Categories: Self-Management

How to Kill Motivation Sucking Vampires & Finish What You Start

How to Kill Motivation Sucking Vampires & Finish What You Start

You know them well. The three vampires – Fear, Procrastination, and Apathy are waiting to ambush you at the next pass. Ready to puncture your personal growth. They have hit me quite frequently. And parts of me are lying in the graveyard of unfinished projects and unmet aspirations.

There are two unbreakable rules for achieving anything.

  1. Quit thinking and just start.
  2. Finish it.

We usually manage the first. The latter takes some doing. If you have the self-awareness that you failing to go the distance, pause for a second. Take in the solutions below. Give your own in the comments. And let’s all go for the high stakes and stay on the course till the very end.

Don’t Look At the Ideal Big Picture – Break It Down

Visualizing a project in its completed entirety gives you a clarity of purpose. But it also brings psychological pitfalls, according to social psychologists Heather Kappes and Gabriele Oettingen.

In a 2011 study (Positive fantasies about idealized futures sap energy — PDF), they likened positive visualization to fantasies that drain away ambition. The psychologists recommend…

“Fantasies that question whether an ideal future can be achieved, and that depict obstacles, problems and setbacks should be more beneficial for mustering the energy to attain actual success.”

So, the right way to approach your project could be to break it down to individual processes. Visualize the obstacles and also the ways to solve them. The trick is to keep breaking it down till it is so easy that you just begin instead of procrastinating on it…or  stay paralyzed by its enormity.

A big project is also overwhelming. Breaking it down to the little everyday processes also makes it infinitely more manageable. Use paper to-do system or use a task management app like Todoist. I prefer Trello . This is how a sample project board on Trello can be laid out:

Say No To Multitasking

In other words – Focus.

Multitasking is great for CPUs. Not for the human brain. Personally, I have made mistakes like signing up for too many online courses on sites like Coursera and Udacity. Thanks to information overload, there’s just too much to learn…too many things to bookmark. By going with one and sticking with it, I wouldn’t have short-circuited my progress.

Be selective and pick one project to finish. And then follow the remaining eight ideas that come after this!

Use The Power Of Compound Interest

Was it Einstein who said — “The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest”?

It was misattributed, but the essence holds true. Use the cumulative power of little efforts. Multiply it with time. Doing 1% of the task every day will take you to your goal in 100 days. Or lesser if you take the ripple of motivation compounded over time as you move closer to the finish. Just like money in the bank, the little slices of time we spend on a project is an investment. “Investing” a little every day compounded over time takes us toward greater riches, because we gain other intangible benefits too.

Take a small single step today to break the gridlock.

Want to finish a book? Read five pages a day in ten minutes, and it will be done in three months.

A bestseller to write? Write 300 words a day. An average novel is 40,000 words.

Want to code? Go to Codeacademy and do a lesson each day. It takes less than 15 minutes. 

Switch On Your Auto-Pilot

Motivation ebbs and flows. Habits keep us going. When it comes to the auto-pilot of our lives, both good and bad habits run the show.

Zen Habits author Leo Babauta says — Break your goals into habits, and focus on putting those habits into autopilot. Once habits are formed we don’t have to consciously think about our actions, reluctance to work on a project being one of them.

I desperately wanted to improve my touch typing skills. The first habit I had to master was to keep my back straight and not look at the keyboard. Not looking down was the hard part, but after a month I eventually got it. Typing tutors and games like Type Racer took over. After this, I was on auto-pilot as I burned the keys at a cool 100 wpm from a poor 40 wpm.

Try this principle of consistent habits on a small project…like learning all the keyboard shortcuts for Gmail. Come back and tell us in a month if it did anything for your productivity.

Steal Time

One of the biggest reasons for not finishing our projects is not lack of passion…but lack of time. But this is also easily solvable by looking at it differently. We don’t lack minutes – we lack hours. The human mind has the tendency to look at time as large blocks of hours, days, and years…while the little minutes slip away unnoticed. Remember, when it comes to giving your projects some time, you don’t have to be a bank robber — be a pilferer. Steal the minutes. Don’t bother about the hours.

