Dealing With Unfinished Projects - Take Back My Day
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Dealing With Unfinished Projects

Woman sitting at easel painting art.

I’ve written before about how stressful an excess of good ideas can become. After all, it’s easy to find new ideas, and so, so hard to see them through to completion.

In a perfect world, we’d finish what we start before getting enthralled by a new idea. Unfortunately, most of us have at least a few incomplete projects lying around.

Maybe they’re half-complete home improvement projects or crafts you haven’t touched in months. Or perhaps they are abandoned blog posts and marketing work for your business. Physical or digital, a buildup of these incomplete projects clutters your workspace and makes you doubt your abilities.

So what is the best way to handle these unfinished projects?

1.     Say What and How – and Be Specific

Sometimes, the sheer scope of a project can become intimidating and overwhelming. When there’s no clear path forward, even a relatively manageable project can appear far too much.

Take some time to think through the specific steps you’d need to complete the project. Start out with high-level tasks, then progressively get more detailed. Distill all this planning into a series of immediate next action steps you can take to make progress.

For example: if you’re planning to arrange your family photos in a photo wall, you’ll have to decide which photos to hang, purchase frames, and put everything on the wall.

“Decide which photos to hang” may seem like one step, but it encompasses quite a bit of work. Overwhelmed by the scope of the task, you may find yourself continuously putting it off (even though you badly want a photo wall).

Let’s break this step down a bit. Your list of specific actions could look like this:

  • Make a (short) list of the most important people and memories you want featured in your photo display; decide how many pictures you will use
  • Download and sort through your digital photos
  • Pull (a few) boxes of printed photos out of storage and look through them
  • Print and/or copy the selected photos

These steps are smaller, more manageable, and less overwhelming. You can schedule them when you have time available (rather than devoting an entire day to “Decide which photos to hang”). The impossible project now seems more reasonable.

If you are having trouble breaking the project into manageable steps, reduce the scope of the project. Think back to what inspired you to start this project. Was it a particular outcome? The chance to practice a particular skill?

Drill down into what you hope to get out of this project. Try to cut the project down by focusing only on what will directly lead to your desired outcome.

In our photo wall example above, you may feel as though you need to organize the living room before installing the photo wall there. However, these are two completely different projects. You may be highly motivated to hang up the photos, but shrink away from organizing the room. Rather than arbitrarily lump the two together (thus delaying the photo wall), treat the two tasks completely separately. You may find you need different tactics to complete such different goals.

2.     Say See You Later

Maybe you’re not quite ready to give up on a project yet, but now isn’t the right time to proceed with it. Perhaps your priorities have changed, or something urgent has come up. Or you’ve learned something new and realized you needed to change up your tactics.

You don’t get “bonus points” for finishing a project immediately – it’s perfectly OK to put the project down and come back to it later. There’s no need to stress yourself out by imposing unnecessary deadlines, especially if the project is for relaxation or a hobby.

Pack up the essential pieces of the project (physical or digital) and store it out of sight to make room for new things. Be sure to add notes and labels so you’ll know exactly where you left off when you return.  

Let’s say you enjoy crochet. You start a soft, warm, oversized blanket in the winter, but quickly lose focus in the spring in favor of outdoor hobbies. Sure, you could force yourself to keep crocheting during the summer, but that’s only going to frustrate you and ruin the experience.

Instead, you could pack up the blanket and the instructions to make it, store it out of sight in a safe place, and return to it when the weather gets cold again. You’ll appreciate having your past work as a jumping off point, but you also won’t have to stare at an incomplete blanket all summer.

3. Say Good Bye

Not all projects are built to last.

If you can find absolutely no motivation or excitement to continue with a project, it’s OK to let it go. Discard, recycle, or sell the partially completed project. If you can, repurpose parts for another endeavor (but be careful not to create unnecessary clutter!).

You owe it to yourself to clear out your space so you can focus on other projects that are motivating and stimulating.

Don’t beat yourself for the time and money spent on your discarded project – especially if you started it for fun! If you enjoyed the time you did put into it, it has served its purpose.

Every project is a learning process, and even unfinished projects are valuable experiences. The experience and skills gained can only help you later.

Keeping Unfinished Projects Under Control

When faced with unfinished projects, first take the time to clearly identify why you were motivated to start them in the first place. Reduce the scope of the project if possible, honing in on only the most valuable parts. If you plan to take an extended break and return to the project later, move it out of your sight and leave yourself clear notes so you can easily pick up where you left off. Some people find it helpful to leave a date on their notes for reference: If you haven’t come back to the project in 6 months or a year, it’s probably not worth keeping around. Allow yourself to discard, recycle, sell, or repurpose any project that no longer holds any excitement.

Unfinished projects happen to everyone, and they don’t have to be a source of guilt and shame. However, if you find yourself surrounded by unfinished business, consider investing in productivity coaching to identify personalized strategies for moving forward. E-mail me or better yet, schedule a free 30-minute call to find out more .


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1 Comment

  1. This is an excellent article – complete with clear, actionable steps – that deals concretely with an issue I think we are all very familiar with. Thank you so much, Dorothee!

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