How to Finish What You Start: 8 Essential Tips

Today, I want to crush procrastination and help you get your projects to the finishing line! I know how difficult it is to motivate ourselves to finish something. I’m the kind of person who starts twenty different projects and has a hard time finishing even one of them.

In my book, The Part-Time Artist, I talk about the reasons why motivation fails when it comes to finishing a project, no matter how motivated we were at the beginning. I talk about the “muddy middle”, that moment right in the middle of a project when the motivation from the beginning has worn off, and the end seems too far to reach. It happens to all of us, but there are things you can do to get through it and see your project to the end.

Make a Plan

Every good project starts with planning. Are you starting a new painting? Or a new song? Or a new play? The first thing to do is to plan it:

  • How long is it going to take?
  • How much resources do I need?
  • What is happening in the next few weeks/months that might delay it?
  • What will be the hardest part?

Depending on your field and on the type of project, you might have to add more questions to this list.

I know that planning a new project like that sounds awfully boring and not artistic at all. When I have a new idea for a story, the last thing I want to do is to think about the practicality of writing it. However, I have noticed that if I did this work early on, I was much more likely to finish the story than if I didn’t. So give it a try!

Write Your “Why”

At some point in the project, you might lose sight of why you are doing it. Maybe the project has taken more efforts than you thought or your insecurities have taken over. You need a reminder of why you started it in the first place, of the feelings you had when you first had the idea.

That’s why I recommend, alongside with the planning, to take time at the beginning of a project to write why you are doing it, and how you are feeling about it. Not just think it, write it. The idea is that “past you” will motivate “present you”.

Build a Routine

To finish something, you need to work at it regularly. That means that you need to integrate it into your usual routine. I have a whole article about creating a new routine, check it out!

Track Your Progress

This is something that really helps me as a writer: when I write a first draft, I keep track of the number of words I write every day. It’s a habit I’ve started during NaNoWriMo, and it’s probably the habit that has helped me the most with being productive.

Why does keeping track of your progress matter? If you build a routine and work a little on your project every day, you might feel like you’re not moving fast enough. You might even feel like there’s too much left to do, compared to what you’ve done already. Numbers, clear-cut-no-nonsense numbers will help with these false perceptions.

Now, how do you quantify your progress when you are not a writer but a painter or an actor, for example? When I have a project that is not quantifiable, I tend to make list of “steps” in the projects. It’s like a to-do list, but I can check things off it on a regular basis. You could also track the number of hours you spend on something. Or a percentage of completion. Whatever makes sense to you for that particular project.

Celebrate What You’ve Done

This is very important, and often forgotten: celebrating your progress along the way instead of waiting for the end. You are working hard and achieving step after step, it’s only normal that you celebrate each one.

Celebrating can be quick and doesn’t involve much. It can be allowing yourself a day off or a nice pastry. It can be posting a tweet about it or a photo of your work-in-progress.

Don’t skip this step, otherwise you might feel like the work is ungrateful and too hard to continue, and you risk giving up before you finish.

Chocolate is a good way to celebrate! Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

Avoid the Shiny Object Syndrome

It will come a point in your project when you will have an idea for a brand new project that is MUCH MORE tempting than your current project. The new idea is fun, attractive and better. Or at least, it appears to be, from the trenches of your current project’s battles.

It is often tempting to abandon a project for a new one, but this is the number one reason why you don’t finish anything in the first place! Because this new shiny project will soon turn into the same obstacles, drudgery and pain as the old one. You risk abandoning it too for yet another new idea. And that’s how you start 20 projects and never finish one. I speak from experience!

You need to learn to prioritise finishing about anything else. If you have issues finishing something, don’t start anything new until you have finished what you currently do. No exception!

Buddy With Someone Else

Having an accountability partner can do wonders for your motivation and productivity. It doesn’t matter if they are not working in the same field as you or don’t have the same type of projects. The idea is to check in regularly with someone and talk about your progress.

Social media is a great way to find accountability partners in your artistic field. You can even make the habit of posting your progress on your favourite platform, so that others can see that you are moving forward.

If you are looking for a community where you can share your progress, doubts and solutions, feel free to check out my Facebook group!

Get Rid of Your Perfectionism

Finally, there’s another factor that greatly hinder finishing a project: perfectionism. I see it with new writers: they start a book, write a few chapters, go back to the first one, change it, write one more, go back to the beginning to change it, scrap the rest, start again… Trying to get everything perfect from the beginning will only result in you not finishing the project at all.

Instead of trying to get it perfect, try to plow through it at first and only aim for completion. Yes, it will probably not be as good as you want, but it will be finished. Believe me, you will learn and progress more if you finish something than if you spend months fixing it without outside input.

Do you have a project that you struggle finishing? Talk about it in the comments below!