Developing the Completion Habit

Image shows a car in a field

Generating ideas is great, but an idea never fully developed is like owning a car without wheels; it ain’t going anywhere, it’s just taking up space, and it’ll probably piss you off every time you think of it.

I’ve written quite a bit about generating ideas for creative projects. The more ideas you have to choose from, the more likely you are to pick something that is going to be interesting, unique, relevant, or useful.

However, it’s too easy to end up with a pile of ideas and half-started projects….while never actually completing anything.

I’m beginning to believe that having a mountain of unfinished projects is just another form of procrastination. If you’re working on ten things at a time but rarely finishing anything, somehow it’s easier to say ‘well, I can’t get to this right now, I’m just too busy, I have too much going on.’

Why is it so important to develop the completion habit? I have enough reasons for a bulleted list. Here goes:

  • Finishing feels good. Just like sex, it’s good to reach the end. When you’ve got projects that never reach their, ahem, climax, you end up frustrated. Much better to finish.
  • Building the finishing habit reduces stress. Why? Because you know that the ideas you chose to develop aren’t dead ends or potential time sinks. You know you can finish them, and even if you can’t get to them right away, the knowledge that you eventually will finish them is relaxing.
  • Profit. You can’t sell an unfinished product. Nobody is interested in an idea. Why? The idea might be original, but the hard part is actually developing that idea and turning it into a finished product.

How can you develop the completion habit?

I propose that the best way to complete projects is to dig yourself out of the busy trap and allow yourself to focus on just one thing. Single-minded focus leaves no room for excuses. Nothing else can get in your way. Just you and your project. Here are some 0ther tips to help you develop the completion habit:

  • Fight your tendency to procrastinate and focus only on one thing. Once you finish that one project, move on to the next one.
  • Know what’s worth doing. Focus on that. Ignore the rest. Know that it’s okay to move some ideas and half-completed projects to  the back burner while you’re working on that one main thing.
  • Work with the end goal in mind. Visualize your project as you hope it will be.
  • Plan the steps required to turn your idea into a finished product.
  • Set a deadline. Between now and that deadline, create a series of mini-goals for each step.
  • Do a regular review. Be accountable to yourself. Every week (and month, and year, if you’re this ambitious), check in with yourself on the status of your project. Examine your progress. If you’re missing deadlines, figure out why. Expand your time horizon if necessary.
  • After you finish, celebrate. Bask in the warm glow of completion, savoring the feeling of satisfaction that comes from a job well done.
  • For your next project, remember that warm happy post-completion feeling. During low points, use the memory of that feeling as motivation for finishing.

Yes, ideas need time to germinate and develop. Capturing, generating, and storing ideas is a worthwhile pursuit. But at the same time, you’ve got to develop these ideas into a finished product.

Ideas are as common as plastic. Completed projects are golden.

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  • Erin September 4, 2010, 1:19 pm

    Maybe working on one thing works for you, but not for me. I don’t like to focus on just one thing because I either lose interest or get burned out. My mind works better when it has variety. Otherwise, I completely agree: an idea is only as good as its execution.