You have a new idea. Your inspiration is maxed out. You’re at peak motivation. You start working without another thought and spend hours getting things off the ground.
The next day, you want to continue your work, but you get distracted by various meetings and fires that need to be handled. You say you’ll get back on it tomorrow.
Tomorrow turns into next week. Next week turns into next month. Next month turns into never.
What do you call this? It’s easy to think that we were being productive in that moment, that the time we spent starting something new was worthwhile. The reality? It wasn’t because of one key factor: we didn’t finish.
If you’re not finishing then you’re not really adding any value. Having a mess of half finished projects strewn about your office isn’t productive.
The truth is, starting is the easy part. There are no real downsides, no roadblocks, no hiccups, just your shiny new idea and endless possibilities. You’re full of energy and excitement.
What’s hard is finishing your work. It takes focus and commitment and it means your work is truly important.
Just like learning or planning or preparing are all useful, starting is much the same but it is often an excuse to doing the real work in front of you.
Instead of finishing the work you have already, you start something new. This is essentially busy work. At the end of day, it’s just another form of procrastination.
Finishing is where the value is found. Where a return on your time and effort and ideas actually manifest. If you don’t finish, then you don’t get any of that value. It is the difference between busy and productive.
If you want to be productive then, the key is finishing. Here are a few things to consider that will help you make finishing a priority.
1. Think before you start
Starting is always exciting, but you need to pump the breaks and evaluate things first.
By starting on this project, will you sacrifice something else?
Do you have the bandwidth to actually start and finish?
Is it even a good idea or did you just get excited in the moment?
Take a moment and truly think about what the value of this new endeavor actually is.
Do not plan for ventures before finishing what is at hand.Euripides
You need to understand what you’re getting yourself into. Are you starting X because you don’t want to finish Y? Do you have a pattern of unfinished work behind you? Is it actually worthwhile or just an escape? Understand your motivation.
2. Break things down
Not everything has a clear end. You can’t simply finish your business endeavor or stop making art or stop selling. What you can do is break things down into more manageable chunks.
Understand that finishing is an agonizingly slow and painful process. It takes time. The key then isn’t just to finish immediately, but to constantly be making progress.
To get into a habit of finishing, break things down into smaller tasks and complete them one by one. As long as you’re taking a step forward every day, everything will work out.
What you don’t want to do is get in the habit of starting and stopping, to the point where you lose all motivation and momentum. Slow and steady wins the race.
3. Learning is finishing
We talk a lot about the value of failure, of learning from our mistakes, but it’s important to know that the only way we can do so is by finishing.
You don’t learn anything from half-baked ideas that never get completed. You learn from work that you ship, no matter how good or bad.
Putting your work out into the world is where the learning can happen, where the failure can happen. You need to finish.
Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.Neil Gaiman
At the end of the day, unfinished work is of little value. The pay-off is in finishing.
The first step is to evaluate your work and your habits and see how you approach things. Are you finishing or are you procrastinating?
Once you start to understand how you work, you can take the needed steps to make finishing easier. The key is to build a habit of finishing what you start, no matter what it is because finishing is the only way forward.
Learn to finish.
Image via flickr