All the half-read books, half-completed courses, and half-written articles hung over my head like an awkwardly shaped Damocles sword. Fed up, I decided to take that sword into my hands.
And that, my friend, is how I embarked on a quest to learn the art of finishing things.
One written and hundreds of read books later (not to mention over a hundred of published articles), the sword-shaped cloud over my head has disappeared. While I’d love to claim that I’m now a weather magic wizard who can command clouds and call lightning, I have just gotten better at completing things.
Which, come to think about it, is perhaps a more useful magical power, particularly for creators. Creative people often tend to have a boatload of projects they are working on.
But the most brilliant idea won’t have any impact on the world unless you put it into form. For instance, you need to actually publish your writing project to get readers.
5 Steps to master the art of finishing
If you also have some clouds (or swords or unfinished projects) you want to vanish, here’s the 5-step process that helped me do this:
1. Create a list of unfinished things
When you’re on a heroic quest that takes you out of your familiar environment, you need a map. Just walking out into the forest is the surest way to get lost or eaten by a dragon along the way.
On your quest to master the art of finishing things, your map will be a list, an inventory of all the half-trodden paths in your life. Gather your writing utensils and create a list of three categories:
- dragon conquests (projects),
- tool gatherings (errands), and
- mentor teachings (consumption).
Categorizing all your unfinished things in this way is useful because different categories require different levels of involvement, agency, and bravery:
Dragon conquests (projects)
This is the most involved category where you list everything that requires more than just a few steps to finish. Examples include a half-finished novel, a house project, or a dragon-related quest.
With things in this category, you typically can’t just get started on doing them, you often need to first get clear on how to approach the project (or dragon). Without adequate planning, you risk burning your time, your energy, and your fingers (or larger parts of your body).
Tool gatherings (errands)
Errands are tasks that are relatively straightforward and easy to finish, such as scheduling outstanding doctor’s appointments, replying to emails you haven’t yet responded to, or picking up armor for your quest from the local blacksmith.
While you need to take initiative to finish things in this category, many of these tasks can be completed in a day or even within hours or less (depending on your doctor’s phone availability and your blacksmith’s working schedule). You also typically don’t need to spend much time on figuring out the right strategy for doing them. Instead, you can often jump into action right away.
Mentor teachings (consumption)
This is the most passive category where you list unfinished things that you consume, such as half-completed books and courses by your business coach or Gandalf/Yoda/Merlin-figure of choice.
The main thing you need to finish things in this category is some time to get through the remainder of the book or course or long-drawn lecture from your mentor. As such, you can generally work on this category even if you’re feeling somewhat tired and uninspired. In fact, one could argue that it is the very job of a mentor to inspire you on your quest!
2. Remove the tasks you don’t want to finish on your heroic quest
Go through each of the tasks you listed and decide if you want to finish it. Not all tasks are worth the time and effort that you need to put into them.
Perhaps you don’t actually need to adorn your armor with flowers and butterflies. Maybe you can skip the visit to the local village healer who’s infamous for bad hygiene and leech therapy. Your mentor might be a crackpot so you could be better of without them.
When you start something, you open a loop. The half-finished task takes up some mental energy. You can release that energy and finish the loop by completing the task or deciding that you won’t finish it. Either of these will work.
If you realize that you don’t want to finish a particular task, strike it from the list. If possible, take steps to demonstrate that you’ve made that choice. For instance, if you don’t want to finish a certain book (or scroll), give it away. This helps close the loop and spread literacy among the people.
3. Pick one task in each category
Now that you have a map, it’s time to decide where you want to venture to. To that avail, pick one task in each of the 3 categories — dragon conquests (projects), tool gathering (errands), and mentor teachings (consumption).
If you’re unsure which one to pick, here are 3 different ways to make that call:
- pick the one that’s easiest to complete so you get an easy win,
- pick the one that will give you the biggest bang for the buck, or
- pick the one that weighs most heavily on you (“… the armor, for sure!”).
If you still find it hard to make a choice, just pick the first thing you listed in each category. Indecision can be an excuse not do something, so if you’re unsure, just begin at the top. Glory is waiting for you!
4. Improve your tactics
Congratulations! At this point, you have obtained a map and decided on 3 points on the map that you want to visit (and some destinations that you will avoid at all costs… such as the foul-smelling village healer).
Now it’s time to upgrade your skills and tactics to make that journey go smoother. While you will naturally get better and faster at completing things over time. That said, here are a few things that you can implement right away:
- For projects, get clear on which parts of the project are most crucial and which ones aren’t essential (maybe you decide that “freeing” the dragon’s hoard is essential but that for the sake of female empowerment, the captured princess should figure out how to liberate herself).
- When it comes to errands, you might be able to group different tasks together (for instance, sending out multiple emails or messenger owls at once).
- With tasks that fall into the consumption category, you might be able to do them faster, for instance by learning about speedreading or watching course videos at 1.25x the normal speed or instilling a sense of urgency in your mentor (“Please get to the point. The enemy is advancing fast and darkness is rapidly descending over the land!”).
In general, remember you don’t need to go through this alone. You’re on a heroic quest and heroes have mentors, allies, and tools that help them on their journey. So, reach out to the people who can help you!
5. Avoid starting new side-quests
Since you’re currently on a quest to overcome your “never finish anything syndrome” for good, it goes without saying that you should avoid starting new side-quests. Don’t let a minor villain taunt you into a fight to the death when you really should be saving the world from Sauron 2.0!
While errands tend to proliferate like mushrooms in the forest, you typically have more control over the other two categories. Don’t start any projects that aren’t essential — you already have a dragon to deal with so the neighboring village will have to make do without your help.
You also already have a mentor, so don’t start new books, courses, or magical apprenticeships until you have made significant progress with your existing mentor (or decided to fire them).
You are on a quest to learn the art of finishing things because you have trouble… finishing things. Starting something new will make this worse, not better. So, don’t initiate something new until you have learned how to finish things.
If you’re a highly creative person and find it hard to restrain yourself, keep in mind these words from author Amit Kalantri: “Beginning in itself has no value, it is an end which makes beginning meaningful.”
By following the 5 steps above, you can learn the noble and heroic art of finishing things. You will learn how to
- create a map,
- focus on the essential tasks,
- pick your targets,
- improve your tactics (sorry, princess!), and
- avoid taking on new side quests (sorry, neighboring village!).
This is, in many ways, a lifelong quest. I set out on this adventure a few years ago and I’m still on the road. However, I have gathered many rewards on the way that I wouldn’t have received if I hadn’t gotten better at completing things.
You can have the same experience. Today can be the day you start finishing things. You have finished this article. Congratulations! Now it’s time to put what I shared into practice.
See you on the road?
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