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Breaking the cycle: how to conquer unfinished projects

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

Do you have projects you start but never finished?

Do you spend money on materials only to move on to a different project?

Have you tried to start new hobbies, like yoga, only to stop after attending a handful of classes?

If you are like me, you have an infinite number of ideas and projects you would love to dive into but feel like you do not have the time to get them all done.

In this article, I will explain what should do with your unfinished projects and describe a technique to help you avoid starting and not finishing projects.

Which best describes your experience with starting and finishing projects?

  • I frequently start projects but have a hard time finishing

  • I occasionally start projects and usually finish

  • I never have a problem starting or finishing projects.

Does your habit of unfinished projects impact your ability to get things done and make you feel deficient?

If so, you are not alone. According to Dr. Hannah Rose,

If we leave tasks unfinished for too long, the resultant rumination or anxiety can impact our self-esteem.

Between work, family life, and adult responsibilities, learning a new skill, turning the garage into a home gym, or finding time to finish that painting seems like an impossible task.

Why do I struggle to finish what I started?

Oftentimes, I find myself diving into a passion project, only to put it down later that day and never to return to it. The half-finished painting, sitting in the other room, slowly becomes a reminder of how I start these good ideas but never follow through.

We start a new project with a lot of motivation and energy. We imagine how amazing it will be to finish but do not fully consider the effort required throughout. But, as we dive into the project, we hit road bumps, and encounter boring tasks, and the energy that we started with dwindles.

Then, a new, more energizing idea or project comes to mind! And, because it is new, we feel the same level of motivation as we did when we started the first project. Naturally, we move on to the new, “shiny” project because it seems exciting.

The cycle repeats, leaving us defeated. According to research:

Unfinished tasks create mental tension, which impacts how well people perform other tasks in the meantime

What should I do with my unfinished projects?

Step1: Answer questions about project importance

First, determine how important each project really is. Using the protocol below, create a spreadsheet or write each answer on a piece of paper:

  • How much time and energy have I invested into this project?

  • How much longer will this project take to complete?

  • What resources, materials, and tools do I still need in order to complete it?

Afterward, based on your answers, rank all of your unfinished projects on a scale of 1-10.

Step 2: Prioritize your projects

Next, spend time prioritizing your projects. Now that you have used the same 3 pieces of criteria to rank each project, determine the top 3 most important.

The Number One Priority Project should be the project that you have invested the most time and energy into but are closest to finishing and need to acquire the least amount of resources.

This is a crucial step that many people skip. An analysis of recent studies found,

The average worker spends 51% of every workday on low to no-value tasks.

After this step, you will know which project is the one you should spend your time completing first. Don’t start another project until you have finished your Number One Priority.

Keep in mind that it is okay to terminate some of your projects. There is nothing wrong with this. Removing some of your projects from your list might reduce stress and negative self-talk.

However, before doing so, make sure you use the steps above to evaluate how important the project is. Sometimes we are closer to being done than we think. Take the time to find out how close you are to the finish line.

Step 3: Chunk out the project

The third step is to break it down. Now that you know which project you will do first, break it down into bite-sized chunks.

Take the time to create tasks and subtasks. This will give you a clear starting point and end point each time you sit down to do the project.

Step 4: Calendar it

Finally, put it on your calendar! Putting something in our calendar increases the likelihood that we will actually do it. According to a study by Dr. Gail Matthews,

“It’s no secret that goal setting is an important part of achieving success. But what many people don’t realize is that simply having a goal isn’t enough — you also need a plan for how to achieve it.”

Use your calendar to block off the time when you will work on your project. Title the event “Passion Project” or a different name that feels exciting. You can even write which task or subtask you will do during each block of time.

This does not need to be daily; be realistic with your commitments and energy levels throughout the week.

How do I avoid having half-finished projects?

In order to avoid generating a list of half-finished projects, you need to fully evaluate what it will entail to complete a project before starting. You can use the resource below to outline the entire project before you start!

Make your list

First, develop a list of materials and resources you will need. Spend time finding out how much the total project will cost and how much you already have.

Chunk things out

Next, break the project down into tasks and subtasks. This allows you to determine starting and stopping points throughout the project.

You might also be able to estimate how long each task will take, giving you a sense of how long the full project will take to complete.

Finish one project at a time!

Do not start more projects until you have finished one. This one sounds simple, but deep down, I know it is not easy. It takes discipline, grit, and problem-solving skills.


The cycle of starting but not finishing projects is a common struggle. Prioritizing and planning are crucial. Focus on your top priority, let go of unimportant projects, break tasks into manageable steps, and schedule dedicated time on your calendar.

Discipline and determination are your allies in conquering unfinished projects. With these steps, you can turn your creative ideas into tangible achievements, leaving behind the frustration of incomplete endeavors.

Stay Engaged

About the author

Eric Kaufmann, M.Ed is a Professional Educational Therapist and Certified Executive Function Coach. He is the co-founder of UpSkill Specialists, an online adult executive function coaching company designed to guide adults in overcoming disorganization, procrastination, and productivity roadblocks so they can unlock their potential. Eric is also the founder of Elevate Learning Solutions, an Educational Therapy practice located in San Clemente, CA, that guides students with neurological differences toward becoming independent and confident students and self-leaders.

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Upskill Specialists was founded when two former special education teachers turned executive function coaches decided that adults need tools and coaching to improve their workplace skills and feel confident and empowered. Our mission is to ensure every adult with EF challenges has access to high-quality coaching services. 

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