Why I Never Used to Finish Anyth
For most of my adult life, I was the Queen of Unfinished Projects.
I’d come up with a brilliant idea - either a side business, a home improvement project or a gardening project...
I’d be all abuzz about it for days or weeks, imagining all the fun I’d have bringing it to fruition. I’d purchase materials, get started, work furiously at it for a while, get so so so close to finishing, and then…
Did you hear the air going out of it? I never finished anyth
Oh, I’d get close. Ridiculously close.
I tore down the horrendously ugly and mismatched 1970s paneling in my living room, put up drywall, sanded and painted it, and stained and installed trim on three out of four walls. Three out of four. The only piece - which remained unfinished for 7 years! - was a little strip of moulding in a corner that’s kind of hard to get to. Why is it hard to get to? Because I put an impossibly heavy oak armoire in that corner before I finished putting up the trim.
I knew exactly what I was doing when I pushed the armoire that final inch into the corner. I knew this project would remain unfinished. "This is never gonna get done, but (grumble grumble), I can't stand this thing in my bedroom anymore!…” In my pathetic self-defense, I rationalized it thus: my house is teeny (820 square feet) and in order to remodel one room, the furniture within has to migrate to another room (or be spread among the three rooms), which is exceedingly inconvenient and cluttered. The armoire had been a monolithic presence in my bedroom, and one day in a fit of “get this thing out of here before I go nuts!” I dragged it back to its spot in the living room. I could have finished the trim first, but I didn’t have the piece I needed, it was out of stock at both local Home Depots, and I was out of patience and bla bla bla, long story short, my patience snapped, the armoire retreated into the offending corner and I started on another project.
This wasn’t the first time I’d come close to finishing a project but left it unfinished.
Why? I’ve thought about it often. It’s not a fear that “if I finish it, I’ll die” or some such nonsense. It’s partly that there’s a new shiny fun project clamoring for attention, and I’m easily enthused. I'd get all fired up and go at it with everything I’ve got. I didn't quit when I'm bored. Oh no. I used to quit "just" before the final nail is in place. I love the hard work of a project, I truly do. I love it when my house is torn up and a construction project is underway. But, I’d get “this” close to finishing, and it would end up 99% finished. So what was with that final 1%???
It took a while, and I think I’ve figured it out.
- My brain is a brilliant idea-generator and I love, love, love the “creative rush” part of the process. It’s like falling in love!
- I love the challenge of figuring things out, especially the spatial challenges of a tiny home.
- I love the hard work and I love knowing “I did it myself.” Go, me!
- And here’s the kicker… I am more in love with the process than I am the finished product. I’m always happy with what I’ve accomplished, but truly it’s the sleeves-rolled-up, dirty hands, in-the-moment happily immersed in the work, that I love best.
And there you have it. It does irritate me that I have 99%-finished projects lying around! Over the years I’ve accumulated quite a few of these and in the interest of decluttering the workspace in my head, I’ve had to get tough with myself and train myself to persevere until a project is 100% completed.
I now commit to one outdoor project and one indoor project at a time, period. This is so I can work on either project, weather- or mood-dependent.
Here’s how I did it:
1. No matter how enticing the next project is, I only allow myself to think about it, but not take a single minuscule step toward it, until ‘this’ project is finished. Oh, this is hard. So, so hard. To avoid the incredibly sweet temptation of diving in headfirst into this new project (which is precisely what will happen the moment I get a ‘taste’ of working on the new one), I allow myself 10-15 minutes of ruminating and doodling whenever I feel the urge to work on it, but I do not take a single action step. The anticipation is actually quite delicious!
2. I do what I can to stay in love with and excited about the current project: for example I remind myself that I love to paint, so painting is the very very very last step before I hang pictures and drag furniture around. Or, I imagine decorating a space, or putting in some new plantings, which signal that ‘this project c’est fini!’ MindPT really helps with this element. I can stay inspired just by watching the beautiful images flashing by, because I always tend to see some seed of an idea that I could use to enhance 'this' project.
3. I write down what is still left to be done. This is important for me because a written goal takes on a power it didn’t have before. Writing an unfinished-list helps me stay focused on the remaining steps and there's a real satisfaction to checking them off one at a time. Especially that last step!
4. I go back and finish an old, old unfinished project before I tackle the new one. (I take care of old unfinished business). This gives me a little break between big projects, and I can wipe the old project off the board. Usually it’s a minor and somewhat inconvenient step, but the feeling of accomplishment I get is priceless! You should have seen my face when I finally nailed up that last bit of trim. What a relief!!!
5. I have slowed the pace of my projects. Instead of “gogogogogo-getitdonenow” I now allow myself only an hour or two a day at most to work on a project. This helps keep my life balanced and makes me more patient knowing that I get a little done each day, still enjoy other activities and I get to prolong the joy of the process (that’s just me, but it works; there's a real art to enjoying the present moment, even the ones that aren't particularly fun!).
I am now the Queen of Really Cool Finished Projects.
I’ve remodeled much of my house by myself (with a little help from pros that keep me from electrocuting myself, my house from falling down or the pipes from flooding). There are still some major indoor and outdoor projects left and I await them with eager anticipation. I figure I’ve got enough to keep me happily busy for many years of planning, demo-ing, remodeling and updating (yay for 1950s vintage homes and their challenges).
I know there are many of you out there who shudder at the thought of neverending home improvement projects, but take a look at your own unfinished projects-you-love, whatever they may be. Car restoration? Landscaping? A painting? A book? A crocheted sweater? A song? A quilt? A repurposing project?
Find out what keeps you from finishing them and why other projects can become intensely appealing before you're finished with 'this one'. It’s worth an inward look because finishing a project and decluttering your mental workspace is truly liberating - you learn to enjoy the process AND the achievement with equal intensity!
I have found that there is immense joy both in the process, as well as in the completion. I've found the balance, and I hope this blog has inspired you to do the same.
This post took some doing, because I have about four other topics I want to write about today... but I stuck with it and finished it. Yesssss!
Oh yeah... "anyth" is not finished. ANYTHING. There. Finished.
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