Finish What You Start: The Art of Following Through, Taking Action, Executing, & Self-Discipline

Finish What You Start: The Art of Following Through, Taking Action, Executing, & Self-Discipline

by Peter Hollins

Is your life a series of undone tasks and intentions? That stops now! 

Finish What You Start presents you with an in-depth look at the science and psychology of productivity and getting things done.  It looks at why we get stuck and provides step-by-step solutions to help you achieve the life you desire. You’ll learn to understand your brain and instincts better and resist distractions, laziness, and excuses so you can focus on what matters! You’ll also discover how to create your own rules and personal manifesto to help you accomplish your goals! 

Summary Notes

To Follow Through Requires Focus, Discipline, Action, and Persistence

“When it comes to thinking up what we want to do, what we need to do, or what other people need to do, we’re usually experts. But when it comes to actually getting off our butts and following through with action, we’re usually not only amateurs but also unwilling participants.”

Following through requires focus, self-discipline, action, and persistence. Focus ensures no effort is wasted as it guides our thoughts and directs our actions toward achieving our vision. Self-discipline enables us to retain focus on what needs to be done, despite all the distractions. Action can be measured and evaluated against our goals - without it, plans remain abstract, and goals remain dreams. Persistence is firmly sticking to something for a prolonged period, even in the face of obstacles and setbacks.

We often sabotage ourselves and misuse our time by setting unclear goals, procrastinating, and indulging in distractions. Good time management is the practice of using the time to maximize productivity. It involves not only the ability to schedule tasks but also the insight and good judgment to recognize which tasks are best done when.

Actions to take

Internal and External Motivators

“You are doing something to avoid a negative circumstance or earn a positive circumstance from people and things outside of you.”

Sometimes, we lack the drive to move forward. Motivation is created when:

  1. Things we care about make us want to work toward our goals and discourage us from giving up;

  2. We receive positive benefits from our actions;

  3. We avoid negative consequences by working towards our goal.

Internal motivators are the “why” behind your efforts. They make each task or sacrifice seem worthwhile as you work towards your goals. So, whenever you must do something that you dislike or are tired (while working), you consider how great you will feel when you finish. Every day, review your goals and why you want to complete them, then let that fill you with motivation to drive you toward project completion.

External motivators are mainly related to avoiding negative consequences. Basically, if not following through will result in some sort of suffering, you will take action to avoid that. For example, you might be trying to avoid disappointing your family by failing school, so you are determined to succeed. You don’t want to be fired from your job, so you keep being productive. 

The best way to make these motivators work for you is to use cues to remind you of your ‘why’ as often as possible. Cues need to be distinct, memorable, and changed periodically to avoid growing used to (and not noticing) them.

Actions to take

Create a Set of Rules to Keep You Moving Toward Your Goals

“Rules can generally be called mental models, which can be critical to follow-through.”

You will face forks in the road where you must deliberate between following through or giving up. Instead of relying on willpower every single time, having rules for yourself can help you make the hard decisions. We can create rules that specify how we make every decision (no exceptions) to help us accomplish our goals.

Rules hold you accountable, guide your worldview, and direct your daily actions. A good example of a rule is to always complete two tasks on your to-do list for your goal every day. It’s simply unacceptable not to do this—you must complete the steps no matter what. As a result, you’ll find that you make headway every day and gain momentum. Rules push and guide you in the right direction and avoid depleting your willpower.

Actions to take

The ‘10 Minutes, 10 Hours, 10 Days’ Rule

“And when you’re not swayed by this rule or your dilemma of willpower is extra difficult, you can add a final question for yourself. That is, how will breaking willpower now affect you in 10 weeks or even longer-term?”

We often know that we are doing something harmful at the moment, but that’s not enough to stop us from doing it. We don’t make the connection between our actions now and our future selves that will have to deal with the consequences. The ‘10 minutes, 10 hours, 10 days’ rule quickly creates that connection, boosting our self-discipline at the moment. The time intervals of 10 minutes, 10 hours, and 10 days help us realize how short-term pleasure or comfort of an action is relative to its long-term consequences.

One example is when deciding whether to skip a workout to go to dinner with coworkers. If you’ve just begun exercising, deciding to skip a single workout might increase the odds of skipping future workouts or stopping altogether. Ten days later, the desired exercise routine is now a faint memory. On the other hand, if exercising is already a consistent and enjoyable habit for you, imagining how you’ll feel in ten days will show you that one missed workout won't hurt your long-term discipline or goals.

Actions to take

The ‘10 Minutes’ More Rule

“Simply by choosing to wait, you remove the ‘immediate’ from immediate gratification — building discipline and improving decision-making.”

The ‘10 minutes more’ rule is simple, easy, and powerful. Each time you feel like stopping work or giving into temptation, simply say, “Just 10 minutes more.” Ten minutes is nothing, so you can easily wait (or continue) that long. 

If you’ve forced yourself to do something productive for 10 minutes, you might end up doing it for 15 or even 20 minutes more. At some iteration of  “Just 10 minutes more,” you’ll reach a point of momentum, and that’s often enough to carry you for hours. Gradually you will become more immune to temptation and distraction, and your focus tolerance will grow.

Actions to take

Reaffirm Your Intentions

“There are many things detrimental to your progress, including distractions, temptations, lack of discipline, procrastination, and other destructive or wasteful actions.”

