I used to be a serial starter. I’d start new projects on a whim all the time. The newness made starting something feel exciting and easy, but three days later, I’d just move on to the next idea.
Actually finishing the projects you start is a whole different ballgame. The motivation wears off. We get distracted. The excitement fades. Many of the personal projects that we start are never finished.
That’s a problem.
Completing what you start matters. The bulk of the reward lies in actually finishing your projects and feeling that sense of accomplishment. Having the ability to see things through to the end makes you stand out because it’s so rare. Commitment is a valuable trait and will get you much farther in life than pretty much anything else.
Plus, seeing those results is just so satisfying.
It’s taken some practice, but I’ve gotten pretty great at finishing the things I start. It’s rare that I don’t see my projects through to the end, and I want to share my methods with you.
How to Finish What You Start
Make a Plan
Looking back, I notice that most of the things that didn’t reach completion didn’t have a plan. Knowing how to get to the finish line makes it so much easier to get there. When you have a plan, you eliminate the feeling of not knowing what to do next, which is one of the major roadblocks that can keep you from moving forward.
Before you start something new, ask yourself if you really have time for it. What if it takes twice as long as you expect? What if it takes three times as long? We often underestimate how long something will take and quit because we don’t have time. Check your calendar and make sure you have time for your new project, even if it takes longer than you expect.
Figure out how to get where you want to go. Do a bit of research and get comfortable with what needs to happen. Get detailed. Have a solid plan laid out before you take your first step.
I’ve written before about the power of saying, “it’s not a priority,” rather than, “I don’t have time.” This applies to any new things that you start as well. If you start something new but it isn’t a priority, it’s not likely that you’ll see it through.
When you consider beginning a new project, think about whether it’s something you value or not. Is this how you want to spend your time? Do you really want to do this, or are you just doing it because everyone else is doing it?
That’s not to discredit trying out new things just to see how it goes. Dipping your toes into something new out of curiosity is a perfectly valid thing to do and often a great use of your time. But if you’re going into something new and really do want to see it through to the end, make sure it’s something that matters to you. Finishing something that you don’t care about is difficult.
This leads me nicely into my next point:
Find Your Why
Any time I start a new project, I know why I’m doing it. I know what about that project resonates with me, and what rewards will come to me when I finish. When I’m feeling unexcited or unmotivated, I can revisit my Why to remind myself what’s coming if I push through which usually gives me the little kick I need to get back on track.
It’s easy to lose touch with our Why when we’re in the thick of things. Write down why you want to see this project through and make sure everything on that list means something to you. The more you want to see the end results, the more you’ll be able to push through when things aren’t going as you want, or when they get difficult, or when you get tired of working. Notice I said “when,” not “if.” If things never got difficult, you wouldn’t be here reading this article.
Perfection Isn’t Real
Often we fail to finish things because we’re afraid that they won’t be perfect, or we keep trying to make little changes in pursuit of perfection and never finish because it never feels perfect. Well, before you even begin, know that perfection isn’t real. Your aim is just to be good enough. Or as one of my friends likes to say, “mad decent.”
So often, we let the perfect become the enemy of the good. An 8/10 attempt that gets finished and put into the world is infinitely better than a 10/10 attempt that never gets completed because you’re trying to reach an impossible bar.
Go into your projects knowing that, especially if this is your first time, it won’t be perfect. I put out my blog posts when I feel they’re “good enough.” They’re never perfect. But as I keep writing, “good enough” becomes better and better. If I were still trying to perfect my first blog post, it wouldn’t be as good as “good enough” is now.
Btw, all of my blog posts are still up. Scroll back to the beginning and see where I started, if you want.
Do a Little Every Day
Do it even if you don’t feel like it. Do it even if you have to fight yourself every step of the way. Spend just five minutes working toward your goal every single day. If you work for just a few minutes a day, you will get there eventually. If you work for zero minutes each day, you’ll never go anywhere.
