I often see in clients homes that they have many unfinished projects. They will point out something in most rooms that they have something started, but not finished. It’s often a source of embarrassment and disappointment to them, and they have already invested so much in getting to this point, but are not able to enjoy what they have done.
If this is you, you may be asking yourself: How do I get my projects finished?
So what's happening here to lead to this?
This can be a situation where there’s been a major change such as an illness, loss of a family member, or a crisis, and what would normally be manageable is now on the back burner while more important tasks need doing. I’m not going to address that here. I’m going to talk about the habit of starting something, but not finishing.
Typically, it’s the excitement of running with an idea, and then running out of a resource (time, money, energy, other help) to see it through.
In the meantime, something else catches your eye and you get excited about that idea until again, you run out of time, money, energy, or other help to finish that one. And on it goes. In entrepreneur-land, it’s called Shiny Object Syndrome.
I totally get it and have done it myself. I would much rather work when I’m excited about an idea than when I’m in the low resource phase.
The problem is, you end up using more of your energy and resources on all these different projects, than you would have if you had focused on ONE key project.
And then you are surrounded by all these little reminders of unfinished projects and either you are triggered into anxiety, or feel like you are always working, because you are always seeing your work in progress and not finished.
So what do you do when you have all these unfinished projects?
I'm glad you asked!
I find it helpful to make a list. Grab a pen and paper, or download this spreadsheet I prepared for you earlier ;-) and print it out at home.
It may open your eyes to see just how many you have on this list. Some things may be home maintenance tasks, and some things may be an expression of your creativity, and some things may be your attempt to make your home feel more comfy and personal.
Let’s be real. If you have a page overflowing with projects, a) that’s not happening in the short term. You know it, and I know it. And b) they’re not all equally important.
Now you have a list, it’s easier to be able to establish some priorities.
Is there anything on the list that only needs a small amount of time or energy or money to finish? That’s an easy win. Circle that one.
Is there anything on the list that is important in terms of you or your home’s safety and stability? Usually these are behind the scenes tasks that aren’t sexy, but are important. Circle that.
Is there anything on the list that is urgent, that has a deadline eg. preparing for a new baby? Circle that.
These are your priorities. Working this way is the key to getting your needs met, rather than satisfying a want, and still having your needs unmet.
Make a plan
Usually I would say attack the first item, the easy win, which will quickly take something off your list and give you a boost, but it depends on your urgent project. Everything else can wait. Don’t start anything else until you have finished these. DO NOT START ANYTHING ELSE.
Even when you feel annoyed, tired, like you’ve been working on it for ages, don’t start something else. If you want to change your situation, you need to break yourself of the habit of starting and not finishing.
The point is not to be busy and fill up your time working on all sorts of things. The point is to focus, to be effective when you do have time to work on it, and get it done.
"Strive for progress, not perfection"
Also, you have probably already seen some projects on your list that you see now aren’t that important compared to the others and you can decide to NOT do them, and strike them off the list. Not everything is meant to be finished. Some things are practice or skills-building. Consider it a sandpit environment or a sampler. You run your list, the list does not run you.
For the most part, if it’s important enough to start, it’s important enough to finish.
Which brings me back to the question at the start of this post: how do you get your projects finished?
In a world where information is constantly bombarding us, focus is incredibly powerful. You leverage focus when you choose one project at a time instead of many. Hopefully you've done that now.
Work with others
The best thing to do is recognise that this is rarely an individual effort.
Do you need support/buy-in from people in your household?
Do you need someone’s strength or skills or know-how?
Do you need kindness while you face something emotionally difficult?
Don’t assume people will drop everything while you are trailing whatever idea has grabbed you. Talk to people up-front, explain what you’re doing and why, and what you would need from them.
Look for their agreement, but if they can’t, then you have the chance to find someone else who can help. Build your team. Right there, you have increased your chances of success, and reduced ill-feeling on the part of others who are feeling respected instead of pressured, and from yourself when feelings of isolation and resentment may make an appearance if you were struggling by yourself.
Dedicate $ to it
Projects usually involve some money. A good test of how important this project is to you is how willing you are to invest money into it. No one wants to feel like they've wasted money.
You may need a shopping list, and you may need to pay for expert help such as a tradesperson. If you’ve watched The Block, you’ll see how important the budget is to what the teams deliver.
Give it a timeline
Speaking of The Block, that’s television land where they are doing all sorts of things behind the scenes to make things seem to happen almost overnight. Don’t base your timeline on that.
If this is the first time you’ve done this kind of project, you will need to do some research to find out what’s involved, and even then it will likely take longer than you expected. You can either find out each step and roughly how long that will take, or you can set a deadline and work backwards. You need to allow time between the steps, otherwise your deadline will quickly become totally unrealistic.
Work in cycles
This is the concept of working through phases something like brainstorming/ideas > design > plan > pre-implementation > implementation > finishing touches > review/lessons learnt. It's based on the idea of continuous improvement, so you both adjust as you go, and improve the next time you go through the cycle.
There's some really interesting work happening in this space.
Todd Herman has his 90 Day Year approach where he sets goals to achieve in 90 days and works on projects to support those goals.
There’s Ultraworking, which is micro-planning of your day to clear all roadblocks and smash your productivity.
Stasha Washburn encourages women to plan around our menstrual cycles to take advantage of the best energy we have for the activity.
These examples all involve some reflection to be able to recognise what works well, and what could be done better next time. Otherwise, we are repeating the same behaviour and getting the same results.
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results."
All the best,