The temptation to start something is ridiculously high #FinishWhatYouStart

I’ve been blogging for the past little while about how to finish what you start.

I’m writing about this topic because I start a lot of things but I let those projects fizzle as I start new things. I don’t finish projects as much as I like; instead I simply deprioritize them in my mind and go on to something new.

So, for the last quarter of the year, I’m exploring this whole idea of becoming a better finisher and the blog posts I’m writing are a combination of observation, experimentation, and self-reflection.

One observation I’ve made as I’m doing this: The temptation to start things is ridiculously high. I’ve become such a starter over the years that it’s my default mode, I think. Therefore, even when I try to focus more on finishing, I end up starting new things.

I have started a couple of new client projects. I’m okay with that because they’re clients and if I put them off for too long, I’ll lose them. Some starting is okay and I lump that in.

But I have a bunch of other projects that have popped up that I thought “hey, I should start that!” Fortunately, I haven’t. I’ve been able to stick with my #FinishWhatYouStart initiative even though it’s a struggle some days to maintain those good finishing habits.

As new ideas come flooding in, I keep thinking that I need to start something. I’m pushing back, though because I don’t want starting to be the reward. I want finishing to be the reward. I want to enjoy the start because I look forward to the finish. So I need to finish these projects to help rewire my brain.

These new projects are just constantly added to my “Someday/Maybe” file and I will evaluate them later to decide whether or not they should be acted upon.

The temptation to start something is ridiculously high… but my response is getting better.

I’m fine with that (because I don’t want the ideas to stop). But I will hopefully see a reward for all this finishing and that will really help to solidify how positive this experiment is.

#FinishWhatYouStart project list update 2

A couple of weeks ago I listed the projects I was going to work on for my #FinishWhatYouStart challenge. I’ve been working on them and here is where I am so far. (The updates are in italics).

  1. I will have developed a strategy for one of my brands (which I started up a year and a half ago but it stalled out and has a couple of false starts since but no real progress). Update: There are three main problems I’m facing with this project — a branding issue, a monetization issue, and a marketing issue. So developing a strategy will need to address all three of these. I made some good headway this past week on this but don’t have a strategy nailed down just yet.
  2. I will have published 100 articles (which is a project I started — I’m 10% done — but then got busy doing other things). Update: Nothing more done on this.
  3. I will be doing 3-set high-intensity circuit-training workouts 6 times a week with 30 pound weights. (I keep getting stuck at 3 circuits with 20 pound weights or 2 circuits with 30 pound weights). Update: I had a set-back a week ago with some sore joints. I made some changes to deal with this and I’m trying the workout again while addressing my joint pain. I also have a plan to introduce these changes a little more gradually than I was.
  4. I will have finished putting together my US corporation (which has been a long and painful process to set up since I live in Canada). Update: So much of this project is waiting for other people but I had a big breakthrough last week when some paperwork was finally sent to me. It should be arriving any day now.
  5. I will have completed a copywriting course. (I’m always taking courses to improve my skills and I’m currently taking one on copywriting, which I started last year but which has stalled). Update: I had a big breakthrough on this, this past weekend. Since then, I’ve been working to keep this moving and build a habit.
  6. I will have published my Sales Funnel Bible book (which I finished writing in the spring but the editing has stalled). Update: I restarted editing and then other priorities took over. (Yikes!). But I’m rebuilding the habit of editing and it won’t seem so bad if I do just a few pages each day.
  7. I will have finished the first draft of a book I’m co-writing with a friend of mine (which is actually going well but is right at the precipice of falling into an abyss of delay!) Update: This is an interesting situation. The entire project is at a go/no-go stage for a number of reasons. We’re currently doing a cost/benefit analysis to decide whether we need to choose to end this project or keep it going.
  8. I will be marketing each week to a joint venture list and earning a minimum amount of weekly income from that effort (which is something I’ve been doing off and on with mixed success for the past couple of years but which I’d like to have consistent income from). Update: I was slow to start this but got it going again this week.
  9. I will finish deploying a new brand that I’ve just started. (See? not everything is stalled. I want this one to do well before I let it crash!) Update: This is going fairly well without a lot of input from me (woohoo!) but there are some logistical challenges to figure out if I’m going to keep working on it.
  10. I will develop a plan for an internet television brand I put together a couple of years ago (which I put aside for a while to focus on my Sales Funnel Bible book). Update: Nothing done with this.
  11. I will drywall and paint the recroom in my basement and install a bar (which is something that I’ve be ready to do since the summer but haven’t got around to yet). Update: Nothing done with this.
  12. I will have finished a client’s book (which we’ve been planning to write for a while!). Update: I sent an early draft to the client!
  13. I will finish a year’s worth of newsletters for a real estate investor (which we’re in the process of doing — everything is going well there. Again, I don’t want to let it fall). Update: This one is with my client right now. It’s going okay.
  14. I will finish a book for a real estate investor (which, again, is going okay so far, although the timeline is starting to alarm me). Update: This one would be going better if I can stick with the habit of writing in it every day… but I’m a little more sporadic than I want to be.
  15. I will have a plan in place to start marketing one of my brands (which is going well but I’d like to push it forward more). Update: I’ve started developing the strategy for what I want to do on this. But let’s be honest… the strategy is the easy part.
  16. I will have a plan in place to take one of my brands to a new level (which has done well but I want to take it in a new direction). Update: I did a lot of work on this project last weekend. I’m happy with where this project is so far.
  17. Proprietary project #1. Update: Going well!
  18. Proprietary project #2. Update: Not going so well. :( I feel like I’m going backwards on this.
  19. Proprietary project #3. Update: No change.
  20. Proprietary project #4. Update: Going well!

