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10 Essential Tips To Finish What You Start

10 Essential Tips To Finish What You Start
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For the full original unedited article, visit Celestine’s blog, Personal Excellence.

Do you have a habit of starting projects, but not finishing them?

If so, you are not alone. Many people have a habit of starting projects but not finishing them, which is a very bad practice.

Completing a project successfully takes proper planning and conscious action. If you have ever embarked on a project, you’d know that every goal/project comes with its own set of challenges which are not visible when you first start.

Personally, I embark on many projects in the course of running my business and pursuing my personal goals, and I have a good body of experience on how to successfully take projects from start to completion. Here are my 10 best tips on how to finish the projects you start:

1. Be selective in what you embark on

When you start on a project (especially a large scale one), make sure it is something you are passionate about and you want to see through.

I have embarked on things which I was half-interested in in the past, for example learning tennis or learning Japanese. Eventually I stopped them mid-way. This resulted in waste of time and resources which could have been better utilized elsewhere. Because of that, I’m more conscious of how I utilize my time and energy today.

If you set a high threshold on what you want to do, the completion rate is also higher. If you aren’t sure that this is something you really want to do, dip your feet into the pool first – try it out on a small scale and see if it’s what you’re interested in.

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2. Estimate the resources you need

In companies they do resource planning, where they estimate how much resources is needed for a project. After which, they plan out the manpower and investment accordingly. For us, that means doing a quick plan on how much time and effort this idea will take, so we can have a bird’s eye view.

It doesn’t have to be exhaustive. Just a quick outline will help. The point is to have something that guides you.

3. Budget your time and energy accordingly

After you create your outline, you should have a realistic idea of how much time and effort is needed to complete it. Plan out your time and resources accordingly and integrate them into your schedule/to-do list. Block out time in your calendar for the project. Give yourself some buffer as well, in case of contingencies.

A big reason for loss of enthusiasm or energy is when people underestimate the amount of work needed to bring the goal to life. Good planning of resources help you plan out your energy and expectations. You know you have to put in X hours and X work to get the final output, so you’ll manage yourself appropriately to achieve your desired outcome. This’ll lead to a higher project success rate.

4. Quit being a perfectionist

How many of us keep delaying work because we want to get it just right? I’m all for perfectionism and getting the best output, but if your desire for perfectionism is preventing you from getting things done, I think it’s good to challenge it.

Try these two tips: First, break the task into many little steps, then focus on one part at the time. If you still put it off after breaking it down, then break it down even further into mini pieces. Soon, you’ll be left with such a simple task that you’ll be wondering what was keeping you from doing it from before!

The second tip is to give yourself the permission to do a draft version. Meaning, there’s no need to get it done right the first time. Creating a draft, even if it’s a crappy one, is better than if you didn’t do anything at all. Get started and things will roll on from there.

Read: Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect

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5. Commit to it

Once you start, commit to it. Whatever you have planned, do them. Give yourself the option to exit a project if it’s really not in line with your vision (see #9), but otherwise hold yourself to your word.

A while back I was overseas in Hong Kong for a conference. While I was there, my friends asked me if I wanted to go sightseeing during the weekday evenings and weekends. I rejected the offer because I was working on an e-course program on my site and the project was falling behind my personal timeline. Finishing the book was about my commitment to myself and also to my readers out there who would truly benefit from it. Sightseeing was something I could always do in a separate time – it was not big of a deal.

Likewise for you, ask yourself what’s more important to you – Going out to party for the weekend or to work on that business you’ve been meaning to set-up? The former might bring you some temporal gratification, but the latter is what truly gives you satisfaction. The rewards you get from doing the latter are rewards which you’ll continue to reap long afterwards.

Read: 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity

6. Connect with your end vision

You might have experienced this. Whenever you begin on a new project, you’re full of energy and enthusiasm. Then when you get into the thick of things, this energy fades away, bit by bit. You’re still excited about the overall project, but you’re not so hyped about the nitty gritty tasks that come as part of the work.

But all this nitty gritty work IS part of what leads you to your beautiful vision in the end. Every little bit you’re doing now counts toward realizing that end vision. It’s just to lose sight of that because you’re caught up in your daily life.

The problem here is your end vision has slipped away from you, so just bring it back in sight. Surround yourself with anything that’s reminds you of your end goal, such as your vision board, pictures of others who have achieved the same goal, and objects that represent the goal.

7. Follow the path of highest enjoyment

I found one of the easiest and most effortless ways to complete my projects is to be flexible in my project management approach. For example, most people will finish the tasks in their to-do list in sequential order. Task 1 comes first, followed by Task 2, then Task 3, etc. Sounds straight forward and easy, doesn’t it?

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I did this for a long time until I realized it wasn’t the most effective method. For example, some days I would procrastinate on a project because I felt like doing Task 3 rather than Task 1. Yet by the project management rule, I needed to do Task 1 first before I could do Task 3.

On the other hand, when I give myself flexibility over what to do (while maintaining within the confines of the project), working on the project becomes like a big adventure. This approach makes me feel like I’m in a candy store and I get to pick whatever candy I want.

I refer to this as the path of highest enjoyment – doing what makes you feel happiest at the moment. When you do so, you automatically become productive in your work.

8. Track your progress

Tracking your progress helps you understand how you’re doing and gives you a target to reach. This makes it easier to keep up with your momentum.

Create a project sheet that records your targets and your current status. Specify your KPIs that you want to achieve. If your goal is to lose weight, your KPIs will be your weight, your fat percentage, and perhaps your performance during your exercise sessions.

Then every week, review your progress. What % of your end goal have you achieved? Is it on track against your target? What is your target for the next week? Tracking makes you accountable to your goal and helps you to stay on track.

9. Celebrate what you’ve done so far

Sometimes we get discouraged with all the things that need to be done. It seems like no matter how much time we spend, it’s impossible to finish it. The amount of work overwhelms us and we opt out halfway.

Here’s the thing – Everything you’ve done so far IS an accomplishment! Give yourself a huge pat on the back and a big bear hug. Celebrate the process, the resting, the doing, the completion, everything. Take the opportunity to recharge and regroup. When you’re ready, continue on to with what you’re doing.

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10. Don’t force it if it’s really not working out

Sometimes, it just happens that you lose interest in the goal. It happens, and it’s normal. We change, our interests change, and we get new ideas and inspiration the whole time.

It might seem like a big waste dropping all that’s done, but it’s not big of a deal. You are capable of achieving a lot more than you realize. Trying to hold on to what you’ve done just prevents more goodness from coming your way.

I adopt the drop-and-go approach a lot with my work. For the 400 over articles on my blog Personal Excellence, there are actually about 100 half-written articles that have not seen the light of the day (yet). Some of them are 10% complete, some 30% complete, and some about half done. I don’t obsess myself with finishing these articles; I simply write as my inspiration guides me.

You might ask: Wouldn’t all the work that went into writing the posts (halfway) go to waste? Not at all. They all add to my 10,000 hours of experience. I learn from writing them, and this learning will come in handy for my future posts.

Give yourself the permission to drop what you’re doing if it’s not working out, and you might just find many new things coming your way straight after that.

Free Manifesto

If you have enjoyed this article, get the free manifesto version here, where you can review the tips wherever you are, whenever you want: [Manifesto] How To Finish What You Start

More by this author

Celestine Chua

Celestine is the Founder of Personal Excellence where she shares her best advice on how to boost productivity and achieve excellence in life.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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