Self Improvement

How to Kill Motivation Sucking Vampires & Finish What You Start

Saikat Basu 18-08-2014

You know them well. The three vampires – Fear, Procrastination, and Apathy are waiting to ambush you at the next pass. Ready to puncture your personal growth. They have hit me quite frequently. And parts of me are lying in the graveyard of unfinished projects and unmet aspirations.


There are two unbreakable rules for achieving anything.

  1. Quit thinking and just start.
  2. Finish it.

We usually manage the first. The latter takes some doing. If you have the self-awareness that you failing to go the distance, pause for a second. Take in the solutions below. Give your own in the comments. And let’s all go for the high stakes and stay on the course till the very end.

Don’t Look At the Ideal Big Picture – Break It Down

Finish Projects - Simplify

Visualizing a project in its completed entirety gives you a clarity of purpose. But it also brings psychological pitfalls, according to social psychologists Heather Kappes and Gabriele Oettingen.

In a 2011 study (Positive fantasies about idealized futures sap energyPDF), they likened positive visualization to fantasies that drain away ambition. The psychologists recommend…


“Fantasies that question whether an ideal future can be achieved, and that depict obstacles, problems and setbacks should be more beneficial for mustering the energy to attain actual success.”

So, the right way to approach your project could be to break it down to individual processes. Visualize the obstacles and also the ways to solve them. The trick is to keep breaking it down till it is so easy that you just begin instead of procrastinating on it…or  stay paralyzed by its enormity.

A big project is also overwhelming. Breaking it down to the little everyday processes also makes it infinitely more manageable. Use paper to-do system or use a task management app like Todoist How Much More Productive Is ToDoist Premium? Here Are 6 Good Reasons To Upgrade I kept using ToDoist for free for a while. But kept coming up against things I wanted to do and couldn't. Email reminders. Adding notes to task. Things that would really add a whole lot... Read More . I prefer Trello . This is how a sample project board on Trello can be laid out:

Trello Sample Board

Say No To Multitasking

Say No To Multitasking


In other words – Focus.

Multitasking is great for CPUs. Not for the human brain. Personally, I have made mistakes like signing up for too many online courses on sites like Coursera and Udacity. Thanks to information overload, there’s just too much to learn…too many things to bookmark. By going with one and sticking with it, I wouldn’t have short-circuited my progress.

Be selective and pick one project to finish. And then follow the remaining eight ideas that come after this!

Use The Power Of Compound Interest

Productivity and Little Steps


Was it Einstein who said — “The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest”?

It was misattributed, but the essence holds true. Use the cumulative power of little efforts. Multiply it with time. Doing 1% of the task every day will take you to your goal in 100 days. Or lesser if you take the ripple of motivation compounded over time as you move closer to the finish. Just like money in the bank, the little slices of time we spend on a project is an investment. “Investing” a little every day compounded over time takes us toward greater riches, because we gain other intangible benefits too.

Take a small single step today to break the gridlock.

Want to finish a book? Read five pages a day in ten minutes, and it will be done in three months.


A bestseller to write? Write 300 words a day. An average novel is 40,000 words.

Want to code? Go to Codeacademy and do a lesson each day. It takes less than 15 minutes. 

Switch On Your Auto-Pilot

Motivation ebbs and flows. Habits keep us going. When it comes to the auto-pilot of our lives, both good and bad habits run the show.

Zen Habits author Leo Babauta says — Break your goals into habits, and focus on putting those habits into autopilot. Once habits are formed we don’t have to consciously think about our actions, reluctance to work on a project being one of them.

I desperately wanted to improve my touch typing skills. The first habit I had to master was to keep my back straight and not look at the keyboard. Not looking down was the hard part, but after a month I eventually got it. Typing tutors Learn How to Touch-Type With These 8 Top Tools & Tutorials Learning how to touch type could mean the difference between 10 words a minute to more than 40. That could also mean the difference between adding half a day to your productivity. Or, more than... Read More and games like Type Racer took over. After this, I was on auto-pilot as I burned the keys at a cool 100 wpm from a poor 40 wpm.

Try this principle of consistent habits on a small project…like learning all the keyboard shortcuts for Gmail Quickly Learn Gmail's Keyboard Shortcuts With KeyRocket For Gmail Get the most out of Gmail by learning all of its keyboard shortcuts. With Keyrocket for Gmail you'll be shown a notification every time you use the mouse instead of a keyboard shortcut, helping you... Read More . Come back and tell us in a month if it did anything for your productivity.

Steal Time

Time Tracking

One of the biggest reasons for not finishing our projects is not lack of passion…but lack of time. But this is also easily solvable by looking at it differently. We don’t lack minutes – we lack hours. The human mind has the tendency to look at time as large blocks of hours, days, and years…while the little minutes slip away unnoticed. Remember, when it comes to giving your projects some time, you don’t have to be a bank robber — be a pilferer. Steal the minutes. Don’t bother about the hours.

