Seeing Things Through

Getting a handle on actually finishing things I care about.

March 02, 2019Filed under blog#productivity#running#software development#writingMarkdown source

I have on my mind this week starting things, and finishing things.

I picked up a chest strap heart-rate monitor again a week ago, and took a run with it. It felt like starting (again, in this case!) with running. I am training for a couple of half marathons and a long couple days’ of road cycling in the Rocky Mountains in between them. As I wrote in a blog post earlier this week, putting that chest strap on flipped the little switch in my brain that said “This is serious running again.” It helps to have registered for those races and committed to that event. I have always done better at running when I have had a concrete goal in view. It has helped me with finishing. Though I have had to skip out on a few races I have registered for by way of illness or (in one case) moving across the country, I have only failed to train up sufficiently for a race I had registered for once (and that, too, was a function of illness, though it wasn’t initially clear to me).

Over the past four months I decided it was time to start working seriously on some things I have been thinking about for a long time now. One is developing an app (really: a family of them) that I have been nooding on for almost four years now. Another is learning how to build programming languages. Still another is writing some long-form essays, the subjects of which I have been mulling on in some way or another for as long as five years. My challenge in these kinds of projects is twofold: in many cases, the projects themselves are large enough as to seem daunting to me. In others, though I start them, I find the finishing difficult when I am already tired with the many other things on my plate. Having specific and concrete goals would, it seems to me, help—just as in running.

I have, several times now, started open source software projects and never finished them. I have started a (genuinely interesting!) novel/novella/short story (the format is hard to nail down for this idea!) three or four times, and never seen it through. I have a handful of very good essays sitting in my drafts folder that I began either for this site or for Mere Orthodoxy during my seminary years; some of them are 90% done and had I taken just another half an hour they would have been ready to go.

Strange though it might seem to people who see only what looks like very high productivity from me, I have a surprisingly hard time finishing things. Starting them is easy. But sitting down, week in and week out, to get them across the line—it is hard. The more amorphous the task, the less clear-cut “done” is, the harder I find it.

One of my goals for the rest of my thirties is to get better at this: at picking specific projects and leaning into them until I finish them. Even if that means setting aside other good and important projects along the way. There are only so many hours in the day, and there are many few of them available for side projects when one aims to be a good husband and father. I am still getting a handle on this; more reports from the field as I hopefully improve at it!