I came across an excellent post by Ali Luke of Aliventures. Ali is a writer and writing coach. Even though her article, “How to Finish What You Start: A Five-Step Plan for Writers,” was geared towards writers, the principles that she discusses can be applied to anyone.
I have always been a bit of a scanner (a person with lots of varied interests). It is hard for me to stick with anything for an extended period of time because I quickly get bored and lose interest at a certain point, and then I’m ready to hop on to the next thing, sometimes leaving the thing I was working on totally unfinished.
It always starts out good, with my giving 110% with great intensity and determination, but very few things can hold my interest over the long-term. Now don’t get me wrong, I finished the really important things, and I was in law enforcement/public safety for over 25 years, and I have a college degree (after two decades and lots of night classes…lol)! But there is always something new catching my eye, and I don’t want to miss out on anything!
So, imagine how offended I was (at first) when I read Ali’s first step: Stop starting new projects!! What? How is that even possible? My first reaction was one of immediate resistance. As I kept reading, I realized that Ali wasn’t telling me to quit having ideas and interests, rather just to stop trying to act on each and every one of them! Hello!! How easy is that! Just stop trying to do them all — this week! Right?
It almost made too much sense. Her suggestion is to create an idea file where ideas and interests can be jotted down to be revisited at a later time after you complete current projects. They don’t go anywhere, they are there waiting patiently for me whenever I want am ready to start something new.
I was simply amazed at how this first step hit home for me. I have always believed that if I had an idea, or an interest in something, that I needed to jump on it and get started with it immediately. No time to waste.
I could hardly imagine how strange it would feel not to always be going Mach 10 with my hair on fire trying to juggle everything at once, which led to a quick crash and burn, and caused me to walk away from many projects and leave them dangling incomplete for weeks, months, or even years. Yes, I said years. And in all that time, it never once occurred to me to just stop beginning new projects! Which leads to Ali’s second step: Assess Your Current Projects.
In this step Ali encourages us to organize all of our current incomplete projects. For me this meant really taking some time to sit down and review each and every unfinished project and really evaluate it on its own merits for plausibility.
Is this idea something that is still relevant? Do I have the desire or time to complete it or is it something that I should donate? Is it still something that will take me in the direction I am wanting my life to go? Ali suggests to divide up projects into three categories:
- Active Projects – these have a definite purpose, are in accordance with your current goals, and still excite and inspire you.
- Dead Projects – these are no longer consistent with the direction you want to go and can be filed away or even let go completely.
- Dormant Projects -these still hold promise and are ones that you would like to complete sometime in the future
Once I started doing this, I literally felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
For me, the hardest part of Ali’s process is the third step: Choose One Active Project To Focus On. I have spent so much of my life having way too many irons in the fire, that it was hard to imagine focusing the majority of my time and energy on just one project. On the other hand though, this step makes so much sense, that I was embarrassed that it had never dawned on me before. After all, the easiest way to finish something is to set goals and keep working consistently until you are done, not allowing distractions or obstacles to get in the way.
So it was at this point in the process that I made an agreement with myself to only try one new thing at a time and to do it in moderation so I could really experience the enjoyment of doing something without experiencing the burnout I had in the past from zooming through everything.
That brings us to Ali’s fourth step: Decide What Finished Will Look Like.
For me, I know when I have lost interest in something, so that was my criteria. If I was no longer excited about doing it, then it was time to let it go and perhaps bless someone else with it who would love it! But to also be sure I was giving these new interests and projects a fair shot, I decided to set a deadline of 30 days. I had to try it for 30 days before I could toss it and move on to something else.
Lastly, Ali suggests to Set Some Goals
I began by having a goal of doing whatever the new interest was (learning German for example) for at least 3 hours per week, but no more than 5. This would give me enough time to see if I wanted to continue pursuing it, but not so much as to push me into burnout mode. This has worked great for me. I am no longer overwhelmed with a gazillion things going on at once, and I am actually enjoying some of these interests (except for German — we’re going to come back to that one though).
I’d love to hear about your thoughts about Ali’s steps and how you could apply them in your own life.