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80% Done and Procrastination

February 15, 2010

The way I see it, any project has four distinct parts: idea generation, project planning, starting, and shipping. I was going to say ‘finishing’ instead of ‘shipping,’ but I’m right in the middle of Linchpin, and, really, when it comes time to ship, it doesn’t matter if you’re “finished,” you just have to send it out the door.

Idea generation has never been my problem. Most of the time, I’ve got ideas coming out of my ears. More ideas than I have time or energy to deal with, which is how I like it.

Project planning has never been my problem. I can sit down and plan out the steps necessary to get something done, and I can even (most of the time) make them coherent to others.

Starting is occasionally a problem. Or, put a little differently, momentum’s a bitch. As we all (should have) learned from physics, it takes almost twice as much energy to start moving as it does to keep moving. But once you’re moving, then momentum’s suddenly on your side. See, I told you momentum’s a bitch. šŸ˜€

Fortunately, over the years, I’ve collected a bunch of tricks that help me to take that first step, and once I’m going, it’s easy to keep going. Also, there are probably thousands of books on the subject of getting started. This is a well-documented problem that many people have. Through practice, it is a problem I only occasionally struggle with.

And now we come to shipping. Shipping is something I have a really hard time with.

And it’s not even shipping, that’s the thing. My problem comes at around 80% done, for any project. Seriously. This blog post… my eBook… the personal development book I was reading last week… you name it. If it can even loosely be described as a project, I will lose interest when I hit the 80% mark. Almost like clockwork.

When I first get myself moving on a project, I am completely gung-ho about it, completely immersed in it, and really excited about how it’s going to turn out. But as soon as I round that final bend, and can see the freaking finish line, I completely lose steam, and interest. It’s really hard to motivate myself to even work on the project, let alone finish.

And I’m not alone. This happens to lots of people. I’d hazard a guess that it happens to everyone (I don’t know, really, ’cause I’m just me). But unlike trouble starting, I’ve not come across as much in the way of advice on how to finish.

The nice thing is, it’s easy to recognize when that 80% lull is coming on, because I’d rather do anything else than finish the project I’m working on.

A list of things that I will do to procrastinate finishing a project:

  • Write lists of things that I do when I’m procrastinating finishing a project (I wrote this list when I was supposed to be writing the last chapter of my eBook)
  • Clean (something I often forget to do because I’m caught up in whatever cool idea I just had)
  • Over-clean (cleaning is good, but you only have to take it so far; you don’t have to take a toothpick to the cracks around the sink)
  • Go through the fridge, looking for something to eat, even though I’m not hungry
  • Wander through the house aimlessly
  • Think about exercising (I can’t actually exercise, because that might motivate me to get back to work when I’m done… and I’m procrastinating on exercising, too)
  • Suddenly remember that I have to do the laundry
  • Balance my checkbook
  • and so on…

So it’s really easy to figure out when I’m stalling on a project, but the other nice thing is that the solution to the “stalling” problem is pretty straight-forward.

The solution: You just have to plow through the lack of motivation. You just have to sit down and make yourself work. For ten minutes, or twenty. Whatever you can handle. If you’re going stir-crazy after ten minutes, do it for ten minutes, take a break for twenty minutes and do it for ten more. You just have to do whatever. it. takes. That’s not the easy thing to do, but it’s not complicated either. You just have to do it.

And if you can’t do it, elicit the help of your friends, family, or significant other. Have them give you a deadline and hold you to it. Or offer to pay you for working on it for an hour. Or whatever. Like I said, whatever it takes. Just do it.

And, much like starting, once you get going again, you’ll pick up speed, and our good friend momentum, and you’ll be right back on track. (Just watching out, in the last 20% of any project, it’s really easy to stall out multiple times. But once you have a system in place, each consecutive stall will slow you down less and less.)

Remember, as Steve Jobs said, “Real artists ship.” It’s not art, it’s not a product, if no one ever sees it. You have to finish.

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