This guest post is by internationally recognized Productivity Coach, TEDxSpeaker, and #1 Best Selling Author, Alan P. Brown.
Look at your to-do list. Note one project you’ve begun but haven’t moved forward on in a while. Feel a pang of guilt? Then it’s likely a project that could really be moving you forward — and yet it remains undone. Learn the hacks to Finish the Mission.
The big projects and tasks your conscience is telling you to get busy on and finish up are likely the kinds of things Dr. Stephen Covey puts in his Quadrant II — important but not urgent — the things that move us forward.
You know they’re not urgent — because if they were, you would already have dispatched them. And you know they’re important, because if they weren’t, they wouldn’t give you that gut-pang!
SOME STATISTICS AND HISTORY TO COMFORT YOU
More than half of U.S. homeowners have at least one unfinished home project, according to a survey by Black & Decker. Over one third of college students haven’t finished their four-year degree (it took me 10 years). Seventy-two percent of writers are haunted by their unfinished book.
And of course it’s not just major projects. Everyday things aren’t getting finished — the languishing work projects, the half-read books, etc.
A common thread across so many unfinished projects and tasks is that they’re just not that easy or interesting when you’re halfway there. Or even when you’re at 80% or 90% done — Especially when you’re 90% done!
But as psychologist Ari Tuckmansays, even if you’re 90% complete, you’re still 100% incomplete.
Why Can’t I Finish Anything?
Let’s dive into the psychology and also the neurochemistry of not finishing things. Starting a relationship with a sexy new project — one that you’re stoked about, or that your colleagues will be envious of or that could generate some serious coin, can be like falling in love. The brain chemistry is similar. It’s exciting, emotionally arousing, and it’s got the dopamine-generating benefit of novelty. We might even obsess a little bit about a new project.
Because as we imagine it, it’s perfect. It’s perfect as I write it there on my to-do list or in my calendar. But as is so often the case in love, the physical attraction eventually wears off.
As soon as there are questions you can’t answer, and unforeseen challenges that threaten to derail things, you realize how much hard work is involved. It’s just not fun anymore.
Your brain chemistry changes in a snap. The dopamine dries up. The appeal evaporates.
Yep… the honeymoon is over. It gets down to the actual doing of the actual nitty gritty, and the nitty gritty ain’t as pretty as that pure, crystalline image of the finished project.
Some call it “crank, then tank.” Very common phenomenon. But if, as we assumed going in, this once beloved and magnetically attractive project is still important to you, then you need to Finish that Mission! Because there are serious costs and benefits involved here — again, otherwise, you wouldn’t get that gut-pang when reminded of its unfinished-ness.
“Much of the stress people feel doesn’t come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they’ve started.”
How to Finish What You Start
SOME SOLUTIONS TO FINISH THE MISSION, AND FINISH WHAT YOU STARTED!
1. Re-examine your priorities.
Make sure that thing is a priority still. Maybe it’s not, and you just feel guilty about not finishing it. In that case, you’d be finishing something for the sake of finishing it, not for the sake of your priorities or advancement.
One of my to-dos is to finish writing my second book. The content’s pretty much ready, all I have do is the market research, align the resources, then lock myself away and start putting it together. It’s been started, it’s on my to-do list, but until I get some other priorities banged out, this is not a priority — and that’s OK.
You can utilize the Eisenhower Matrix when deciding if your priorities have changed by looking at the importance and urgency of each of your priorities.
2. Next, ask, “What is hard?”
This is a great hack from attention coach Jeff Copper. What is hard about this? Not knowing where to start it up again? Trouble scheduling time to work on it? A component you need somebody else’s help with?
Dimensionalize that. It will tell you way more than you think such a simple question possibly could.
To determine which tasks in your life will require the most effort and create the most impact, watch this video:
Import the referenced effort vs. impact matrix here.
3. Examine your “outs.”
What are the likely excuses that could give you an out, allowing you to push it back once again? Just naming those will weaken them.
4. Visualize the outcome.
If it’s still a big priority, then create a physical visualization of the end result — and/or the end result of failure (See Chapter 4: A Trick for Getting and Staying Motivated in my book). Visualize how you will feel when you have finished this project (or task, or priority). Keep that visualization firmly in your mind and in your face in your places of work.
5. Set a realistic deadline and begin anew.
Put some alerts in your calendar to pop up in the days or weeks as that deadline approaches. Bring it to the top of your to-do list as if it were a brand-new project. You might even re-name it Sexy New Project Redux. You’re not in love anymore? No problem; fake it.
And remember as you begin anew to just keep restarting, which can be as simple as setting a timer for five minutes with no expectation of finishing. Only the expectation of moving it forward for five minutes.
Once you get back into it — maybe you’re single tasking on it for 30 or 60 minutes a day — you’ll find it’s not as unsexy as it looked, all old and tired at the bottom of your to-do list. You might even fall in love all over again.
A CLOSING THOUGHT
One last thing to remember about finishing things: You can finish something by taking it off your to-do list. Maybe it belongs on a “wish list” instead. Maybe it just belongs to the past. And that’s OK. We often leave things on our to-do lists because of guilt. We don’t want to admit failure. But you know what? It’s OK when your priorities change!
Alan P. Brown, an internationally recognized Productivity Coach, TEDxSpeaker, and #1 Best Selling Author of Zen and the Art of Productivity: 27 Easy Ways to Have More Time, Earn More Money and Live Happier. He is also the host of Crusher™TV where he shares simple ways to accomplish more in less time with less drama. Follow Alan on Twitter and on Facebook.