The two parts of a project that could prevent you from being able to #FinishWhatYouStart

A project starts. You imagine how exciting this project is going to be. You push to get it moving. You see a couple of quick, immediate results. You maybe even encounter an early challenge that you overcome by sheer determination and elbow grease. Your brain is slurping up the dopamine that comes from seeing early results and dreaming of an amazing future.

But at some point it stops. The enjoyment you derive from that initial start ceases to be as enjoyable to your brain anymore.

That’s when you (and I!) switch to something else. The unfinished project is left behind — deprioritized — and we’re off to something new.

So, what is that point that we simply stop caring about the project that we once stayed up all night for?

I think there are two potential areas where this scenario arises; I’m developing this hypothesis based on my experience:

  1. I’ve seen this deprioritization happen when I face a problem that seems huge and whose resolution seems more costly than the potential reward I’ll achieve on the project.
  2. I’ve seen this deprioritization happen when I get into the mundane, routine “slogging”… the point in the project where I have to show up and do the arduous, detail-oriented work day-in and day-out for what feels like a long time without any noticeable results.

THE PROBLEM OF INSURMOUNTABLE CHALLENGES

Projects are full of challenges; it doesn’t matter what the project is. In the early days, smaller challenges don’t feel like they are a big deal and you are motivated enough to push through. But as the project continues, the challenges mount. They get bigger and more frequent. One project I started seemed exciting and I navigated the challenges easily… until one challenge was something I simply couldn’t figure out how to fix. I did some research. I invested in a resolution that didn’t work. I made more changes. I invested in another resolution that didn’t work. And then I simply ran out of ideas… and time to make any more changes. What was supposed to be a simple project turned out to be a big hassle and the challenge I faced seemed insurmountable. I’m sure it’s not insurmountable but I haven’t figured out how to invest any more time into the project without completely erasing the potential reward from the project.

What’s interesting is how the challenges I faced at the beginning the project didn’t seem to be that big while the challenges I faced part way through the project did seem bigger. In retrospect, I don’t think they were necessarily bigger but after attempting several costly resolutions that didn’t work, the wind disappeared from my sails.

To fix this, I think I need to do the following things in my projects:

  • Start smaller projects.
  • Do a better job of estimating the time and resources a project will require.
  • Build intentional rewards and milestones all the way through the project.
  • Do better contingency planning before the project starts.

This isn’t going to eliminate the challenges a project will face but I think it will help to reduce the perceived “cost” of a problem and it will help me to have options to solve a problem long before I have the problem.

THE PROBLEM OF ROUTINE

This one was a little harder to detect as a problem but I think it’s a pretty big problem when you know it’s a problem. I suspect this situation is probably what early explorers faced: They left port highly energized to discover what was just beyond the horizon… Only to learn that the land they sought to explore was not JUST over the horizon but was actually WEEKS away… and those weeks were filled with mind-numbing routine.

