6 Tips on How to Finish What You Start

By Ladies Get Paid Founder & Author Claire Wasserman. Follow Claire for more career tips, or purchase The Ladies Get Paid book. Things you buy through our links may earn us a commission.

How to Finish What You Start

I live for the early days of a new idea. It’s pure vision, excitement, dreams of the future… But then, nothing. I have the terrible habit of getting things started but never actually finishing. So many projects, so few launches. So much frustration. I reached a breaking point recently when I was looking through my Google Drive, and became overwhelmed by what was effectively a graveyard of half-baked business plans, endless research for articles, lists of podcasts titles, personal mission statements, mind maps, vision quests, or whatever I thought would help me actually get things done. I assumed my problem was not having enough time. Turns out, that was an excuse I was telling myself. The more downtime I had during the pandemic actually made it *harder* for me to complete tasks. 

So what was happening? And more importantly, how could I fix it? A turning point came when I realized that all the energy I was spending beating myself up over unfinished projects, I could be putting towards well, finishing those damn projects! Finishing what you start isn’t just about feeling better. It’s about your life. It’s time to take responsibility for your follow-through, and we’re here to help you learn how to finish what you start. 

Here are the 6 most common reasons you can’t finish what you start, and how to overcome them:


You’re afraid of failure

You may be struggling to finish what you start because you’re afraid of a negative outcome once it’s done. We’re built for survival, and so one reason we procrastinate is to protect ourselves from getting hurt; in this case, it could be financial hurt, or maybe emotional hurt. You’re worried about failing and being judged. I get that. I am that. However, here’s the thing: you’re already hurting yourself. By not finishing what you start, you’ve guaranteed failure. So wouldn’t you want to increase your chance of success by at least giving yourself a shot to fail? Or rather, a shot to learn?

My biggest recommendation in moving past fear of failure is to shift the focus from whatever you hope the outcome to be (because honestly, you don’t have a lot of control over that), to the things that you do have agency over. And that’s all the things you can learn, which I’ve found in my experience, often correlates with making mistakes or “failure” in some way. And yes, from now on, let’s put it in quotations because if something makes you better, was it really a failure?

You don’t have enough time

Sorry, but I have to call bullshit on this one. We’re all busy (especially moms since the onset of the pandemic, we see you!), but don’t “have” time, we “make” time, and this is crucial if you want to finish what you start. And the things we make time for are the things we value. Chances are though, you’re not doing that and instead, find yourself focused on putting out fires, dealing with crying babies (or bosses), or simply rushing to and from whatever seems the most urgent. (“Seems” being the operative word.)

My best advice is to rethink how you organize your work and life. Instead of a never-ending to-do list, create a system of task organization where you can dump everything you’re doing, broken down into the smallest pieces possible. (I like to use Notion, Todoist, and Airtable). This stuff is most likely constantly running through the back of your mind anyway, causing you a lot of anxiety and wasting energy, so having a place to put it all down, will help you trust yourself to “let go” and be in the moment, rather than in your to-do list. Another thing you can do is shift how you view your time. Research shows that how we perceive an amount of time is surprisingly subjective. Just think about when you love what you’re doing, time flies. When you’re watching your leftovers in the microwave, it doesn’t.

You don’t have the energy

Time and energy are the ultimate currency, and you need to be in charge of how you spend them if you want to finish what you start. You may already be aware of the things that distract you (ahem, social media), but chances are there are lots of other little things that may be leaching your time and energy that you haven’t noticed or take for granted.

I encourage you to track your energy over the next 1-2 weeks to see what triggers your distraction and then what you can do about it. For example, clutter on your inbox and desk. Notifications on your phone. Checking your inbox constantly. Beating yourself up when you make a mistake. Complaining. Multi-tasking (doesn’t work, sorry!) 

You’re working on the wrong things

If you can’t finish what you start, chances are you also feel like you’re working a ton already. The expression “work smarter, not harder!” always bugged the crap out of me. What does that actually mean, other than apparently an insult to my intelligence?

I’ve since realized that it’s basically just another way to say, “Prioritize” (which I know is easier said than done.) These are things that move the needle, that have the biggest impact, and will get you the closest and fastest to your goal. A good way to determine if something is a priority is to know the difference between something that’s urgent and important and be willing to delegate, or even remove tasks. Communication with your manager is key here. If this is a project for someone else, make sure you’re on the same page as them. If you’re unsure, they’ll tell you.

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You’re overwhelmed

This might be my number one challenge when it comes to how to finish what you start. Sometimes tasks can seem enormous, and I always take on too much all at once, or I’m unrealistic about what I can accomplish. Overwhelm can overcome you to the point of not even getting started.

Learning about S.M.A.R.T. goals is game-changing as was giving myself rewards throughout the process, instead of waiting until it was finished to feel good. Obviously, it’s important to keep your eye on the prize (this is after all, an article about getting things done); however, encouragement and treats work just as well for humans as they do our pets. 

You don’t actually want to do it

Maybe the reason don’t finish what you start is that don’t actually want to do it. A lot of us operate based on “shoulds” – things we think we should do – in reality, are rooted in the expectations and values of others. and not aligned with what motivates us.

Before you start something new, take your time to really learn about what your day-to-do will look like, and the major challenges you’ll face. Once you have a clear picture, you can then decide if it’s worth doing. Are these the things you actually want to learn about? Problems you truly want to solve? Does it fit into the larger picture of how you see your life?

I know those are some big existential questions, and Ladies Get Paid is here to help. Want to get yourself on the path to living a well-aligned life and getting shit done? Enroll in The GET INTO YOUR LIFE Bootcamp, starting on October 26. This 5-week virtual bootcamp and fail-proof system will teach you how to harness your mental, professional, and financial potential. This bootcamp is for anyone who is feeling overwhelmed, uninspired, or unsure, but is ready to finally and fully take command. Register here.


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