Your Quick Guide to Finishing a Project You Keep Putting…

How to finish what you start

So what can you do if you’re terrible at finishing projects? I thought perhaps it would be as simple (and hopeless, in my case) as relying on raw discipline and willpower. Thankfully, I found a much better approach.

Writer and entrepreneur Scott H. Young wrote on his blog about building the habit of finishing what you start. Having built the habit of finishing projects himself, Young thinks “a lot of people believe finishing is a gift some people have,” but firmly believes anyone can learn to be a finisher.

“I used to be one of those people who struggled to complete things I started, and through conscious effort I made myself into a finisher.”

Young doesn’t expect us to be able to finish everything we start, though. “Trying to finish everything,” he says, “is a recipe for stubbornness, not success.”

The key, says Young, is rethinking your mental approach to new projects, rather than simply forcing yourself to finish everything you start. Young suggests putting every project you work on (if it will take more than a day to complete) into one of two categories: experiments and commitments.

Experiments, Young says, are okay to quit. The idea of an experiment is to try something new and see how it goes. We don’t know what will happen, and we may not like the result. If you start learning a new set of skills and realize you’re not enjoying yourself at all, you might decide to quit that process and hire someone who already has those skills, instead.

When we make commitments, on the other hand, we need to follow through. Even if we’ve only made a commitments to ourselves, sticking with all the commitments we make until they’re finished will help us build that habit of finishing what we start.

The trick to making this approach work, he says, is to make sure you always follow through on commitments, even if you give up on some experiments.

If you give up on your commitments with equal frequency as your experiments, the words carry no weight. What matters isn’t that you call something an experiment or commitment, but that your actions show that the distinction matters to you.

Young suggests starting small when using this technique. Only make short-term commitments at first, he says, because when we work on long-term projects, the information we have available can change more significantly, sometimes making it harder to see our commitments through to the finish line.

We can break big experiments down into smaller com

We can break big experiments down into smaller commitments. For instance, running a business could be seen as one huge experiment. Within the long-term timeframe of getting a business up and running, you might set weekly, monthly, or quarterly commitments to try new things, committing to finish each of your smaller commitments before adjusting your approach for the next timeframe.

I’ve been terrible at finishing what I start ever since I was a kid. I always thought, as Young suggested many of us do, that some people are good at finishing projects and some aren’t. And perhaps, through sheer willpower, I could become “a finisher.” But I never had a whole lot of willpower to rely on, either, so I’ve remained someone who rarely follows through on projects unless I’ve had to commit to some external deadline.

But the more I learn on the subject, the more I understand how I can overcome this challenge that so many entrepreneurs face.

As Michael Lopp explained, there’s a very good reason many of us struggle to finish what we start: there’s very little joy left in a project when we’re finishing it. Once it’s lost its novelty and gains become hard-won, it’s understandable that we want to give up. The idea loses its luster, and we start wondering why we even thought it was a good idea in the first place.

But Lopp also pointed out that if we want to create our best work, that long, hard slog of finishing our projects is exactly what we need to get better at. That’s where the most important work takes place.

If you struggle with finishing as much as I do, try Scott H. Young’s approach. He used to struggle with finishing as well, but through adjusting his thinking until commitments became something he always follows through on, he’s been able to build a habit of finishing what’s important. And by calling some new projects “experiments,” he hasn’t gone too far to the other extreme, either.

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So here’s a first step to becoming a finisher:

Take a look at the unfinished projects on your computer or in your notebook. Try splitting them into experiments and commitments, and see which ones fall into each box. Calling some of them experiments, and knowing it’s okay if they fail or you decide to quit them early might give you the momentum you need to pick them up again.

And more importantly, calling some of them commitments may be just the motivation you need to see them through until they’re truly finished.

What do you think about this approach to finishing? How have you struggled with finishing what you start, and how do you overcome it? Chime in below.

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4. Find the Right Timing

You’ll read a lot of advice that recommends you tackle those cringe-worthy tasks or projects first thing in the morning. And, I can understand the benefit in getting those things out of your way.

But, everybody’s different in this regard. If you’re not at your most focused or energized in the morning hours, it’ll be that much more challenging to talk yourself into actually getting started.

So, instead, I recommend finding the times of day when you feel most ready to take on those overwhelming things. Whether it’s as soon as you wake up or late into the evening hours, working at your peak times will help the whole process seem a little less dreadful.

