When I was 13, I found an old, empty-of-glass, window frame on top of a pile of trash at a construction site. I lifted the frame up, looked at it, and decided right then to do a weaving inside of it for my arts and crafts project. It was a cool idea, but the frame was far too large for me to have finished it in a semester, even if I had been a world-class weaver, which trust me, I wasn’t. By the time the class ended, I had only weaved a small napkin-sized portion of the frame.
I promised myself that one day I’d complete it. And at the time, I intended to keep my promise. For years, all through middle school, high school, and college, this unfinished weaving stood in my garage silently mocking me. It was an eyesore, and a symbol of my inability to finish what I start. Finally, my mother tired of looking at what was now a dusty, moth-eaten weaving, threw it away. This project was just one of the many things I’ve started, but never finished.
I especially hated when a project lost its freshness. If I was writing something and having some difficulties, I would put it down to come back to it later. By the time I remembered it, I would have lost whatever spark I had for it. Then I would get distracted, and forget the thing I was supposed to do, and start some new project that I would probably never finish. It was an never-ending cycle of never finishing anything. I was, what I decided to call, an “incompletist” and it needed to change.
Do you have a number of open books, spine-side up piled on your bedside table taunting you every night? Is your dissertation still in need of some finishing touches, even though you ended your schooling long ago? How’s that sweater coming along? You know, the one you started knitting for your baby nephew, the one starting high school in the fall? Yep, you may qualify as an incompletist too.
So what do you do about? There are some steps to becoming someone who finishes what she starts. Here’s what worked for me:
1. Make a list
And prioritize the items on your list. It’s okay if you don’t finish everything. Hell, at this point even if you just finish one thing, then that’s cause for celebration. If completing one task creates another, you can put the new task at the bottom of your list.
2. Choose one project at a time to focus on—don’t multi-task
Your other projects are on the list, you’ll get to them eventually, don’t worry about finishing the other ones. Don’t stress about how long the list is.
3. Pick projects that have inherent rewards
One of the things that got me to actually finish things was baking. If I followed the steps in the recipe, I was rewarded with something delicious. If baking isn’t your thing, then how about biking? Each time you complete a ride, it gets a little easier, and you feel a little better.
4. Make a small vow
I will write for 10 minutes every day. Anybody can find 10 minutes, and after weeks of 10 minutes you will have written a few pages. Also, you will probably do it longer than 10 minutes anyway, but it doesn’t matter, your commitment was only for the allotted time.
5. Track your progress
That might be drawing a line through the item on your list or making a small graph for yourself of tiny boxes that you can x out when you’ve taken your small step. This is also a good way to build good habits, and reward yourself for making things happen.
6. Stop holding yourself up to impossible standards
It’s okay if what you finish isn’t perfect. I have that problem where I keep starting over because I make a mistake, and then I never get past that first step. Perfection can be a huge stumbling block to completing a task. Let yourself off the hook, just a little.
7. Visualize the end product and be grateful for it
I know it sounds backwards, but there really is something to “acting as if.” If you can imagine what the finished product will look like, and how good you’ll feel when you’re done with it, you’ll be more driven to reach your goal.
I promise if you even follow just one of these steps, you will get a lot closer to becoming someone who finishes what they start, and you’ll feel so much lighter without a bunch of unfinished projects weighing you down. When someone recently referred to me as someone who gets things done, I nearly wept with joy, I am an incompletist no longer.