unfinished business

Do You Have Dozens of Unfinished Projects? Here’s What to Do

Are you the sort of person who gets really fired up and excited by new ideas, who dives straight in … and who then loses enthusiasm and ends up with dozens of half-finished projects all on the go at the same time?

If so, I can sympathize! In the past, I’ve had all sorts of works-in-progress – like novels, craft projects, self-study courses, ebooks – on the go. I tend to jump on new things with lots of energy, only to find that I’ve taken on too much to cope with.

Of course, you’ll probably know all the drawbacks of having lots of partially-completed projects hanging around. If your projects are ones which pay (like articles, ebooks, websites), then you’re not making any money because nothing’s finished. If your projects are related to a hobby, particular a crafty one, you’ll probably find that you’re using up a lot of physical space. And in almost every cases, half-done projects take up mental space.

I’ve learnt that there are three key options for dealing with projects that are lurking in an unfinished stage. They are:

  • Ditch That Project – Completely
  • Salvage What You Can
  • Decide to Finish It

Here’s how to know which option to pick, and how to go about it.

Ditch That Project – Completely

Sometimes, you start something and – for whatever reason – you lose interest. I’ve started learning several programming languages, only to give up in the early stages. You might have begun knitting a sweater, learning a language or creating a website, only to find you’re not enjoying it much.

Momentum coach Charlie Gilkey characterises these projects as “dead”. That might sound brutal, but sometimes you need to be brutal with cutting down the amount that your brain is trying to cope with:

Why have a dead category? Because some projects are neither completed, on hold, nor active. A perfect example is a project that you’ve decided to abandon. It’s important to know what’s in your project graveyard so you don’t keep trying to work on it. This category gives you hard edges; hard edges can save your sanity.

(Charlie Gilkey, Stop Shuffling and Start Creating, Productive Flourishing)

If you realise that you simply have no interest left in a project, make your mind up and ditch it. You’re not taking any action on it anyway – you might as well make that a conscious decision.

You’ll probably want to:

  • Give away, recycle or throw out materials related to the project
  • Contact anyone else involved to let them know
  • Resist the urge to take on anything extra to replace this dead project – you know you don’t have the time for it!

Salvage What You Can

Sometimes, you’ve lost enthusiasm for a project but you still want some sort of useful outcome. In many cases, it’s possible to salvage something from the work, time and money that you’ve already put in.

For example, if you started writing a 100-page ebook and only got 20 pages done, you might not want to ditch that project completely. How about using those 20 pages as a series of blog posts or newsletter articles?

If your project involves academic or professional qualifications, it might be worth pressing on until you’ve completed a particular stage or until you’ve got the credits for your current module.

When you’re looking at salvaging a part-finished project, try:

  • Finding the next point at which you can have something complete (even if it’s not what you originally intended)
  • Selling back any materials involved
  • Potentially handing over a part-finished project to someone else to complete

Decide to Finish It

If you can’t bear to abandon your project and if you can’t salvage it part way, then make up your mind to finish it – and really commit yourself to this. You’ll want to:

Set a Deadline

In some cases, you’ll have external reasons for a deadline. Often, you’ll need to pick a somewhat arbitrary date. How about your next birthday, or a particular holiday? Tying your deadline to a calendar event can help you stay focused.

Once you’ve set a deadline, write it in your diary or on your calendar, and take it seriously. If your project involves other people, let them know the deadline – knowing that people are waiting for the finished project will help keep you on track!

Make a Checklist

One reason why we often put projects down and fail to pick them up again is because we’re not sure what to do next. If projects have been lying untouched for a while, it can be tricky to remember where we got to.

Make yourself a checklist that covers all the major steps that you’ll need to complete in order to get from where you currently are to the finish line.

Set Milestones

Finally, combine your deadline and your checklist to make a series of milestones – interim dates where you want to reach a certain point on your checklist. This helps you stay on track, and shows you how a little bit of work on your project on a regular basis can get you a very long way in a year.

How many half-finished projects do you currently have? Do you keep starting things without finishing others? What might you need to ditch? What can you salvage? What are you committing yourself to completing?

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