5 Things to Start Doing to Finish Your Goals
If you have trouble finishing projects, you’re not alone. This is a common human experience.
The fact is, we have more ideas than what we can develop, use and implement. This is what it means to have a creative mind. We don’t have the time, energy, and resources to see all things through, even when they would have a lasting, positive impact.
We can feel lost, overwhelmed and confused when there’s so much unfinished. We might think we need more willpower, or better habits, or more refined systems. We make to-do lists, set reminders, and block time to focus. But they don’t always work when we’re being pulled in different directions.
We struggle to choose from the many options. And when we choose, we struggle to start. And when we start, we struggle to finish.
In his book, Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, author John Acuff writes the day-after-perfect “is the make-or-break day for every goal” and “separates finishers from starters.” He says chronic starters quit the day after perfect, while finishers try again and move forward toward success.
The journey to the finish line can get messy. The process for finishing a goal is filled with twists and turns.
Avoid stumbling blocks, take the hard and necessary path, or jump obstacles to reach your goal.
This is episode 56. 5 Things to Start Doing to Finish Your Goals
Welcome to The Incrementalist. My name is Dyan Williams and I’m your productivity coach who will help you make big changes in small steps.
Now I’ll share the 5 things you can do to stay on track and finish any project.
The first thing is to make progress incrementally and imperfectly. Mistakes and setbacks are part of anything worth doing. Aiming to do every task perfectly makes it harder to finish any project.
Let’s say you set a goal to practice yoga every day for 1 hour. You want the positive effects, like building strength, boosting energy, and calming the mind. Without fail, you keep it up for 14 days straight. And on day 15, you break the routine because you decided to go for a walk outside or read a book instead. Or maybe you’re in a busy season. And you end up quitting yoga because you didn’t keep a perfect record.
In a YouTube video that has millions of views, Matt D Avella talks about how he uses the two-day rule to stick with good habits. He does not allow himself to take off more than 1 day in a row for some kind of workout, whether it’s going to the gym or going for a jog or hike. He says he sticks to the two-day rule as much as possible. It keeps him out of a slump and helps him stay committed 80 to 90% of the time.
But even when you break your streak or skip a good habit for more than 2 days, you can always come back to it. You can always take the next step no matter how much time has passed.
I’ve gone more than two days – sometimes weeks, sometimes months, without practicing yoga. There were just more important things calling for my attention. And I still come back to the practice.
Sometimes I schedule the time and day when I’ll restart an action or behavior. It becomes a habit again once it becomes a part of the regular routine, which is dynamic, not static.
The second thing is to set smaller, more flexible goals. Cut your goal in half, John Acuff recommends.
While the two-day rule helps, sometimes it’s perfectly fine to break it. You don’t have to do things perfectly to get them done.
A better tool is the 2-minute rule, which is to break down the behavior or task into smaller steps you can do in two minutes. You make the behavior easier to do. You gain traction and build momentum as you do each step.
When you break the project into more manageable chunks, you can work on each chunk daily or at least twice a week. You need less motivation. You chip away at big projects or build the skills and confidence to take on bigger projects.
You also make the behavior more obvious. You reduce friction to carry out the steps. Instead of keeping your yoga mat tucked away inside a cabinet, place it in a visible spot in a room where you go every day.
Supersized, audacious goals are exciting. But they’re not always sustainable. And they can lead to feelings of anger, frustration and shame. are exciting. But they’re not always sustainable. And they can lead to feelings of anger, frustration and shame.
They require a lot of energy, willpower, creativity and hyperfocus.
We underestimate the time and effort it takes to accomplish a goal. This is the optimism bias. This is the planning fallacy.
Smaller goals and projects are training ground for more complex projects. They expand your comfort zone without extreme discomfort.
If you want to grow your own herbs, fruits and vegetables, you don’t need a big farm in the countryside. You can keep a micro-farm or vegetable garden in your backyard. You can keep a container garden in your home.
And if you can’t cut your goal in half, extend the timeline. Some projects need more time than others. Some just take their own time. Lack of patience and an excessive need for control are core reasons for abandoned projects.
Of course, some plants die if you give it too much water. But some plants take more water if you provide it, and they’re better off as a result.
Sometimes we do need to work at a slower pace, instead of power through as quickly as possible. Reflecting and slowing down are different from overthinking and procrastinating on what needs to get done now.
The third thing is to enjoy the process, not wait for the desired result. Goals are temporary, but processes are perpetual.
Every movie or show has a beginning and an ending. But if the characters were real, their life would go on even after the end credits. Real life is the same. Even after you reach a milestone or a goal, there is still more to do, face, and experience. The cycle of life goes on.
You might assume you need a deadline of some sorts to move forward. Due dates can help us focus and reduce procrastination. But time pressure can also make it harder to get into a flow state, where you’re in the zone and perform at your peak.
A deadline is demanding and doesn’t account for all the conflicting obligations. When it makes you stressed and tired, it creates more confusion and overwhelm.
Rather than work toward a deadline, it’s better to have a grounding practice that helps you stay present. You will naturally bounce from hyperfocus to scatterfocus. So you need to have habits, routines and rituals to gently bring back the wandering mind instead of force it to focus.
