How to finish something you start

Posted October 2, 2016

Maybe it’s just a book you're reading and never got around to finishing or maybe it’s something bigger such as an uncompleted business plan. Whatever it is, we’ve all left something unfinished.

But why do we do this?

“Starting a new project is like falling in love,” Susan Perry wrote for Psychology Today. “It’s exciting, emotionally arousing, infused with the natural motivator of novelty.”

But after a time, it turns into hard work, takes longer to complete than expected or “there’s some tedium and drudgery involved,” Perry explained.

Instead of just quitting, we frame it to ourselves as a delay “getting back to it,” until enough time has passed that we see it as pointless to resume. It’s a form of procrastination that may be driven by perfectionism and “the fear that the next steps may not be excellent enough.”

And almost a quarter of adults worldwide are chronic procrastinators, research conducted by psychology professor Joseph Ferrari found, according to Fast Company.

And the trait can take a toll mentally and physically.

An online survey performed by the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Canada received 2,700 responses to the question, "To what extent is procrastination having a negative impact on your happiness?" Forty-six percent said “quite a bit” or “very much,” and 18 percent said it had “an extreme negative effect,” according to

Psychologist Fuschia Sirois of Bishop University found a correlation between procrastination and hypertension among those with cardiovascular disease in a study (paywall) involving 800 people.

Psychology Today advised staying aware of any start-and-stop patterns you have, perhaps by going over past projects and figuring out why you started it and when and why you stopped. And that when you do start something, try to make sure your motivation is intrinsic and the project personally meaningful.

The blog Personal Excellence had 10 steps for finishing what you start:

1.Be selective in what you start

2. Do some resource planning and create an outline to estimate what you’ll need

3. Integrate what you’ll need to do into your schedule

4. Don't let obsessing over perfection stop your work. Ask if what you’re obsessing over really is a big deal

5. Commit. Stick to your plan and don’t get distracted

6. Focus on your desired end goal. Create a vision board, a model, an object that represents the goal

7. Be flexible in the path you follow. If going out of order from your outline will give you more enjoyment, then feel free to do so. You’re progressing as long as you keep working.

8. Track your progress

9. Celebrate what you’ve done so far

10. Don’t force yourself if it’s not working out. If you lose interest in a goal, the effort it takes to overcome that apathy isn’t always worth the goal’s completion.

Email:, Twitter: @Sarahsonofander.


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