I've never been one to shy away from projects.
I've recorded albums, written epic poems, constructed huge home improvement projects.
Finishing those projects is another story.
My hard drive is filled with novels and screenplays and poetry collections that I started in a fury and never finished. I have walls that are marked with swatches of the hottest paint colors as my wife and I have hemmed and hawed for over a year to pick one.
Three years ago, I started a solo record. Last summer, I finally sat down to record it. I recorded most of a full track in a few hours...and I haven't touched it since.
This is nothing unusual. Everybody has piles of unfinished projects around them. But when you work for yourself, leaving things unfinished can have financial ramifications.
It's one thing to leave a passion project undone. But doing so with professional projects brings a special kind of pressure.
So over the last couple years, I've picked up a few practices to help me finish what I begin. And I'd like to pass some of them along.
MAKE A TO-DO LIST
This might be pretty basic, but it's amazing how often I forget about it.
Back in high school, we had school-provided agendas to write down assignments and test dates and special events. And in high school, I was an excellent student. I missed very few assignments, I was ready for every test, and I got good grades.
In college, however, I wasn't given a free agenda. My teachers didn't have always have the exam dates written in a little corner on the board. And my second semester, my GPA dropped low enough that I lost one of my scholarships.
It took me a while to figure it out, but I perform much better when I have a to-do list. And when I'm working on a bunch of different projects at the same time, it's very easy for me to forget that I started a project at all.
Writing it down helps me to keep track of all the balls in play.
KEEP A LOG
A to-do list is helpful, but it isn't foolproof. After all, if the only thing on your to-do list is "write opera," it's going to be difficult to keep track of your progress.
Break your project into pieces. Keep track of what parts you've finished and what you need to do next. You might not be able to do some of the big things while you're on the bus, but there might be some menial bits you can get done on your commute.
LAY DOWN YOUR PERFECTIONISM
There's an old saying that goes, "good is the opposite of best." But if you're trying to finish a project, the opposite is true.
Because at the end of the day, a finished project with some flaws is going to be better than an unfinished project.
Too many times, we worry about not getting it absolutely perfect. When I recorded my first album, I spent around two months recording and multitracking instruments. Then, I spent around two and a half years mixing and re-recording.
It never sounded good enough to me. There were tiny little mistakes in my performances, or weird spots in the EQ. I had written these songs years beforehand, but I had nothing to show for it.
A couple times, I released rough mixes as demos. And looking back now, I'm not sure if there's much improvement between the rough demos and the album I released.
No matter how much you toil over your work, there's always going to be something you're unhappy with. Let go of it, and move on to the next project.
It's one thing to write a deadline in your personal notebook. But if you're the only person who knows anything about it, not much is at stake if you miss it.
Find some people to keep you accountable. Join a Facebook group or Reddit community. Find a friend you trust who can impose consequences for missed deadlines. Have some fun with it—consequences that are mildly embarrassing (or severely, if you're into that) can be a great motivation.
DO THE THING!
I'm not going to pretend that I have all the answers for finishing projects. I'm staring at a loose sheet of drywall that I meant to hang in my basement months ago.
But these tips have done wonders to push me toward finishing more projects.
Now if I could just remember where I put that stud finder...