how to finish what you start

How to finish what you start: 5 tips for work-completion

Katie Azevedo executive function, focus, homework, motivation, productivity, study skills, time management

By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.

For many students and working professionals, starting projects and assignments is the hardest part of getting things done.

But for others, starting isn’t the hard part; for these students, finishing projects and assignments is the problem. 

Here’s a scenario you might recognize, especially if you have ADHD: 

You get an assignment, and for whatever reason, you are motivated to do it (hallelujah). You start off strong, even mapping out each step using this amazing strategy here or this one here.

You think to yourself I am gonna do this right this time!

But soon enough, you’re bored. Or you think the project is dumb. Or it gets too challenging. Or you convince yourself that you suddenly now love Spanish and need to do all your missing Spanish assignments righthisminute. 

Soon enough, you don’t finish what you started. 

Do you recognize yourself in that scenario? 

If so, first know that you’re amazing for being insightful enough to a) read this blog post in an effort to improve yourself, and b) admit that your system for “getting things done” might be imperfect.

Second, read on for the tips.

How to finish what you start

When you’ve started an assignment or a project but can’t seem to finish it, you have to change something. If you keep doing what you’re doing, then you will keep not finishing it. Make sense? 

Here are 5 tips for how to finish what you start:

1. Take a structured break.

If you’ve been working on something for more than 45 minutes straight, then it’s no wonder that you want to stop. So do that. Stop working for 10-15 minutes (set a timer for real though) and get up from your workspace to reset. More often than not, you’ll find that you just needed a “brain blink” as I call them.

2. Make a plan.

If you haven’t touched your project for a period of time — a few days or so — sit down with an actual calendar and map out which days and specifically which hours you will work on it. Write this down in your calendar. Sometimes all it takes to finish what we start is the simple act of saying/writing I will work on this paper from 3:00-4:15 on Wednesday and from 1:00-2:45 on Thursday. 

3. Identify why you’re avoiding the project.

Knowing why you don’t want to finish what you started is key to getting over it. 

Did the project get harder? Then ask for help or clarification. Here are some simple ways to ask for help.

Are you bored by it? Go somewhere new to work. Here are some ideas of cool study spaces

Do you not have enough time to work on it? Find time. (Read that in my mom voice.) Look at all your random pockets of time throughout the day when you might be on your phone, waiting for other people, staring at the wall, etc. You have time. If not, then temporarily suspend some of your other activities just so you can get this thing done.

Do you just not want to finish it? Do it anyway. You can simultaneously not want to do something and STILL DO IT. That is worth repeating, loudly: You can simultaneously not want to do something and STILL DO IT.

4. Stop multitasking.

Multitasking doesssssss notttttttt workkkkk. If you don’t believe me, here’s an easy-to-understand scientifically proven explanation

If you have too many projects going at once, it’s the equivalent of having too many tabs open in your browser. Think about what happens when you have 50 tabs open … each one performs slower, right? Guys! Your brain is the same way! The more you have “open,” the slower you become. 

Instead of starting and half-finishing three assignments at the same time, pick ONE project and see it through to the end. Then move on to the next one, finish it, etc.

5. Focus.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with students who say they worked on something for hourssssss but still didn’t finish it. I have a tendency to believe them (for like six seconds). But when I observe their behavior first-hand, I see that they are literally doing everything except working on the thing. 

Put away the phone. Put away the earbuds. Put away the music. Put away the friends. Put away EVERYTHING except the thing you need to finish. Don’t underestimate the power of distractions. If you put away the distractions, you are the one with the power…

…the power to finally finish what you start. (Eh – cheesy ending, but legit point.)

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