It took me 4,5 years since leaving my big corporate job before I figured out what my next big project would be. I started various projects which never saw a light of day. One idea was a holiday rental business, then a website for people who love postcards and finally a celebrity branding company. I spent a lot of time and money on all of them. I had meetings. I met people. I made phone calls. I had websites designed. You name it.
Was all of that effort completely wasted? Perhaps not. When we look at anyone who's started a business or successfully completed any big project it always seems like they just landed on an idea and that was that. Finished, done. Effortlessly. Well, I can tell you that it couldn't be further from the truth.
Most projects require many iterations, or massive pivots, before they become a reality. Often there are many different projects started before finding the one that actually makes you so excited that you simply can't stop.
But what if you are stuck in the cycle of starting and stopping? What if you constantly make yourself busy with various projects and struggle to get none across the finish line? At some point it becomes a huge time waster rather than a useful search for your next big 'thing'.
The following tips will help you to assess and break out from the cycle of starting but never finishing:
1) What stage of life are you at?
There is a big difference between starting something and realizing it’s not for you, and repeatedly starting similar projects you never finish. If you are searching for your passion and don’t quite know what should be your next career move, as Steve Jobs said in his famous speech at Stanford "The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. ”. However, if you have discovered what you want to do, say ‘become a travel blogger’ then there shouldn’t be any excuses not sticking to your project and seeing it through.
2) Identify what triggers ‘this is not for me’ decision
If you are repeatedly quitting similar projects, try to identify what triggers the feeling. Is it an external impulse or is it something you talk yourself into? Try to identify what it is and then seek a remedy. If you run out of stamina, suffer from self-doubt, or lack support from people around you, find a group that gets excited about your idea and can help you over the bad patch. If you hit a wall when certain skills are required, try to be honest about it. You can learn new skills or work with people who can help you.
3) Pay attention to what excites you
It’s good to open many doors and explore different avenues. However, starting and stopping doesn’t bring you any information if you don’t dig deep enough. When you land on something that excites you, keep digging, even if the idea or topic would be completely outside of your current area of expertise. however, finding something that excites you can be quite scary. I remember when we came up with the idea of setting up DrivenWoman I was frightened. This wasn't in line with anything I had done before. But I kept 'digging' and never had a problem with starting and stopping again.
4) Differentiate between ‘test & fail fast’ and ‘throw in the towel’
It’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between ‘test and fail fast’ and ‘giving up too soon’. Especially if you have a business idea you are trying to get off the ground, it’s guaranteed you will hit some rocks. Try to evaluate if the set backs are due to unrealistic plans or lack of market demand for your product or idea, or if there’s something you ought to learn before you can become successful. We hit obstacles building DrivenWoman all the time, but we immediately look at the mirror and ask ourselves "What can we learn from this?".
5) Complete a very small project
One major problem with not finishing what we start is we initially take on too much. Break down your ambition into a smallest possible project - such as starting a blog rather than starting a website - and finish it. You can always add and improve it but you get a satisfaction of finishing something.
6) Don’t beat yourself up
Give yourself a break. We women tend to be so harsh on ourselves. So what, you started seven novels and didn’t finish any of them, yet. It’s possible there’s a reason you had to write those seven ‘drafts’ and it’s the eight one that will be a huge success. (If you’ll finish it.) God knows how many ‘drafts’ J K Rowling wrote in the seven years it took her to finish the first of the Harry Potter novels 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone'!
7) Don’t be afraid to share your unfinished project
I think this one is the real winner. We women tend to think we have to finish our project to absolute perfection before we can share it with others. We are often soooo afraid of criticism. Hey girls, the news is, we must learn to be less protective of our ideas if we want to succeed. Showing your work to other people in its infancy will do, at least, two things. Firstly, the universe can’t help you if it doesn’t know what you want. When people know what you are working on they will be able to point you to the right direction. (I would have never met Jennifer if I kept protecting my idea!) Secondly, if you are open to little bit of feedback you can actually improve your idea, and increase the odds it will be a success.
Sometimes we must first waste our time before we are ready to pursue our dreams. We need to see what doesn't work before we know what works for us.
However, if you find yourself in a negative cycle of starting and quitting, try to break out of it as not finishing what we start is the greatest of time wasters.