Although some of my projects fizzle out early because I encounter problems, I think that a lot of my projects end early because that mind-numbing routine becomes boring. My brain gets bored of doing the same thing over and over and longs for that hit of dopamine on a new project.

To fix this, I think I need to do the following things:

  • Create more milestones so that I see interim results even when the overall project isn’t yet delivering the big results I want.
  • Keep the big picture in mind: I will feel a huge sense of satisfaction when the project is over. So I need to push through to that end.
  • I need to do a better job of enjoying routine. It feels funny to write that but I think it’s true. I do well when I get into a routine that I enjoy (such as exercise or blogging) so I need to somehow transfer that same thinking to the routine of my projects.

In my experience, more projects fizzle because of this routine problem than fizzle because of those big challenges. So if I fix this, I think I solve a majority of my fizzling issues.

MAKING CHANGES TODAY

I want to make this super-applicable to me right now. So I’m going to sit down and look at my projects and figure out what regular tasks need to be done on them to keep them moving. Some of my projects are new so this isn’t a big deal (yet) but some of my projects are fizzling or almost fizzling because I am not showing up every day to do the work that needs to be done on them. So I’m identifying those projects and listing them with little daily milestones to work on.

Time availability as the weak link in the #FinishWhatYouStart chain

I’ve observed that one of the biggest challenges to finishing what I start is my time availability.

It’s possible that there are other weak links in my situation or in yours… but it’s interesting how many of those weak links come back to time. We can often expand or work around many other aspects of a project but it’s impossible to get more than 24 hours in a day — and it’s impossible to work 24/7.

Quite simply, I start a project and then run out of time to finish it. It’s as if I start a project with the starry-eyed notion that the only work required is the start-up work and that somehow it takes little or no work to maintain.

These start-up and maintenance activities are being added onto a schedule that is already jam-packed with running a busy writing business and juggling several investments.

To compensate, I try to be more productive with my time. I expand the time I’m working and I try to maximize what I accomplish in those hours. Instead of putting in a good solid 8 hour day, I expand it to 10 or 12 and think I maintain a high level of focus the entire time. It doesn’t happen.

Result? One or more of the following negative consequences occur:

  • Existing projects suffer because I’m focused on the new project.
  • New projects only get so far and then stop because I do not have the time to continue them.
  • I burn out.
  • I reach capacity and am only able to do an adequate job on a project rather than a great job.

Deciding to finish something is not just the deferral of starting some else. Rather, it’s the decision to see something through to success while also achieving a “hidden goal” of freeing up my time to start something else.

Time is a finite resource that is kind of like a pipe. If the water going into the pipe is greater than the water coming out then you end up with a potential problem: Higher water pressure that can burst the pipe. The solution is to moderate the amount of water at either end: If I choose to defer starting something, I turn down the amount of water going in on the entrance side. And if I finish more projects, I essentially widen the available pipe on the exit side.

There are, of course, many other things that can be done to address this time availability besides finishing more and starting less. Potentially there are automation opportunities and delegation opportunities — both are worth considering in some cases. But before I get to those, I want to make sure that my own personal mindset is wired toward finishing… because how can I lead a team toward an effective finish if I can’t first bring my own smaller personal projects toward a finish?

Lesson learned: A huge aspect of finishing what I start will be how I use my time. Specifically, I need to monitor how much work I take on for each project and I need to be realistic about how long I think that work will take me to complete it. It wouldn’t be unrealistic for me to double the amount of time I have allotted to each project. If it takes less than that, great. If it takes that long, fine. (I’m aware of the law that says “work expands to the time given” but the opposite is not always true: Work does not always compress to a smaller amount of time.) Doubling the time allotted to each project addresses my excessive optimism at how long I think something will take.

Aaron Hoos’ weekly reading list: ‘Starting blogs, marketing with content, and growing your biz’ edition

Aaron Hoos: Weekly reading list

Cool things have been happening this week: It was my wife’s birthday. I rocked out some work for some pretty awesome clients. My wife had a conference to attend and I got to go with her.

I’ve been reading some great stuff this week and, interestingly, it kind of works altogether to create a “system” that business owners should adopt. Enjoy!