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How to finish

“It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.” – J R R Tolkien

Many of us are good at starting things — it’s the finishing that we need help with.


by Leo Babauta

The early draft of this post sat in my system for about a week. How’s that for irony?

The truth is, it might seem funny that my post on “How to finish” sat unfinished for seven days, but I’m actually decent at finishing. I start a whole bunch of articles and books, and let those ideas germinate. When I’m ready to focus on them, I get them to done pretty easily.

How? Many people wrote in to ask me to write a post called “How to finish” after I wrote about How to start. Reader Anthony Zullo, for example, asked:

“You know when you get to the middle of a project, like a novel and start to lose motivation. Well, how do you develop that motivation after you’re halfway up the hill but not yet walking downhill yet?”

I don’t have all the answers, but I’ll gladly share what works for me.


For me, finishing is all about motivation. If you’re having a difficult time finishing, it’s best to look closely at why you want to finish in the first place.

If the task or project isn’t something you want to do, consider the consequences of dropping it. I’ve done this often, and it’s a relief when I finally drop something I didn’t really want to do in the first place.

If you really do want to do the task/project, ask why. What do you get out of it? Do you love doing it? Is there some benefit you’ll get? Visualize that — it might get you going.

If you need more motivation, find a way to give yourself some public accountability. Set a deadline, do a blog post, tweet about finishing. A little positive public pressure can be a good thing.

Get moving

In my post, How to start, I shared a tip for getting going:

Make it ridiculously easy to get started. Make the task so small, so easy, you can’t say no — make it just 1 minute long, for example, or even just 20 seconds.

Use the same tip for finishing: break your task into tiny little mini-steps, and just get started on each one by making them so easy you can’t not do it. And keep doing that, repeatedly, until you’re done.

It’s that simple. If you can’t write a whole chapter of your book or report, just write a paragraph or two. Take a walk around for a minute, then write another paragraph or two. Keep doing this until you’re done.

Then go out and tell the world you finished. It’s awesome.

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