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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question? How do you finish your writing? If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question.
How do you finish your writing? That’s the topic I’m addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach, still in pandemic mode.
I have a question from Gwenn Lythgoe, a writer based in Toronto, Ontario. Here’s what she’s asked by email…
“Do you have any tips on how I can finish my tasks? I see a pattern in which I have a hard time completing things, from shutting cupboard doors to seeing a draft all the way through to the end before becoming distracted or tinkering.”
Thanks for your question, Gwenn. My parents used to call this tendency — to finish or not finish tasks — sticktoitiveness. I was lucky enough to be born with massive sticktoitiveness, reinforced by parents who really valued this characteristic.
But rest assured, this doesn’t make me better than you. It’s just part of my character, in much the same way that I’m quiet, introverted and stubborn. It’s who I am. I can work on changing those characteristics a little bit, but I’m not going to be able to rebuild my personality. Nor would I want to.
In the email conversation we had following your question, you told me that you’ve had a lifelong habit of not finishing. But when you stepped away from your career for a time to become a stay-at-home mom, you upped your tidiness game. And in doing so, you also told me that you became a perfectionist.
In fact, this is the sort of thing that happens when we take on characteristics that aren’t natural to us. We follow the rules and then we become obsessed by them.
Only you can decide the type of person you want to be. Would you rather be a tidy perfectionist? Or a messy and more relaxed person who doesn’t always finish things? This isn’t a trick question and there is no right answer. It’s really up to you.
In terms of your professional writing, however, you will need to bend to the will of your bosses and supervisors. After all, they’re paying you and they’re going to expect you to finish your work.
To help you do that, I offer these five tips:
1 – Break your work into small steps, then focus on just one step at a time. If the job is too big and overwhelming, you’re not going to want to do it. Procrastination does not arise out of laziness. It occurs when people feel overwhelmed.
2 – Remember Parkinson’s law. This principle says that work will always expand to fill available time. Restrict your work to short bursts so the job doesn’t become too big. And use time limits and deadlines for each step — not just for the whole project.
3 – Always eat your frogs first. If there is part of the project that you are really resisting doing, then tackle it first thing in the morning. We all have a lot more willpower at that time of day. In the show-notes below, I’ve included a link to a blog post on eating frogs.
4 – Track your progress. Be sure to create a list of all the things you need to do. Then put a tick mark or cross off what you’ve done. This should give you a good psychological boost.
5 – Celebrate your wins. I’ve found that many people focus so hard on finishing their project, that they forget to congratulate themselves. The downside of this is that you don’t enjoy the feeling of being accomplished, which only contributes to the perception that work is drudgery. Even if your boss won’t celebrate, make sure you celebrate yourself.
Finally, let me wrap up with the words of the American master organizer David Allen: “Much of the stress that people feel doesn’t come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they’ve started.”
Gwenn, while you can’t change your personality, you can build a habit that will help make finishing your work easier. It will take some patience and determination, but I know you can do it.
If you’d like to learn more about how to make writing a happier and more rewarding process, check out my latest book Your Happy First Draft. I don’t sell it in bookstores or via Amazon. The only place to buy it is on my website, link on the screen below and in the show notes.