How to Finish What You Start: The Declutter Approach

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Success Principles" by Jack Canfield. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you often start something but struggle to see it through to completion? Is your mind constantly boggled with all the unfinished projects pending on your to-do list? How can you learn how to finish what you start?

Finishing projects and decluttering your life can give you a sense of accomplishment and the confidence to move forward with your goals. To rid yourself of incomplete tasks, consider doing a decluttering ritual—this will help make space in your mind to start afresh.

Read more to find out the importance of these tasks and how to finish what you start.

The Art of Seeing Projects to Completion

What are the steps for learning how to finish what you start? Seeing something through to completion involves the following steps (steps 5 and 6 look the same, but they’re different):

  1. Choose to do something.
  2. Plan how you’ll do it.
  3. Begin.
  4. Keep going.
  5. Finish.
  6. Complete.

We often go through all the steps except the last one—we finish, but we don’t do the last thing that would make the task complete. For example, you choose to start a new filing system for your home office. You buy a filing cabinet and some file folders and file most of your paperwork, but you neglect to file your invoices. If you’d just finish filing the invoices, the task would be complete, but instead, it sits unfinished for weeks.

Why does it matter? Because the more unfinished tasks you have, the more time you spend thinking about them being unfinished when you could put that energy toward other things. 

There are several reasons you may find it difficult to finish what you have started:

  • Our work habits are subpar.
  • We take on tasks we don’t want to do but don’t know how to say no to, then neglect them.
  • We don’t know how to complete the task due to a lack of knowledge or the right means to complete it.

Here are a few pieces of advice on how to always finish what you start.

  1. Don’t do it at all. If you can’t do the task, don’t take it on.
  2. Get it done. Do the task as soon as you receive it.
  3. Give it to someone else. If you’re not equipped to deal with the task, give it to someone who is.
  4. Do it later. Make a folder of tasks that you plan to visit later.
  5. Continuously ask, “What must I do to finish this task?” Asking this question will help you take the last step to complete it. 

Clear the Clutter

Many people have things they don’t need. For example, you might have clothes you don’t wear. Just like unfinished business, this clutter can distract you, stealing energy you’d use to get important things done. Clearing clutter helps you feel more at ease in your space. It can also help you make room for new things in your life, both mentally and physically. Some people find that the act of cleaning their living space helps them welcome new business and other opportunities for growth. 

Activity: Identify Clutter and Incomplete Tasks

To start ridding yourself of incomplete tasks and clutter, try these activities:

1. Consider the following list to get some ideas about what you haven’t finished or given enough attention to:

  • Disorganized filing system
  • Undone activities from former employment
  • Projects that aren’t finished
  • Commitments that you haven’t followed through on or modified
  • Insufficient time for people you care about

Make your own list of things you have yet to complete. Commit to addressing at least one a month. Or, commit to completing several in just a weekend.

2. Inventory your home. Walk from room to room and note things that bother you. Then, make a plan to deal with them, one at a time. For example, maybe your garage has a pile of broken items. Make a plan to either repair or discard them.

3. Hire a professional organizer. They can help you get organized, get rid of clutter, and suggest tips and tricks to make your life more efficient. The National Association of Professional Organizers is one resource. You don’t have to work with them long term—just one session can provide useful pointers toward better habits.

Exercise: Eliminate Clutter

Make a plan to eliminate clutter in your life.

Walk through your home, and make a note of all of your clutter. Examples include piles of paper, broken tools, or t-shirts you never wear.

Make a plan to work through this list. For example, you might dedicate the next two Sundays to completing six decluttering tasks.

How to Finish What You Start: The Declutter Approach

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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