5 Tips for Finishing What I Start

I’m doing dishes. My tendency is to leave just a few things unwashed.

I’m reading a book. Then I leave that one and start another one, never finishing the first.

I’m writing a blog post. I have 45 posts in draft form right now.

In fact, I just looked over and realized that I had just started to sweep the floor when I decided this was actually the best time to start writing this post. So I left this:

It’s one of those things about myself that drives me crazy! It’s really only in the last couple of years that I identified this problem. And that’s a good place to start in moving towards a solution, isn’t it?

I think the underlying problems are: distraction, procrastination, and lack of self-discipline. Oh My!

5 Tips to help me finish a task:

1. Visualize the completed task and persevere to the end! I did this last night with the dishes. There were just a few things left. They needed to be hand washed. I thought about how much nicer the counter and sink would look if I just pushed through and finished those last few things. I did it!

2. Reward myself for finishing a task. Instead of having a snack in the middle of a task, wait until it is finished. I’ll tell ya, I seem to get so hungry as soon as I start working on a task I don’t enjoy! Chocolate should be involved here.

3. Break up large projects into smaller tasks. This is hard for me because I seem to like BIG projects, but I think it will help. Using a timer is one way I do this that works.

4. Turn off distractions. The computer is a HUGE distraction for me. It’s also a fantastic resource. So let’s say I’m organizing the pantry. I might stop after just getting started so that I can look up articles and pictures showing the best way to organize the pantry. One hour later (with checking email and helping small children along the way), nothing is done! I’ve known for a long time that I need to turn the computer off sometimes, but now it’s time for action!

5. Keep a list. When I’m working on a task, if I think about another task that I need to do, I will write it down on a list instead of switching tasks. That way I don’t have to worry about forgetting the 5 other tasks that pop into my head while I’m trying to sweep the floor.

And now I’m off to finish sweeping the floor!

Further Reading:

Finish what you start (I’m an Organizing Junkie)  This really resonated with me when I read it. And if you struggle with feeling like you work all day and get nothing accomplished, you must see the video she has in this post.

Do you struggle with finishing what you start?

I’m linking up with Orgjunkie’s 52 Weeks of Organizing!

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Filed under How To, Motivation, Time Management

14 Responses to 5 Tips for Finishing What I Start

  1. Those are great tips! So happy I could help in some small way.


  2. I went to the video you posted and I totally relate!!

    I especially like the visualizing the success and enjoyment of a finished task. Keeping a list helps me too.

  3. I do that a lot too, where I’ll be doing one thing and think of another I want to do so I go do that instead of finishing the first thing! Glad I’m not the only one!

  4. It’s an excellent place to start! I think it’s going to get easier as you get less cluttered and more organized, because the remaining clutter and disorganization will stick out more. Broken window theory as applied to housework, I guess.

    I sometimes have that problem also and have learned to power through. Eventually. Sometimes it gets put off till it annoys me and I spend a big chunk of time finishing off projects. In my case it’s usually projects that require a disproportionate amount of work to do that last little bit.

    I did learn that I should NOT prioritize my list of these jobs. Doing so means I putz around in a distracted mess and can’t figure out where to get started. Now I start with the first thing at hand, then the next, then the next. To put it differently, I don’t let “perfect” be the enemy of “good enough.”

    • Elizabeth

      I totally agree that it will help as I get rid of more clutter! I have big plans for that – plans that need to turn into action.

      I could see myself getting caught up in the prioritizing thing, too, but I bet it would do well for certain people.

  5. Farm Girl

    Loved the video!

    Paperwork is the worst – should I just open everything and then file or use the stack system and open bills first or toss all junk mail…wait, here is a letter I haven’t read yet – must read that first…

    Wish me luck -today is paperwork day.

    Farm Girl

    • Elizabeth

      Good luck! As you know, this is a big struggle for me, too! I say start with throwing out the junk, for sure.

    • WilliamB

      For me, having many small piles is easier to deal with than one big pile. The one big pile is intimidating, but I can (sometimes) work a small pile at a time. Rather like RSS’s 15 min system, now that I think of it.

      But remember, mail and paper are my nemesis, so my endorsement may not be worth a whole lot.

      I sort my mail:
      * junk mail gets recycled immediately or put in the shredder pile immediately
      * high priority “personal” mail
      * medical-related mail (gotta watch insurance companies like a hawk!)
      * bank-related mail and bills
      * low priority mail, such as alum solicitations & newsletters, nonprofit ditto, etc., and other things to deal with
      * reading material (magazines, alum mags, etc)

  6. I just found your blog after reading comments at Simple Notebook and had to say: this is my theme for the whole year! I believe catching myself when I start to change tasks is truly what is helping me from leaving so many things undone but I am still a work in progress. Best wishes, Tammy

  7. WilliamB

    Another, possibly helpful, thought occurred to me over the weekend. I was deciding whether to finished a particularly dreaded task. I’d already done step one (ugh), there was no way to subdivide the task any further. I kept putting it off because it was a fiddly little job that I don’t enjoy. (Organizing cabinets is a fiddly job that I do enjoy, go figure.)

    Then I thought about how nice it would be to have the damn thing done. To get all that paper either put away or tossed. To clear out the space that the half-done job was occupying. To be on top of the job so I could keep up with it in real time, instead of having to add the next set of paper to the rest of the un-done work. So I did it. PS: it was fiddly and no fun but it took about 15 minutes.

    This morning I did the same thing about running. I stopped running in late December for holiday-related reasons and was having trouble starting up again; the weather didn’t help either. Suddenly I thought about how good I felt after a run and now energetic and in control I feel. I ran.

    So an explicit part of my strategy now is to focus on the benefits of completing the dreaded task, instead of on how dreaded the task is.

  8. Barbara

    Hi! For some reason, my reader subscription didn’t update your posts since December- so weird! I thought you had abandoned your blog, but I’m happy to see you’re still going strong!! : )

    Anyway, I completely relate to getting distracted during a task/project. I will start a load of laundry and while sorting, I will notice stray dog hair in a corner and run to get our vacuum. Then, I will notice the canister needs emptying, so I head to the trashcan to empty it. Then I see the can and notice it needs a good scrubbing and disinfecting, which leads me to the cleaning supplies bin, which needs a good re-organization. You see where I’m going with this! Two hours later, I’m back in the laundry room, loading up that single load of clothing I should have done in the first place!!! Maddening!!!

    I wanted to share a tip I am LOVING! A blog I read (Pioneer Woman) recommended the organizational “Teux Deux” system. It’s online and also an iphone app. I think you can use it online if you don’t have an iphone. It’s a very simple and easy to use list making system that gives you immediate satisfaction of having finished a task- you cross off your to-do item. Any things left undone carry over to the next day. IMHO, this has really aided me in getting things done around the house (and not getting sucked in by the computer). I thought I’d share the tip simply b/c I think I share some of what you have posted in the past (letting things slide, etc). I’m not affiliated in any way with that company, but just love the app. Hope you or someone here would find it helpful.

    • Elizabeth

      Hi Barbara! I’m glad you are back! I’ll have to check out the app. I have tried other “To Do” type apps/sites without much luck, but I’m always up for trying something new!

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