2. Force Yourself to Commit

Sometimes you just need to get started. And, while there’s no denying that can take a lot of willpower, physically locking yourself away will be helpful in ensuring that you actually start making some progress.

Shut yourself in a quiet room with only the things you need for that project. Do your best to stay away from the lure of your phone notifications or your inbox, and at least do something related to that big task—even if it’s just getting all your thoughts scribbled on paper.

Even if you’re slow to start, knowing that you’re at least getting the ball rolling is usually enough to inspire you to keep pushing forward.

Go Finish Your Project

Now that you’ve learned some techniques for finally finishing that project you started, what are you waiting for? Don’t procrastinate a moment longer. Stop reading this article, and go finish your project!

Want to create your own side project but aren’t sure where to start? Read this next.

Image Credits: drafting compass on workbench

Finishing touches

One of the most important things to realize is that you cannot spend forever on a single task, no matter how crucial it might seem. Starting a task and getting it underway is easy, but at a certain point, you will start to waste time on the task. Whether it’s playing around with a few pixels on a sprite or optimizing code for the Nth time, there will be a time when you need to stop polishing and decide it’s ready. That is one of the main reasons why deadlines are important. They force you to finish up.

When Combat Racers was almost finished, 90% or so, with everything that was left to do, including bug fixing, final balance revisions and the like. I remember there being a shift in attitude and the way work was done. Instead of finishing the game, features that had been marked as completed were slightly improved upon and I recall the words “we can just finish it up when we need to” being repeated a few times. This was disastrous as this spread in the whole team until there was basically no work being done anymore.

To counter this, we had to focus on finishing the game, for which purpose Gamedev Days Estonia 2016 was the perfect excuse. It gave us the necessary motivation, a good timeframe and a clear objective on what to do to bring our game to the ultimate goal of bringing it to Steam.

Testing the controllers at the booth before the co

Testing the controllers at the booth before the conference.

Preparation is essential

You propably have had a great idea for a game at some point, have sat down, done something and then stopped doing it and just left it to gather dust on your hard drive. Passion projects, especially from artists like indie developers can flourish and grow, or left alone forever. Motivation and passion can be harsh mistresses, and are the perfect excuse to stop working on something. “I’m not feeling it” or “I don’t have the motivation right now” can be used to shift blame from yourself to something intangible.

To avoid this from happening, you need to have some discipline. The best way to get started with your game is to define it. You had a great idea about a guy named Steve killing Demons? Awesome! Now write down some basic stuff about it. Is it an FPS game? Cross-platform? Arena survival or level-based? This can be boring for some, but it is essential for being able to scope your project. As you scope your project, your mindset will shift from the vague artistic feelings of what to do into a more rigid, deterministic approach on how to create your game. This work will also be helpful for marketing your game in the future as you have gone through the process of basically creating an elevator pitch for yourself already.

“My game is about a dude shooting demons in space”

“My game is about a dude shooting demons in space” After you know what your game is all about, you need to define what’s your goal. Do you want to have it released on Steam? Playable for your own entertainment? Done during a game jam? Defining your ultimate goal is beneficial in the sense that it lets you make our decisions based off of that. “Will doing this help me reach my ultimate goal?” If yes, do it. If no, don’t. Asking yourself these questions will help you pace yourself and help you prioritize your tasks.

Pre-existing Database Objects

For University X, the following objects are available in the Building Operation database prior to finishing the project:

  • …University X ES1/Application/Extended Trend Logs/ChwrTempCV Extended Log

  • …University X ES1/Application/Extended Trend Logs/ChwsTempCV Extended Log

  • …University X ES1/Application/Extended Trend Logs/HwrTempCV Extended Log

  • …University X ES1/Application/Extended Trend Logs/HwsTempCV Extended Log

  • …University X ES1/Application/Extended Trend Logs/OaTempCV Extended Log

  • …University X ES1/Application/Extended Trend Logs/ClgEnergyConsumption Extended Log

  • …University X ES1/Application/Extended Trend Logs/HtgEnergyConsumption Extended Log

Tips

  • If you’re doing a partner project divide the tasks so each partner knows what they are supposed to do. Don’t do everything by yourself.

    Thanks! Helpful Not Helpful

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