I am an excellent starter. The trouble is I am not much of a finisher.
In the nooks and crannies of my house you can find any number of creative projects I’ve begun with vim and vigor. I have a stack of unfinished books on my nightstand. My desk is filled with thank you notes I wrote months ago, brimming with warm sentiments of gratitude that will never reach the intended recipients. I have a planter in my dining room that sits plantless, a box of frames that sit pictureless, and a slew of half-written articles and stories lingering lifeless in the abyss of my laptop.
I lose steam before I get to the finish line. I’m running out of juice for this blog post right now. I’m thinking of closing my laptop and folding laundry while I watch the rest of “60 Minutes.” I could at least finish that.
If it’s not about losing steam, it’s about memory. Unless I’ve explicitly written it down to remember, or left it laying out to see, I will completely forget what I was working on the day before, not to mention weeks or months before.
At 42 years old, I have given up on so many wonderful ideas. It’s hard not to give up on myself sometimes, too — especially when my cynical inner voice says, “Oh, you think that’s a good idea? Don’t kid yourself. You’ll never finish it.”
[Get This Free Download: Finish Your To-Do List TODAY]
Beginnings are delicious and full of excitement. But there is no real satisfaction without completion. I want a finished product, a publication, the glory of a checklist full of checkmarks. But with an ADHD brain that struggles with poor working memory, extended focus, and slogging through the mundane, it’s challenging to get to The End of anything.
To be clear, it’s not like I don’t know what completion looks like. In fact, I hadn’t realized that I’ve developed tricks to get to the end zone over the years until I started teaching them to my son, who also has ADHD.
How to Finish What You Start: My Top 5 Tips
1. Outsource your brain. Life requires a lot of upkeep, thought, and mental planning. Trying to keep it all in your head won’t work. (And ADHD doesn’t help.) So use calendars, lists, alarms, reminders, and other external tools to help free up your brain space and organize your time around the things you want to accomplish.
2. Say no frequently and without guilt. Say it with me: I do not need to be on that committee. I do not need to complete that Airbnb review. I do not need to make the meatballs from scratch.
[Read: Put a Bow on Finished Projects]
3. Set up a track and reward system. I hate keeping sticker charts for my kids (add them to the list of things I start but never finish), but there’s something incredibly satisfying about checking a box and reaping the reward. While I don’t have an actual sticker chart for myself, I do keep a weekly list of to-dos that I check off as I complete. The more checkmarks I gather, the closer I am to a cookie break or a show on the couch.
4. Make time your benchmark. Some projects are lengthy, lasting days, weeks or months. Give yourself credit for the time you dedicate to a project on a given day, even if it’s just a few minutes. I did not finish writing this blog post in one day, but I did spend an hour working on it. Time to watch Ellen and eat chips and salsa.
5. Forgive thyself. I am not maliciously forgetting the coupon envelope when I go shopping. Could I have set a reminder to defrost the chicken the night before? Yes. But can I turn back time? Nope. Breakfast for dinner it is!
Beginnings are beautiful, hopeful, and bursting with potential. But when too many beginnings pile up, we feel their unfinished presence like a stack of unpaid bills, gnawing at us, taunting us, and reminding us that we lack follow-through.
Sometimes we need to appreciate beginnings for what they are: Tiny experiments that can fizzle out or blow up in our faces. That does not mean that we failed.
It’s a balancing act between self-discipline and self-forgiveness. I have to trust that if it’s important, it won’t let me abandon it; the unfinished task will call me back and make me find time for it. And if it doesn’t call me back, then maybe it was only meant to be a beginning — a step towards something else more worthy of a sticker and a well-earned reward.
How to Finish What You Start: Next Steps
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