How to Finish What You've Started
Many people struggle with completing assignments, projects, and daily tasks. We can become distracted, anxious, or avoidant of the work. Around 22% of people in the UK, USA, and Australia identify as chronic procrastinators.70% of college students report difficulties with procrastination on academic tasks.Procrastination can be due to a fear of failure, and other worries.Despite your difficulty completing what you have started, you can combat this issue by creating structure, focusing on the project more effectively, and increasing your motivation.
Set a deadline.Having a deadline (especially one set by someone else) increases task completion and reduces procrastination.
- If you have a pre-set deadline, remind yourself why you need to keep that deadline. Identify consequences of not meeting the deadline. Write the deadline on your calendar and circle it.
- If you do not have a predetermined deadline you can set one for yourself. Identify how long you need to complete the task. Be reasonable and allow yourself plenty of time in order to reduce unnecessary stress.
- Set a deadline for each small part of the project you have identified. This way you will be able to keep yourself on track as you go along. For example if you need to complete a research paper by next month, you might set a weekly deadline in order to complete certain portions of the project (such as conducting research and creating an outline).
- If you find yourself distracted or procrastinating, look at your calendar and remind yourself of your deadline. You can think or say something to yourself like, "If I continue to procrastinate I might not meet my deadline. I need to focus on my goal."
Create a to-do list.Having step by step instructions can help people achieve more and complete assignments or projects.If you learn to break down huge tasks into smaller steps over the course of days, weeks, or even months, it can reduce the stress you feel about the project.
- Focus on completing small sections at a time. Taking small steps consistently adds up. If you were to write 10,000 words in one day, this is a major achievement, but you wouldn't be able to keep it up. However, you could write just 200 words a day and get more done. This takes almost no time, and over the course of a year would add up to 73,000 words.
- Simply write down everything you need to do to finish the project. For example, maybe it is a school project and you need to: research the topic, write the essay, make a PowerPoint presentation, write a speech and practice your speech. Each of these items may require a separate to-do list. Be as comprehensive as possible.
Prioritize.One of the most important aspects of success and completing projects is prioritization. We need to prioritize our tasks if we want to be efficient and complete them.
- After you’ve made a to-do list, take the most important or time-limited part of the project, and do that first. Focus on one thing at a time. For example, you would need to research a topic before you began writing a speech about the topic.
- Perhaps you do not need to focus on certain tasks at the moment. For example, maybe you want to program a game, but you've lost interest in it. Don't force yourself to do something that has greater negative outcomes (boredom, time wasted, etc.) than positive outcomes (in this case, computer skills and possibly money). Always focus on what you have to do first such as work or school obligations rather than personal projects.
Make a schedule and manage your time.Many people find that scheduling their activities makes them much more likely to carry them out. Take each item on your to-do list and allow yourself a reasonable time to complete it.
- Keep a calendar and make sure you identify what needs to be done each day in order to eventually meet your goal. If you don’t complete everything you needed to each day, don’t be hard on yourself, simply add it to the next day.
Focusing on the Project
Limit distractions and interruptions.Interruptions may create a need for closure in unrelated areas. This may account for why interruptions or distractions cause us to be preoccupied with something else, or to get off track.
- Put yourself in a comfortable, quiet area that can help you focus. This may be a library, coffee shop, your work desk, or your bedroom.
- Play some music if that helps you concentrate.
- Put your phone down or in another room while you work. Another option is to block social media sites form your computer, or set a time-limit you can spend on them. You can also disable your account on certain social media sites (i.e. Facebook) for a while and then regain it once your project is finished.
Ask for help.If you get stuck, one of the best ways to move forward is to get assistance or guidance.
- Get another perspective.
- Ask someone to keep you company while you work on it.
- Find someone that will work on it with you.
Reward yourself.Rewards, or positive reinforcements, help people stay on track and finish tasks.
- Reward yourself after completing a small section of the task. Perhaps allow yourself some time to watch television, eat a snack, or play a game.
- Plan on rewarding yourself after your goal is finally completed. You could take yourself to dinner, go on a vacation, or plan a fun weekend.
- If you find yourself distracted again, set boundaries - tell yourself that you are not allowed to do anything else until you get a portion of the task completed (not a large part but one that takes a few hours or so). Plan on a particular reward that you enjoy once that portion is finished.
Encourage yourself.Using positive self-talk or affirmations can benefit your ability to be productive.
- Repeat several times throughout the day, "I will finish this."
- Repeat, "I'll finish this for [your main reasons]"
- Leave it in a place that you frequently pass by as a reminder. You'll think, "Oh! I still have to finish that!".
Take breaks.Research suggests that taking breaks can actually help you increase your ability to brainstorm and become more productive overall.
- Take a little break, stretch or move around, and come back to it once you're refreshed.
- Take a few hours or a day off if you find yourself overly stressed out. New ideas may arise.
Motivating Yourself to Finish
Focus on your commitment.Focusing on why you wanted to do what you started can help you identify reasons to stick with it.
- Why did you begin this project? Make sure to think about your true motivation. For example, if you are writing a novel you may want to become published, but why - to express your ideas? To write the story which has been unconsciously building in your head?
- Identify why it is important to complete. Perhaps you need to write an essay or speech for school or work. Will there be negative consequences of not completing it such as a lower grade or a negative effect on your work reputation?
Change your thinking.If you are avoiding the work it may mean that you are evaluating it in some way that creates a desire to avoid it. Sometimes we may think thoughts like, “This is too hard,” or, “This is going to take too long.” These thoughts can lead to anxiety and avoidance.
- Focus on what you have completed in the past. We often remember or think about our unfinished tasks rather than our finished projects.
- Control perfectionism. While perfectionism does help you to have higher goals in life, it can also stop you from completing tasks, especially creative tasks like writing a novel. This is because perfectionism can make you feel as if the project is never good enough, and you will just continuously try to improve it.
- Forgive your procrastination. Accepting your procrastination and forgiving yourself for it can actually lead to less procrastination.This is because when we accept our mistakes we can then begin to change them. The acts of fighting against them or denying them do not allow us to move forward toward positive change. If we let ourselves be controlled and do not accept ourselves, we give power to the problem. Instead of holding on to the rope in the game of tug-o-war, simply let go. However, this does not mean make excuses for yourself or give up completely on your goals. It means accept and admit that you have a problem with procrastination and then work toward a positive solution.
- Celebrate what you've done so far! This may help you to feel better about the project.
Become interested in the topic.When you are interested and can use a variety of your skills when working on something, procrastination is reduced.
- Find a way to be interested in what you are working on. For example, if you are writing an essay – make a creative thesis and focus on writing about what interests you. Be creative.
- If you get stuck, try brainstorming or free association. Simply write down everything that comes to mind when you think of your project. This can help you come up with new and create ways of looking at your task.
Take care of yourself.You won’t be able to be very productive if you aren’t healthy enough to complete the task. Being healthy can help to increase your motivation because it can give you the physical energy that you need to move forward.
- Manage stress appropriately through exercise, relaxation time, and keeping yourself occupied with positive endeavors.
- Exercise – try yoga, dance, aerobics, or kickboxing.
- Take care of your physical health. Eat healthy by eating enough protein, fruits, and vegetables. Get enough sleep; your brain continues to work on problems while you are sleeping.
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