Do a brain dump to declutter your mind. You can write down thoughts, fears, doubts, emotions, and ideas that distract you from the task at hand. You can process them later during your daily or weekly planning. Mainly, you offload them from your mind to gain clarity.
A grounding practice like journaling, yoga and meditation brings inner peace and calm. This cuts down busy, reactive work and allows for deep, high-value work without burnout. Tap into your breath and listen to your body to cultivate meaning and purpose, which move you to finish what you start.
Celebrate the small wins along the way. Don’t wait until you hit the big goal, which might not happen, either at all or within the desired time frame.
The celebration doesn’t have to be grand. You could keep it simple. Indulge in a family game night; or dust off the fishing rods, head out to the lake, and fish off the dock with your family; or read poetry outdoors while you interact with nature.
The fourth thing is to rest and recharge fully. The brain is an energy hog. Taking breaks and having fun are vital for meeting goals. Fatigue from overwork makes it harder to move projects across the finish line.
We often think that if we’re not producing or working, we’re being lazy or we’re wasting time. But human beings need to make space for leisure, relaxation, hobbies and creative efforts.
Before you start filling up your cup, start with an empty one first.
Do not schedule every hour of your day for work. Keep blank spaces on your calendar for enjoying free time, doing things on a whim, and engaging in personal activities.
This could be going for a car ride and listening to music, taking in the views and having conversation on the way. It’s usually the journey, not the destination that really counts. It’s the learning, growing and observing that makes up a meaningful life.
Routine, physical tasks like driving in a car can put you in a meditative state and free up your unconscious mind. I get some of my best ideas and insights when I’m doing mundane tasks like these.
Get enough, high-quality sleep. Sleep is most critical for your health and wellbeing, which affect your ability and drive to finish things. Have an evening routine that winds you down for bedtime.
Have a high protein breakfast, preferably within 1 to 2 hours of when you wake up. You can have the same thing every morning or mix things up every now and again. If it’s a summer-like day, try iced coffee instead of hot tea.
Throughout your day, stay well hydrated, whether by drinking water or eating watermelon.
The fifth thing is to attend to one priority at a time. Not every desire or want makes it on your priorities list. But even your priorities compete with each other.
A priority is of first concern; it has the greatest importance.
In his book, Essentialism, Greg McKeown writes the word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was pluralized into the word priorities in the 1900s. But we can’t have many first things; there is only one in any given moment.
You will have to choose what to be great at, what to be good at, what to be okay at, and what to fail at. You decide what to do now, what to delay, and what to say no to. This keeps you from running back and forth, and bouncing from one idea to the next.
Step forward to keep up momentum and avoid getting stuck. And step back to reflect before you move ahead.
Each day, each week, take small, deliberate steps forward on one or two projects. Giant, inconsistent leaps on many projects create missteps and setbacks.
If you choose one thing, you give up something else. You can’t have it all at once. You can’t do two things – that require the same mental or physical mode - at the same time.
When you’re riding an exercise bike, you’re not doing yoga.
When you’re doing yoga, you’re not reading a book.
When you’re reading a book, you’re not playing piano.
When you’re playing piano, you’re not writing the report.
When you’re following the rules, you’re not testing the limits. Sometimes you do need to accept the game and master the rules to play by them. Some rules are for our own protection, safety, efficiency and efficacy.
But some rules are arbitrary, overbroad and meaningless. There might be more ways than one to get where you need to be. This is where reinvention, innovation, and experimentation are key. Consideration of the immediate and long-term benefits versus the immediate and collateral consequences come into play.
To find out more about how to finish what you start, check out my book The Incrementalist, available at leanpub.com/incrementalist. The link is in the show notes.
And if you want to dive deeper on the incrementalist approach to productive living, you may contact me for coaching or training. If you have feedback or topic ideas, drop them in the comments section of our YouTube channel or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At the time of this episode release, The Incrementalist YouTube channel has 91 subscribers. The last video on how to stay focus added about 70 new subscribers and has over 3800 views so far. This was a big leap from prior videos, with the first one, Small Steps: The Surest Way to Success, released in December 2021.
The Incrementalist YouTube channel needs at least 100 subscribers to get a custom URL. I set this as a milestone when I launched the show. I’m not looking to add thousands or millions of subscribers, even though I appreciate any growth, big or small. To me, it’s more important to enjoy the process in the here and now, rather than get a desired result, which may or may not happen.
When I started this channel, I was looking to publish new content every week. But I’ve cut this goal to about twice or once a month, due to daily life involving a family, two young kids, a law firm, leisure, and other priorities. I’m also using a more organic process to make new content, such as capturing my own images rather than using stock images for videos. I don’t have a set day or week to publish new episodes, which I know is bad for the algorithm. But if you enjoy this show, your subscribing reminds you to tune into it.
If you found value in this episode, hit the like and share buttons. And if you want to keep learning how to make big changes in small steps, be sure to subscribe.
Thank you for being here and join me again on The Incrementalist.
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