When you find yourself deliberating between quitting and following through, state your “I want, I will, and I won’t” statements: 

  • “I want…” is your end goal and how you will benefit from it.
  • “I will…” is how you must reach that end goal and the work you need to do to get there.
  • “I won’t…” is what you shouldn’t do because that action will impede progress toward your end goal.

When you make these statements constantly—your end goal, the steps you must take, and actions to omit to reach it – all becomes crystal clear.

Actions to take

Adopt a Follow-Through Mindset

“If you don’t follow through, then you don’t learn all that you have to do, and you don’t learn anything about yourself except that you are lazy or afraid or a failure.”

It takes effort to follow through on something as it sometimes involves uncomfortable situations, unpleasant sacrifices, and the fear of stepping into the unknown. However, some things are only learned by completing goals - including what it takes to finish something and what you are made of.

Mindsets can help with following through. It is a set way of approaching situations and problems. Certain mindsets give you the will and motivation necessary to follow through on something, while others can impede progress or have you give up just because the going gets tough.  If you feel that your hard work will get you somewhere and that you can complete hard or intimidating tasks, it’s easier to keep working.

Actions to take

Defeating Procrastination

“The present self wants rewards that pay out now, which in turn often hurts your chances to get your future self its long-term rewards.”

Procrastination leads to intense stress, frustration, and sloppy work. Behavioral psychology identifies the main component in the self-defeating habit of procrastination as ‘time inconsistency’ - where we value immediate and instant gratification over long-term rewards.

Imagine that you have two selves, a present self, and a future self. Envisioning your ideal future self and setting goals is easy. However, to achieve your goals, your present self must work hard for future rewards. Sadly, your present self favors tasks that reward you right now.

The best way to counteract time inconsistency is to move rewards into the present. That way, your present self sees immediate benefits and will stick to the long-term program.

Actions to take

Create a No Distraction Zone

“Ultimately, you want to create an environment for yourself that is clear of distractions and obvious temptations.”

A significant amount of our actions are just responses to our environment. Distractions interrupt the flow, and returning our attention to the original task after being distracted is an extremely inefficient use of time. Clearing the workplace of distractions will clear your mind, increasing focus, efficiency, and productivity. A clear workspace allows us to become more disciplined with very little use of willpower.

Actions to take

Group Similar Tasks Together to Improve Productivity

“The more you divide your attention among different activities, the less productive you’ll be.”

Switching from task to task takes a lot of energy, and you waste time regaining your bearings and figuring out the status of each task. This leads to achieving just a portion of what you can and want to. Grouping similar tasks together allow you to focus on your tasks without constantly being distracted and having to reorganize your mind. Staying in the same mindset pays huge dividends in increased productivity.

Actions to take

The 40/70 Rule

“Many of us are reluctant to take actions outside the comfort zone unless we have all the pertinent information we need. But can you actually have too much information to start something new?”

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has a rule of thumb about making decisions and coming to the point of action. He says that any time you face a hard choice, you should have no less than 40% and no more than 70% of the information you need to make that decision. In that range, you'll have enough knowledge to make an informed choice but not so much that you lose your resolve and simply stay abreast of the situation.

If you have less than 40% of the information needed, you don’t know quite enough to move forward and will probably make several mistakes. Conversely, if you continue to seek more than 70% of what you need, you may become overwhelmed and uncertain. The opportunity may have passed you by, and someone else may have beaten you by starting already. But in that sweet spot between 40% and 70%, you have enough to go on and let your intuition guide your decisions.

Actions to take

When You Need a Minibreak at Work, Do Nothing

“Disconnecting from everything and doing nothing at all can actually be a path to greater creativity and insight.”

There’s a reason why we tend to get more epiphanies when we are zoning out at the gym or in the shower. Thought is inherently fatiguing and taxing on the mind and is characterized by the brain emitting beta waves. Relaxation and a lack of attention, on the other hand, are characterized by the brain emitting alpha waves – those waves are also associated with enhanced memory, creative thinking, and overall increased happiness. When you relax more and do nothing, your mind is free to wander, and your body is able to recharge.

Actions to take

Use your preferences and strengths to increase productivity

“Knowing yourself enables you to figure out how to work best and create the most beneficial environments for yourself.”

Not all people work the same way. One might like a detailed schedule that lays out every part of the day, while another needs breathing room and spontaneity. One may need a quiet environment to work alone, while another needs a social work environment to thrive. You can’t impose unrealistic or unsuitable schedules, ideals, or environments on yourself and expect to succeed.

Our productivity requires particular care to flourish. It’s best to work in the environment and time where we can be most productive. Using your preferences and strengths to your advantage will help you follow through and deliver peak performance at work because you are using your energy when you have it the most.

Actions to take

Keep Score and Celebrate to Increase Your Success

“You can avoid failure in your life by using systems to implement efficiency and forward progress.”

People play and work differently when they keep score as it provides automatic motivation. Each completed task shows that reaching the target goal is becoming more feasible as they begin to view each day as a chance to rack up more points on the scoreboard. Having some reward or incentive for when the goal is completed (and at points along the way) can give you something to look forward to, pushing you forward even when you want to give up. Combining scoreboards and celebrations is a powerful tool to improve productivity.

Actions to take

Don’t just read. Act.
Read comprehensive summaries and discover carefully compiled action lists for active learning