Use a time tracking tool Capture Missing Time In Your Work Schedule With Klok Time Tracking Over the past few months, I've discovered a very strange phenomenon creeping into my work schedule. I seem to keep losing time. How do you lose time? It's easier than you might think. You get... Read More for a week and find where the little minutes are slipping away. Apps for iOS and Android are also easily available. Or it could be a simple spreadsheet. Can you re-capture the little minutes and use these as short bursts for your projects? Thanks to the power of compound interest again, those little minutes do add up.

I previously wrote a popular post which went into the ten ways to find time for your personal projects What A Busy Day: 10 Savvy Ways To Find Time For Your Personal Projects Do you have a passion that is secretly throbbing inside your head? What is holding you back? Maybe, the clock runs out after a grueling workday and an hour of commute. Let's steal time. Read More .

Release Early, Iterate Often

If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.

There is this famous quote by Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn. This is just another way of saying, just do it. Perfectionism is the devil behind many an unfinished project. Perfectionism of artists is the reason for so much beauty around us. In lesser mortals, it can also be the reason behind procrastination and never knowing when a project is good enough. Have you ever felt stuck…and didn’t move an inch forward because “it just doesn’t feel right”? We all have a need to impress, or have the paralyzing fear that our pet project isn’t good enough.

The cure is to realize that you stand to learn more from your failures and mistakes. Whether it is a private project or open to an audience, the feedback will help to close the gaps and make it more polished in a shorter amount of time.

Find The Right Tools

Obstacles to Learning Skills

Learning curves can be roadblocks. One of the ways to flatten a learning curve on a project is to find the easiest tool for the job.

Let’s say you want to learn vector illustration. A tool like Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape comes with a steep learning curve. If this makes you flinch, try it out with an easier tool like Serif DrawPlus or even a new online option like YouiDraw. Find the easiest way to learn a new skill, maintain your enthusiasm, and progress upwards from there on.

Keep An Excuse Journal

“I am too tired”…

“I will start this after I take a nap”…

“I had a really rough day in the office”…

Excuses are the lies you tell yourself.

An Excuse Journal helps you note down the “no’s” and other barriers for not doing something. My own excuse journal has helped me realize the absurdity of my excuses. Writing five minutes a day has helped me clarify issues and become more self-aware of the obstacles I create to my own personal development.

As this article says: keeping a journal helps to remove mental blocks and allows you to use all of your brainpower to better understand yourself, others and the world around you.

Journaling has many benefits – not the least of which is its effectiveness as a problem-solving tool. No one is looking over your shoulder, so you can be honest if you have lost interest in the project. In that case, go to the last point here. A diary could be the cheapest therapist, or if you prefer digital journaling 7 Ways to Keep a Personal Journal Journaling is an exercise for the mind and it has several proven benefits, but it can also seem difficult to do. This is primarily due to the overwhelming feeling of having to journal – it... Read More , it could be as accessible as a Notepad file.

Find Support

Calling for Support

Starting a large creative project Think Big, Start Small: 6 Tips To Start A Creative Project On The Web So you have plans for a creative project and you aren’t sure where to begin? Start off on the Web. Here are some tips to keep in mind to help stave off failure. Read More is easy, but finishing it could require an extra pair of hands. You need someone to counterbalance your lethargy or lack of skills. The Web makes it easy to seek out collaborators who can help you see a project across the finish line. It could be something as simple as asking for feedback or it could be a louder call for help. Freelance markets like oDesk and Fiverr can help you find the right person who can chip away the things left undone. You can also call out for help on community sites like Reddit. Here are three more to choose from –

Let Go…If You Have Lost The Joy

Honest truth. Ditch the project if it isn’t giving you any joy. But before you do, see if you can salvage something from it and use it elsewhere. For programmers, it could be the logic of the code, or an entire code block. For designers, it could be the raw files. For writers, it can be the lede, characters, or ideas you can keep from the material. If you have material goods for a project, see if you can return them or sell them off on sites like Craigslist or eBay.

Leonardo Da Vinci was one of the greatest “procrastinators” of all time. By the time he died, he left behind many notebooks with scribbling’s of unfinished projects. Imagine what the world would have been like if this Renaissance Man had finished them all in his lifetime. So, work on your own masterpiece. It may not change the world…but it could be the renaissance in your own life.

What kind of mental battle do you fight with yourself to finish things left half-done? Do you have the magic potion? Many among us are always searching for it.

Image Credit: Business expansionBusinessman with four armsBusiness occupationThe shoe tie puzzle, A pair of feet (All Shutterstock)

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  3. Mens
    August 25, 2014 at 9:52 am

    "say NO to multi-tasking" is my favourite. It is 100% right that we ,humans, are not qualified yet to do different tasks at a narrow range of time. Understanding this wisdom is essential to stop pretending that we can overcome our biological limitations. It's simply a one-task-per-time-show.

  4. Mena
    August 25, 2014 at 2:20 am

    Five Stars article as expected. Now I know myself better after the third reading.
    Thank you.

    • Saikat B
      August 25, 2014 at 5:55 am

      Thanks for the vote, Mena. Drop in later and tell us the about the one principle which helped you more than others.

