If your home or office workspace is littered with remnants of half-done projects, then you're in good company--Leonardo da Vinci, famed inventor and genius polymath, left far more undone than he finished, too.
But in today's office environment, investors and workers alike want leaders who can follow through and demonstrate clear vision, conviction and risk mitigation. So what can you do to put more in the "completed" pile?
1. Commit to one-to-one trades.
A common trick for parents who want to avoid clutter is to encourage their kids to donate a toy each time they get a new one. Applying this thinking to your projects, follow the rule that, to start something new, something else needs to get off your plate.
The exception here is when something you're working on has an element you know you can't logistically overcome for a specific period, such as if a certain technology isn't advanced enough yet for you to proceed, or if you're waiting on legislation for clarity about how to design a step-by-step process.
2. Tell everybody what you're doing.
It's easy to abandon work for something else if nobody knows what you were doing. But the more people you've told about your work, the more people you have who can hold you accountable and ensure the project doesn't fall by the wayside.
3. Get organized.
If what you need to finish isn't all together, it can feel inconvenient to get going, because you focus on the "extra" work you have to do before you really can start. Identify what's required to take you from start to finish and then make sure all of your tools are in place to eliminate this common excuse. Then make sure only one set of tools is out at a time to prevent yourself from multitasking.
4. Pencil it in.
When you don't have work on your calendar, the tendency is to dismiss it as less important or as more unofficial. Because there are no firm deadlines and dates, you can shrug your shoulders and let the project sit...and sit, and sit some more.
Clarify the small steps necessary to get through the project--that is, make a real plan--and then actually allocate time on your calendar to them, even if the time you have available per day is tiny.
5. Check the impact and motivation source.
Projects can be "shiny" and personally intriguing without having much of an influence on you, others or the world. These can steal time away from projects that actually are helpful and significant.
So before you take on something new, first ask yourself how large the potential benefits are and whether you're doing the project because you want to or because someone else expects you to. Try to say yes only to projects that you can be intrinsically passionate about and have a huge "why" or big picture for. This way, the joy you get from the project and the knowledge of what's at stake if you don't finish both can motivate you to keep going.
6. Attach rewards.
The brain loves novelty and will release dopamine--a chemical involved in learning, motivation and pleasure--when it gets it. This is partly why flitting to the next project before you've finished your last one can feel so great.
But the brain also will produce dopamine in anticipation of rewards. So to keep novelty from derailing you, clarify what it is you're going to give yourself for a job well done. Indulge both at specific milestones and the end of the whole project. If you expect the work to take quite a while, consider finding a way to implement a few random rewards, too.
7. Do your homework first.
People often abandon projects because they start the work without really realizing everything those projects involve. Get as much data as possible, talk to others who have done similar work and be realistic with yourself before you commit.
8. Look at your patterns.
You might have specific habits when it comes to stopping projects. For example, maybe you lose momentum when you reach a part that requires math, which you hate. If you must stop something, jot down what you were feeling and going through. Then look back and try to identify triggers that slow you down. Once you know what those triggers are, you can make an action plan to deal with those triggers appropriately and change your habits.
9. Tell your inner critic to be quiet.
Negative self-biases can make you feel too incompetent or unworthy to keep going on important ideas. Note your accomplishments, ask yourself what evidence you actually have for the negative feelings you're having and train your brain to positivity by going through affirmations as often as possible.