Use a time tracking tool for a week and find where the little minutes are slipping away. Apps for iOS and Android are also easily available. Or it could be a simple spreadsheet. Can you re-capture the little minutes and use these as short bursts for your projects? Thanks to the power of compound interest again, those little minutes do add up.

I previously wrote a popular post which went into the ten ways to find time for your personal projects.

Release Early, Iterate Often

If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.

There is this famous quote by Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn. This is just another way of saying, just do it. Perfectionism is the devil behind many an unfinished project. Perfectionism of artists is the reason for so much beauty around us. In lesser mortals, it can also be the reason behind procrastination and never knowing when a project is good enough. Have you ever felt stuck…and didn’t move an inch forward because “it just doesn’t feel right”? We all have a need to impress, or have the paralyzing fear that our pet project isn’t good enough.

The cure is to realize that you stand to learn more from your failures and mistakes. Whether it is a private project or open to an audience, the feedback will help to close the gaps and make it more polished in a shorter amount of time.

Find The Right Tools

Learning curves can be roadblocks. One of the ways to flatten a learning curve on a project is to find the easiest tool for the job.

Let’s say you want to learn vector illustration. A tool like Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape comes with a steep learning curve. If this makes you flinch, try it out with an easier tool like Serif DrawPlus or even a new online option like YouiDraw. Find the easiest way to learn a new skill, maintain your enthusiasm, and progress upwards from there on.

Keep An Excuse Journal

“I am too tired”…

“I will start this after I take a nap”…

“I had a really rough day in the office”…

Excuses are the lies you tell yourself.

An Excuse Journal helps you note down the “no’s” and other barriers for not doing something. My own excuse journal has helped me realize the absurdity of my excuses. Writing five minutes a day has helped me clarify issues and become more self-aware of the obstacles I create to my own personal development.

As this article says: keeping a journal helps to remove mental blocks and allows you to use all of your brainpower to better understand yourself, others and the world around you.

Journaling has many benefits – not the least of which is its effectiveness as a problem-solving tool. No one is looking over your shoulder, so you can be honest if you have lost interest in the project. In that case, go to the last point here. A diary could be the cheapest therapist, or if you prefer digital journaling, it could be as accessible as a Notepad file.

Find Support

Starting a large creative project is easy, but finishing it could require an extra pair of hands. You need someone to counterbalance your lethargy or lack of skills. The Web makes it easy to seek out collaborators who can help you see a project across the finish line. It could be something as simple as asking for feedback or it could be a louder call for help. Freelance markets like oDesk and Fiverr can help you find the right person who can chip away the things left undone. You can also call out for help on community sites like Reddit. Here are three more to choose from –

Let Go…If You Have Lost The Joy

Honest truth. Ditch the project if it isn’t giving you any joy. But before you do, see if you can salvage something from it and use it elsewhere. For programmers, it could be the logic of the code, or an entire code block. For designers, it could be the raw files. For writers, it can be the lede, characters, or ideas you can keep from the material. If you have material goods for a project, see if you can return them or sell them off on sites like Craigslist or eBay.

Leonardo Da Vinci was one of the greatest “procrastinators” of all time. By the time he died, he left behind many notebooks with scribbling’s of unfinished projects. Imagine what the world would have been like if this Renaissance Man had finished them all in his lifetime. So, work on your own masterpiece. It may not change the world…but it could be the renaissance in your own life.

What kind of mental battle do you fight with yourself to finish things left half-done? Do you have the magic potion? Many among us are always searching for it.

By: Saikat Basu, on 18th August, 2014 (originally posted at

Image Credit: Business expansion, Businessman with four arms, Business occupation, The shoe tie puzzle, A pair of feet (All Shutterstock)

Reprinted with permission.  All rights reserved.


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