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The Art of Following Through

Right now, I have at least 10 projects on my desk, all in various stages of "progress," but all unfinished. I have ideas floating around in my brain for about 20 more.

Right now I have 12 (!) tabs open on my browser, each one reminding me of some item on my "to do" list and my "to do" list never seems to get any shorter. I close a tab, only to open two more. 

Like many creative folks, I'm excellent at generating new ideas and "what ifs." I do it for myself and I do it for other people when I talk to them about their businesses and careers. I can't help it. Ideas just come. I recognize that I'm addicted to the start of things and to the new.

The problem, of course, is in the follow through. You can have a million ideas, but if most of them are lying around in various stages of "undoneness," then there's really no point. They haven't truly made it out of your head and into the world. 

Part of the "Creation" pattern of career resilience is developing the habit of completing what you start. In today's always on world of multi-tasking, finishing things is the hallmark of a true professional. 

Strategies for Following Through

I thought about all this this morning when the video above from Marie Forleo dropped into my inbox. It's on making follow-through a habit. She suggests four strategies here:

1. Stop thinking that creativity is all unicorns and rainbows. Who doesn't love the "fun" part of any creative project where you're filled with ideas and working on the parts that play to your strengths. But in every creative thing you do, there will come a point when it's no longer fun. Diligence and persistence will have to carry you through. Know that. Plan for it. And push on through. 

2. Start with the small balls. Finishing what you start is a habit. Look at the little things you leave hanging. Discipline yourself to stay focused and to finish them before you move on to the next item on your list. This is easier said than done. While writing this post, I found myself drifting over to respond to emails and write down some ideas for another project I'm working on. I also posted to Facebook twice and answered a client call. This is a major reminder to me of how addicted I am to the idea of "multi-tasking," which is clearly killing my ability to focus and complete things. 

3. Don't make finishing optional. This is a big problem I have. I keep my commitments to clients, finishing work I know that I "have" to do. But it's harder to keep my commitments to myself, where I've made finishing a creative project a "nice to do" rather than a "have to do." 

This is a state of mind as much as anything else. It's interesting to realize how often I see the work I do for other people somehow being more important than work I've promised myself to do. It's part of what can make the work of developing my career resilience more difficult--I'm responding too much to what other people need from me, rather than to what I need to do for myself. So making myself at least as important as my clients is something I need to work on. Marie's quote on this is a good reminder:

If you want to be responsible, keep your promises to others. If you want to be successful, keep your promises to yourself. 

4. Go on a Project Diet. Another big one for me. Rather than generating more ideas, I'm working right now on simply finishing the ones I currently have on my plate. It's very tempting for me to follow the next shiny object that comes into view. I love the energy of new ideas. But right now, I really need to learn to say "no" to the all you can eat project buffet that goes on in my brain. 

An Addiction to the Next Shiny Thing is Really Just Resistance at Work

One thing I've found in looking at my bad habits around follow-through is that multi-tasking is a big problem. The million open browser tabs and the constant drifting of my attention is a challenge. Simple discipline is needed. 

But more than that, I understand there's something deeper at work here. Failing to finish is a form of Resistance, what Steven Pressfield talks about in Do the Work as the inevitable external force that rises up to greet you when you begin a creative project. Doing battle with the forces of Resistance in their predictable forms throughout the life of your work on your creation is an unavoidable aspect of creating something new. And the more outstanding and amazing that creation is, the more Resistance you will face. 

When I understand that my addiction to the next new thing is really just part of the Resistance that has risen up to keep me from following through on what I already have on my plate, this gives me a better mindset for approaching the work. I see that the more I'm putting off following through, the more likely this is exactly the thing I NEED to do. Chasing a new idea isn't nearly as powerful as completing the one that's already here. So I buckle down and stay with it. 

Following through, finishing what we start--this is an important pattern to work on in developing our career resilience. What do YOU do to build this pattern in your life?  


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I've been avoiding this post all day. I think I'm going to continue to :)

Thanks for your blog post I saw it via @flexnib and your intro to Marie Forleo whom I have now subscribed to. I don't think of myself as being overly creative, but could relate to comments re: follow through and finishing things and the aspect of multiple computer windows open. Good stuff and thanks for sharing.

I avoided writing it for awhile, too, Christine, so I hear you. :-)

Thanks, Graeme--glad this resonated for you. I think that our fast-paced, 24/7 work world makes follow-through more difficult, regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a creative type (although I think we're all creatives). There's much that conspires against us finishing things, and I find that I've had to be much more intentional about it than I used to be.

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