  5. Jennifer
    August 22, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    I am really disappointed with todoist. Why offer a recommendation that does not work? I looked at trello but could not find a desktop application. I have been testing todoist for several days now and and the desktop application repeatedly fails. The app does not open from the toolbar, it opens multiple applications, I have to use the task manager to shut it off.
    As soon as I have a bit of time I will be looking for something that works and moving my list elsewhere. I am open to recommendations for something that actually works.

    • Saikat B
      August 23, 2014 at 3:15 pm

      ToDoist is popular among the many people I know and we have reviewed it before here at MakeUseOf. To be honest, I haven't used the desktop tool, just the Web and mobile versions which never gave me any problems. Here's a thread from their site discussing a similar problem on WIndows 8.

      Trello has an app for Windows 8.

  6. Jorge Ayala
    August 20, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    Dude, marvelous! I was in need to read something like this, I'll make this article as favorite to read as many as I can. Let's go enjoy better our lives!

  7. Abdul
    August 19, 2014 at 11:30 pm

    Great article! I would recommend 'The Compound Effect' by Darren Hardy. He goes really deep on most of the points discussed in this article.

    • Saikat B
      August 20, 2014 at 11:16 am

      Yes. That's one. I also read "The Slight Edge" by Jeff Olson. Thanks for the share, Abdul.

  8. Andy
    August 19, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    You're so right. I'm a writer and if blocked just start writing anything...the quick brown fox...some limerick...a grocery list; pretty soon I'm back into the task.

    • Saikat B
      August 20, 2014 at 6:43 am

      Yes. Just give any task the first 2 minutes. Just starting is the hardest part. Once that's through, it is usually smooth sailing from there on. Something to do with the physical law of inertia and psychology I guess :)

  9. Edgardo G
    August 19, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    Great article, I had some Ideas but these solves everything! amazing!
    Thank you for the help!

  10. Edgardo G
    August 19, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    Great article, I had some Ideas but these solves everything! amazing!
    Thank you for the help!

  11. Maryon Jeane
    August 19, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    One thing I find useful is to get rid of the blocks each day, first off. There is nearly always something which is sitting in the back of your mind, bogging down you and your creativity and sapping your energy. If you tackle this thing first ('Feared things first') you not only clear and free your mind but also gain an immediate sense of achievement which spurs you forward.

    • Saikat B
      August 20, 2014 at 6:36 am

      Absolutely. "Eating The Frog" first thing in the day is a great way to begin. For e.g. I don't open my email first thing in the morning. I have promised myself that I write at least 500 words before I do anything else. So far, it is working perfectly.

  12. Terry Matlen, ACSW
    August 19, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    This is an excellent article that I'm sharing with my ADHD clients. One more tip is to work with a coach who can help you break down the big project into little pieces, help with strategies and hold you accountable.

    • Saikat B
      August 20, 2014 at 6:34 am

      Oh, if you get a coach or even a mentor there's nothing quite like it.

  13. DonGateley
    August 19, 2014 at 12:58 am

    Really, really excellent advice. Every point you make is necessary and taken together are sufficient. Take that from one who hasn't always followed it. :-)

    The analogy to compound interest is new to me and quite enlightening. In thinking about it I know it to be so from many years of R&D work. There is nothing like progress to spur more of it and generally to a compounding extent.

    • Saikat B
      August 20, 2014 at 6:33 am

      Yes. We tend to ignore the little effects of cummulative steps by looking at the BIG goal. It's normal to forget that all our good habits and bad habits are a result of little steps over time.

    • DonGateley
      August 20, 2014 at 9:29 pm

      @Saikat: And yes, but we tend to think of little steps in a linear fashion whereas your point with compounding is that small steps in the beginning will result in bigger and bigger steps as you go along. That the rate of progress in the beginning, while perhaps unsatisfying in and of itself will through persistence increase that rate. That thought was new to me. Not always true and not true in every phase but enough so in my experience to be a really good principle to work by.

  14. Tom W
    August 18, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    At one point, I was making a vlog every day detailing what I had (or hadn't, as the case may be) achieved the previous day, and what I intended to achieve on that day. If I didn't manage to complete a task I'd set for myself then I had to explain why the next day. It helped me to keep my goals realistic, to realise what I'd accomplished, and to keep an eye on the excuses I was making. Eventually, I stopped doing it because recording a two minute video required watching it through to check the audio before uploading it, and then again when it was uploaded to make sure Youtube hadn't messed it up while processing it. I think it would work better on Facebook or Twitter though.

    • Saikat
      August 20, 2014 at 5:49 am

      That's a nice idea. But sounds like quite a lot of work every day. Surely, journaling is lot simpler...or just making the video at your end as a private videos and not publishing it all.

    • Tom W
      August 20, 2014 at 12:11 pm

      The idea with the videos was that it gave some measure of public accountability. Making them publicly viewable was a psychological motivator, even though no-one actually did watch the videos. As I said, Facebook and Twitter offer a much simpler and quicker way of achieving the same thing.

    • Saikat B
      August 20, 2014 at 12:21 pm

      Definitely simpler. Another way is to join self-development communities around the habits one is trying to develop.

      I might give your example on another article I am working on that looks into the power of communities in our personal growth :)