People can struggle with follow-through and inconsistency for many reasons. They can range from mental health issues to overwhelm, a lack of motivation, or even an issue with their organizational style. Some people either take on too much or don’t know how to finish everything they’ve said yes to which can result in broken trust between individuals. When one doesn’t finish a project or promises in a relationship it can also impact the mental health of the unfinisher who is constantly “letting people down” when their original intent was to be helpful. Here are five tips to begin to finish what you started.
Only take what you can handle
You have only one plate to fit all your life’s goodies. This isn’t a buffet where you can take a second plate to fit a little more on. There isn’t a plate for your personal activities and one for your professional. There is one. Therefore, understanding what you have on your plate and being cognizant of what you allow to be put on is imperative for finishing tasks. In fact, the more you are careful about what you take on, the more likely you are to be able to put more effort into fewer tasks and do them awesomely than get yourself into a situation where you need to hurry through what you have taken on, or worse, not finish them altogether.
So, how do you decide what to take on? Find your purpose and passions in both your personal and professional life. Once you’ve discovered what they are, use them as a filter for what gets your attention. If it doesn’t fit your purpose, decide if it’s really necessary for you to do. Not only will using purpose and passion as a lens for what gets your attention important because it will help filter out important tasks, but you are also more likely to finish a project or activity that you feel passionate about and fills your cup (instead of your plate).
Boundaries are guidelines we create for how we want to treat ourselves and others. Healthy boundaries will create opportunities for our time to be spent on what it is we need to get done. They will also help us continue to value ourselves and our time. For example, if we tend to not follow-through on our tasks or opportunities because of procrastination, we could create a boundary that addresses our desire to not be put in the position of feeling anxiety because we don’t begin working on our tasks soon enough. We need to value our minds and our bodies enough to get working on a project soon enough that we don’t put ourselves through the mental anguish that can come with waiting until the last second to get something done.
Healthy boundaries can also help us figure out what gets put onto our plate by ourselves and others. If there are unhealthy boundaries created with a family member who is always asking for over-the-top favors, for example, that can be time that is taken up that creates a situation where you’re not following through on tasks or promises you’ve made to other people. Unhealthy boundaries can cause us to put aside important pieces of our lives in order to make someone else happy resulting, ultimately, in a lack of follow-through.
Break big deals into manageable pieces
You’ve taken on a huge responsibility and don’t know how you’re ever going to finish it. You will be more likely to move forward if you break it to manageable chunks that can be quick wins. Although this sounds like something your boss might say when taking on a large professional project, it can also work for your personal life. Think, for example, about the desire to fit more self-care into your daily schedule. First, pick one self-care activity that takes less than 10 minutes and schedule it into a time that you feel most motivated. Do this for one week. At the end of that week, you have had several quick wins. You’ve earned your badge for finishing one day. Then you created a streak by doing it multiple days in a row. Finally, you managed to fit self-care in every day for a week and BAM! You’ve had three quick wins that will motivate you moving forward.
I’ve also used this tactic when I have put too much onto my plate and it activates my anxiety. Sometimes, that means that I put what I’m doing on my calendar from hour to hour. Each hour I add a manageable piece to what needs to get done and each hour I end up with a quick win. At the end of the day I’m able to look back at everything I accomplished in spite of my anxiety.
Some people find having an accountability partner invaluable when they need to get a task accomplished and are struggling with follow-through. While I find this tends to be a popular trend with weight-loss (think Weight Watchers meetings) it can work for anything that you feel you may struggle to finish. Choose someone who understands the struggle of the task you’re undertaking so they can show the appropriate amount of empathy when you’re walking the line of dropping the ball. Some people prefer an accountability partner that will show them tough love and some prefer a partner that gives them a hug for motivation. Be sure the person meets your needs for motivation and allow them to help you move forward through completion.
Make follow-through a habit
Our brains will want to continue to do what we do the most. It has no moral compass for the way it creates connections. I often use the analogy of a tennis swing. If you practice a terrible tennis swing your brain doesn’t stop the connection and say, “Whoa, that’s a freaking horrible tennis swing. There’s no way I’m remembering that.” Nope. Your brain is like, “Ohhh, so that’s how we’re playing tennis now. Awesome. Got it.” And the more you practice that terrible swing the more your brain and body remember it. There are a lot of pieces of our lives that get connected in our brains because we continue to do it. Positivity — or negativity — for example. Practicing gratitude. Completing tasks and follow-through. If you want to create more opportunities for successful follow-through one way is to make it a habit. Simply do it. Discover how amazing it feels to finish what you started successfully and know that you actually followed-through to see it happen. Watch the faces of the people around you as they realize what you did.
Consistency and follow-through are one way that you can create and maintain trust between yourself and the personal or professional people in your life. If this is missing, people will wonder if you have the ability to finish tasks and they will lose faith in your ability to care enough to get the job done. With practice and small changes, you do have the ability to improve your follow-through.