A helpful trick for doing just a little bit of work every day is the 5 Minute Rule. All the rule says is that you have to spend five minutes working on whatever it is that you need to do. After five minutes, you can stop if you want, but you have to work for five minutes.
Knowing that it’s only five minutes takes away the pressure of having to complete something substantial and intimidating. Often, after those five minutes, you’ll feel able to keep going for longer. But even five minutes is better than nothing and five minutes a day will eventually get you to your goal.
I know I just said to work every day, but taking occasional breaks from projects helps you stay productive in the long run. Taking some time off lets you rest and reset, and you’ll often come back feeling reinvigorated and with new ideas. Taking a few days off helps to prevent burnout and allows you to focus and use your time more efficiently when you get back to work.
HOWEVER, before you begin your break, decide when it will end. Breaks without end dates are prone to going on forever. You may never get back to work if you take a break without having a plan for how you’ll get back to work. Make specific plans and have a firm end date for your break.
Taking a break helped me renew my passion for working out. I was recently feeling unenthusiastic about lifting, and it was a struggle to push myself to the gym every day. I realized that I hadn’t taken more than a day off at a time in almost five months, and decided to take five days off.
After those five days were over, I had no trouble getting back to the gym, and now I’m just as excited and passionate about it as ever. If I hadn’t taken that time off, I might still be dreading my workouts, but instead, I’m eager to get to the gym each morning.
Tell Someone—or Don’t
This one varies by person. Personally, if I know I want to see something through to the end, I’ll often tell people about my goal. I know that I would hate having to admit later that I gave up and didn’t make it, so my desire to avoid admitting defeat helps me to keep moving forward.
On the other hand, it has been shown that some people feel a sense of satisfaction from telling someone else about what they plan to do, and with that, no longer feel the need to do the work. The satisfaction of telling someone else that you're going to do it is enough.
Figure out which camp you’re in. If you tell someone about your goal, are you more or less likely to reach it? Once you know which works for you, use that strategy.
Grit. It. Out.
I know this isn’t what you want to hear. I know you want magical secrets that will make it easy to snap your fingers and finish your work, but that just isn’t how things work. If finishing projects and reaching lofty goals were easy, everyone would be doing it.
There’s a reason that this blog is called life by grit. Sometimes, that’s the only option. If you want to make things happen, it’s going to take grit. There comes a point where all the tips and tricks in the world won’t help, and there’s nothing you can do but push through it anyway.
Ultimately, this is what I’m about. This is what this blog is about. I share the things I can to make the process of self-improvement easier, but in the end, the only thing that will work 100% of the time is self-discipline.
I want to impress this upon you. We’ve become too afraid of getting uncomfortable and putting in work, but that is what it takes. If it were easy, everyone would do it. It isn’t easy. Few people are doing it. Seeing projects through to the end takes inner strength.
Yes, even the things that you really, genuinely care about and enjoy will take grit. This blog takes grit. I love helping people and sharing what I know, but writing this much isn’t easy. I often don’t want to do this much writing. Sometimes I don’t want to do any writing at all.
In those moments, I revisit my Why, dig deep, and make it happen. And I always come out the other side feeling better about myself for putting in the work.
This is the step where most people will fail because there is no secret. There is no trick. There isn’t a way to make it easier. No matter how much you love what you’re doing, there will be times where every fiber of your being doesn't want to do it. In those moments, you just have to fight. You have to tell the voice in your head to just shut up and make it happen.
I’d love to tell you there’s a way around this, but there isn’t. If there were, we’d all know it. We’d all be rich and living our dream lives and doing all those things we talk about doing. But we’re not, because grit is so rare.
Make it happen. No one else is going to make you do it.
I know this isn’t what you wanted to hear. I know you wanted some life-changing secret of successful people. It doesn’t exist. There are things you can use to find yourself needing to grit through things less often, but nothing can eliminate it. Sometimes there are no other options.
Either you grit through it, or it doesn’t happen. You may not like it, but it’s the truth.