.

A smart goal within the overarching goal of learning Spanish would look something like this:

“I want to learn and memorize 50 Spanish words at the end of two weeks. The goal is specific (50 Spanish words), Measurable (either you do memorize those words or you don’t), Achievable (it’s not too much to ask to memorize 50 words in 2 weeks), Relevant (you’re going to eventually need to know 1000s of Spanish words to speak Spanish fluently eventually) and Time-Bound (2 weeks).

3. Create to-do lists

I’m a big fan of to-do lists. They help your mind focus on what needs to be done rather than procrastinating about what to do next.

Brain memorization expert Jim Kwik explains why a to-do list is so important:

“People don’t take anything seriously until it’s written down and becomes an actual part of their daily schedule. It might take you some time to get there but once that becomes a habit, you’ll end up getting all that you planned done simply because it’s part of your to-do list for the day.”

Even the act of setting up your list of things you need to do clears your mind and structures information in your head.

It gets you thinking about the tasks that need to be completed.

4. Don’t overstretch yourself

So many of us try to do too much at once, and then we lose enthusiasm when we don’t complete what we set out to do.

It’s important, to be honest with yourself and recognize what you can and can’t do.

If you write a to-do list in the morning and include 20 different tasks that need to be done, you will likely not complete them all.

As Ryder Carroll says in his book The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future, there is a difference between being busy and being productive:

“Inevitably we find ourselves tackling too many things at the same time, spreading our focus so thin that nothing gets the attention it deserves. This is commonly referred to as “being busy.” Being busy, however, is not the same thing as being productive.”

You’re not superman or superwoman. So be realistic about your capabilities.

Otherwise, you’ll set yourself up for failure, and you’ll lose enthusiasm along the way.

This is where planning is important. You’re able to achieve a big goal by completing smaller goals over and over.

So make sure you don’t overstretch yourself in a day.

What small goal can you complete today that will get you closer to finishing your big goal?

Reading 20 pages a day of a book doesn’t sound like much, but that’s 7300 pages over the course of a year, which is about 22 books in a year.

5. Don’t be a perfectionist

You may have heard the saying: “Perfection is the enemy of progress.”

This quote is really saying that spending too much time making something perfect gets you stuck from moving onto the next thing.

If you want to reach your big goal eventually, you can’t get bogged down by making the small things perfect.

You need to move from task to task without procrastinating. You need to be decisive.

David Tian, an expert in human behavior, explains why it’s important to get in the habit of being decisive:

“There’s scientific evidence for the satisfizer over the maximizer. Those who just get it done will generally be happier with the outcome and will be able to be more effective than those who try to maximize every decision and they hold off on it until they have the maximal amount of information. They are less happy with the outcome, whatever decision they do end up making, and that decision is only marginally optimal in most cases, and sometimes is even worse. So get into the habit of being decisive. It is going to make you more effective and happier.”

This is a big reason people don’t finish tasks because they’re not decisive. They procrastinate because a piece of the puzzle isn’t perfect.

Now I’m not saying that you can’t make tweaks and make things better, but you don’t want to do it excessively that it stops you from moving forward.

6. Think outside of the box if you have to

Not everything is going to go as planned. Therefore, you need to remain flexible in your problem-solving.

Sticking to the script when it’s obviously not working won’t do you any good.

If you work out that after a few weeks of reading 10 pages of a book isn’t really helping you become more knowledgeable or successful, then you don’t want to keep reading that same book.

Sometimes you need to reflect and assess your own progress. Is what you’re doing really working?

Be realistic, and if it isn’t, then you have to change your course of action.

You’re not a machine. You have the ability to take a step back and analyze what is working and what isn’t.

As Robert Rodriguez said, it’s good not to follow the herd:

“It’s good not to follow the herd. Go the other way. If everyone’s going that way, you go this other way. Yeah, you’re gonna stumble. You’re gonna stumble but you’re also gonna stumble upon an idea no one came up with.”

7. Reward your progress

Just as I said above, not only is it important to take a step back and assess whether you’re on track in achieving your goals, but you also want to reward yourself for small victories.

Rewards help keep you motivated to keep achieving your goals.

In her book, Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin explains why rewards are important:

“When we give ourselves treats, we feel energized, cared for, and contented, which boosts our self-command — and self-command helps us maintain our healthy habits.”

So many of us lose enthusiasm when we realize how long it will take to achieve that big goal, so it’s important to pat yourself on the back when you’ve achieved one step (even if there are 100 steps).

Rewards help give you a little positive feedback loop that can keep you motivated through challenging times.

This is why a plan is important. If you know what you’re doing every day will lead to your big goal, you can reward yourself after achieving a small step every day.

For example, you can reward yourself with chocolate after memorizing 10 words in a foreign language.

This will keep you motivated, and you know that if you do that every day, you’ll know 3650 words in a foreign language by the end of the year.

8. Take action

Well, you knew this tip had to be part of the list.

We can’t finish our goals if we don’t continually take action.

And the fact of the matter is this:

There will be times when you aren’t motivated, feel tired, and you’d rather do anything else but what needs to be done to achieve your goals.

The only way you’ll get through these feelings is if you take action.

Sometimes you need to forget about how you’re feeling and take action.

Those 10 pages a day are going to be easier some days and harder on other days.

But when you eventually achieve your big goal, you’ll be prouder of yourself for the days you read 10 pages when it was more challenging.

Taking action while going through challenging times builds resilience and confidence in yourself.

As brain expert Jim Kwik says:

“Knowledge is power: You hear it all the time but knowledge is not power. It’s only potential power. It only becomes power when we apply it and use it.

Somebody who reads a book and doesn’t apply it, they’re at no advantage over someone who’s illiterate.

None of it works unless YOU work. We have to do our part. If knowing is half the battle, action is the second half of the battle.”

9. Remember to take short breaks

When we’re motivated at the start of the day, we think we can work 8 hours straight and get a heap done.

But relying on your willpower isn’t enough.

A research study conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration revealed how short breaks between longer working sessions resulted in a 16% improvement in awareness and focus.

Research from Peretz Lavie agrees with those findings. They found that 90-minute work sessions followed by short breaks (of no more than 15-20 minutes) match up closely with our natural energy cycles and allows us to maintain better focus.

The best bit?

It’s easier for your brain to know that a 90-minute work session is followed by a 15-minute break. You’re more likely to get through it.

10. Keep your focus

When you aren’t focused on one thing, you’ll be distracted by anything.

It’s easier to get distracted nowadays since we’re surrounded by content that calls for our attention.

The more distracted you become, however, the less progress that you’re going to make

The key to being more focused? Focusing on one thing at a time. Don’t try to do multiple projects at once.

According to Shane Snow, bestselling author of Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success, the most productive and successful people tend to focus intently on a tiny number of things:

“There are a lot of great inventors and improvers in the world. But those who hack world-class success tend to be the ones who can focus relentlessly on a tiny number of things. In other words, to soar, we need to simplify.”

And remember, our ability to focus is a muscle.

Disciplined people strengthen it by being mindful of their actions and being present in the moment.

This enables disciplined people like athletes and artists to get into a state of flow.

It’s when time flies and their mind and body are moving almost like it’s doing it on their own — they enter their peak performance.

Distractions put them in danger of ruining their flow, which ruins their momentum.

Then the mind has to reset and slowly build up to it again, which takes too much energy.

That’s why people who complete their goals eliminate distractions as much as possible.


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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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