Mental tricks for finishing projects
May 21, 2020 6:42 AM   Subscribe

I'm a kind of person that has half a dozen projects on the go that are nearly finished. Nearly. The last 10% are always the hardest.That's where Pomodoro technique and "Don't break the chain" fail me. Are there any mental tricks to keep going?

- my electronics project is fully functional, wires everywhere though in a loose box.
- mobile app is ready to go, i've been testing it for weeks just can't seem to get to publish it to the appstore.

Once I solve the problem I really lose steam. Help me with a different way of thinking about the last 10%.
posted by aeighty to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Seems like you either a) lose interest when there's nothing else to solve - can you reframe the bits that still need to be done? E.g. what is the most beautiful way to arrange these wires? b) don't enjoy the more admin side of things - these are the things I tackle first thing in the morning before my brain is awake! Make a plan to do it at a set time, then just do it!
posted by london explorer girl at 7:01 AM on May 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For me, the only thing that works is to break that last bit down into individual steps, as small as possible. List them, for all projects. Then just aim to do one a day.

I hate the last ten percent too, but the satisfaction of actually finishing things and ticking them off a list keeps me going.

Also, I don't do this intentionally, but if I can't put the project away (say, long pieces of wood required for my current project) then I'm real motivated to finish just to get my damn space back. Maybe putting stuff like the electronics box somewhere obvious and annoying will force you to finish it.
posted by stillnocturnal at 7:02 AM on May 21, 2020

Best answer: What helps me with this was learning to take pride in something being complete, instead of something being clever. I was once like you. I love the hard problems and would put myself into a task completely. But once I got the hard problems done, I didn't care about the small things necessary to make the thing useful or actually functional. I did the hard part and solved the challenge and that was my fun.

Then I got promoted into management at work. Now I was no longer doing. I had to struggle to adapt and find my sense of worth and accomplishment from somewhere else. It was tough, but after awhile I managed to do it. Now my drive comes from seeing things done well and actually used and knowing I drove the project that did it.

This translated perfectly into my home projects. Suddenly I started actually caring about the finished product doing what I wanted it to do in the first place. I still loved the hard parts. But the easy parts, the polish, the anal attention to detail that I couldn't quite find the focus for before, were now all necessary parts of the projects in order to be done. It was awesome! The piles of half finished projects turned into what I envisioned them to be at the start.

It was hard. This is not an easy transition. I was lucky and had people to complain to at work throughout the process and had a financial and career incentive to make the transition successful. I'm pretty glad it worked though. Also my wife likes it a lot better too...
posted by cmm at 7:03 AM on May 21, 2020 [13 favorites]

Best answer: "If it was worth doing, it's worth finishing" gets me through a lot.
posted by teremala at 7:15 AM on May 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The hard part is easy, the easy part is hard. Programming-wise I was An Agent of Special Circumstances specializing in Out of Context Problems. We had whole teams of programmers and such, I got the things that couldn't wait or I'm the only one who knows the fine details and could get something done by friday. The hard part is easy. Reading serialized data dumps of structures and it's done, the hard part is easy. The other 20% is the hard part, ironing out the output because *they* can't read that mess, fixing the options because *they* don't know how it works. Make it simple and obvious and email the right people, write the documentation, add configuration. That easy part is hard. But you're polishing a mirror or cutting a gemstone. Pride, make it beautiful, spit and polish, for *them*.

For some inspiration on the electronics side... check out Ben Eater's videos. He breadboards complex electronic stuff and sells kits. And has optimized and beautified those projects into a sight to behold.

It's that last stretch that goes from it works to it's a work of art. And it's the hardest stretch. But unless it's just for yourself (leave it, it's fine) then it's for *them* and you need to try to make it 12-year old friendly a sparling gem.
posted by zengargoyle at 8:38 AM on May 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The sister problem in field of writing is that for some writers, if they write an outline of their story their brain feels the story is finished and they get crippling writer's block trying to flesh it out. For others they do fine until they write the climactic scene and then again the story feels finished and their brain is no longer obsessed with it and they get bogged down with writer's block once more.

The solution is sometimes to not allow yourself to write that final scene in any form until everything else is done. I don't know how you could apply this to the type of work you do - maybe you can hold off on connecting that last wire, or writing that last line of code. You don't let yourself test your electronics project until the wires are all lined up neatly, or you don't let yourself test your app until you have the upload to the app store set up, so that all you have to do is finish, run the thing once to test, then press attach and send, reducing the post creative work to only a minute or two of simple work. Even if you can't hold off on everything, completing absolutely as much as possible before you complete your project can make doing the post completion work less daunting.

It may be worth asking yourself if there is a downside to finishing your work. If you write a brilliant app you get the fun of the creativity. Uploading it however creates uncertainty and an ego threat. What if the app doesn't sell? Or what if uploading the app means that you are now bound to the chore of marketing it so it doesn't go to waste since it is much easier to sell a brand new app than one that has languished ignored for two years. People will interpret the two years of no sales to it being a crummy app rather than that you never started trying to market it. So once you upload you have to meet a time and effort commitment doing work you really don't want to do. You can start that project next week when you'll have more time to work on it or better concentration. Or next month.

I don't know if you have to market your apps or what the result is when you finish a project but often there is a downside that threatens the ego. Maybe it's not marketing but needing to think of a new project. Maybe the process of sorting wires is scut work, and your ego doesn't want you to do anything but heroic labour. As social animals we have a lot of instincts that serve to protect us from exploitation so your inability to motivate yourself to complete your work could be because, on some level, you feel you shouldn't have to do it.

It's perfectly possible that you are actually stopping where you do because the final stage is the hardest one of all, not easy. Sorting all those wires requires concentration but gives no problem solving triumph feeling. That makes staying on task hard. If you need your problems to be interesting, or you need the ego boost of feeling you did something important, then tedious counting and sorting is really more difficult for you than the stuff that intrigues you.

Another technique that can work is to always start your work day/time by doing something you have been procrastinating on, but not necessarily finishing it. The longer you put something off the harder and bigger it sounds. But if, before you do any of the work you are itching to get started on, you look into the case with your electronics and sort just one wire you will eventually get it done, one wire at at time. The more often you chip away at a project you were dreading the more you acclimatize to it. It's a way of desensitizing yourself to the anxiety that is stopping you from doing the work and often once you reduce the anxiety from procrastination you just work along mildly amused by the task until it is done. You have to reduce the procrastination anxiety before you can do that.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:47 AM on May 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: In knitting parlance it seems you are more of a process knitter than a product knitter, so to speak. (More interested by the techniques used to produce the sweater than the completed [for example] sweater itself.) I’m a bit of both.

Sometimes all I have left is binding off the hem or sleeves or neckline, but the 90% completed sweater (or whatever) sits in a drawer for a long time. If I can find a new technique to learn and try at the very end of a project, it’s more interesting to me and I’ll complete it.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:21 PM on May 21, 2020

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