“I’m full of ideas, Matt. I start out great and then…I can’t seem to finish.” Are you like this coaching client of mine? Always leaving projects half-finished? Or, even worse, 80% or 90% done?

Half-finished Project

One of my coaching clients recently brought this up on one of our calls.

He is like so many world changers. Full of ideas and passion. Short on seeing things through to the end.

He has “Shiny Object Syndrome.” I can relate as, I am the president of the Recovering Shiny Object Syn–hey, I have an idea.

This client, like so many, is missing out on using one powerful tool that all successful finishers use.


“Deadlines are the mother’s milk of productivity,” I told him.

He promptly gave me an “Ooooh, that’s good,” shared it with his wife and told me to tweet it. I did. I can’t help it. I think therefore I tweet.

I shared with him the two mistakes people make with deadlines. I then shared with him how to use deadlines to finish better and leave the half-finished projects behind, once and for all.

The two biggest mistakes people make with deadlines

Mistake 1: Not setting deadlines

This is the most common mistake. People don’t set deadlines at all. Every project has an open end date. Some projects have an optional ending, period.

Without deadlines, you are free to move about from project to project. You are free to relax at the 75% completion mark. You can conveniently forget about it while you start something new.

And then you find yourself surrounded by unfinished projects, unable to pick any of them up where you left off. You think back to the days when you thought you could change the world. You remember the excitement that came with each new idea and how the first few hours or days felt with each new project. You remember the enthusiasm you had as you planned and researched and then…finally…you started working on it.

And then the sadness overcomes you as you realize:

A project left unfinished is no better than a project never started. (Click to tweet)

By not setting deadlines, you failed to have an end in sight. You had nothing for which to aim, so you never even tried to hit it.

Mistake 2: Setting deadlines unrealistically

The second mistake, although less common, is equally as harmful.

When you start a project, the excitement takes over and you set a deadline that is totally unrealistic. One of two things inevitably result (sometimes both):

1. You miss the deadline and lose enthusiasm for the project. You see it as a failure. And you quit on it.

2. As you approach the deadline, you begin a pattern of pushing it back. And pushing it back. And pushing it back. It becomes, in essence, the same as having no deadline to begin with.

A target that is moving is no better than not having a target at all.

How to set effective deadlines

A deadline that is effective is one that has three components:

1. It’s realistic, yet pushes you. If you currently write an average of 500 words per day, work a full-time job and are married with children, it’s unrealistic to think you are going to average 3,000 words a day and write a book in a month. The average book is 64,000 words. Continuing at 500 per day puts you at 128 days, plus editing. Setting a deadline of 2 months is foolish. Setting a deadline of one year is too long. A deadline of 210 days pushes you and gives you grace.

2. It’s hard (set in stone). Eliminate words like “approximately,” “ballpark,” and “sometime around” from your deadline-setting vocabulary. Put a date in stone. Then move to #3.

3. It’s always in front of you. Put it on a countdown calendar on your desk. Each day, rip off the top sheet and remind yourself you have X days to complete your project.

BONUS TIP: Set smaller deadlines within larger projects that have the same three components. For writing a book, for example, set a deadline of 145 days to finish writing the manuscript. Then another of 45 to edit, and the last 20 to finalize everything.

Action item: Set a deadline today for some big project. Break it into smaller deadlines. Make sure the deadline has each of the three components listed above.

Deadlines are the mother’s milk of productivity. You can use them on small increments (minutes or hours) or large ones (years).

Start setting them and holding yourself to them and you’ll soon find yourself surrounded by mounds of finished projects, rather than depressing reminders of your half-finished dreams.

What deadline are you setting today?


Text me anytime at (260) 217-4619.

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7 thoughts on “Who Else Wants to Stop Leaving Projects Half-Finished?

  1. Steve Daniel says:

    I grew up with ADHD and have been a long member of the “Hey look a bunny” club (that’s where in the middle of a conversation you get diverted with a “fluffy bunny”) so I know how hard it is to set firm deadlines. As I have gotten older, I have been able to set deadlines for work easier than my own goals. I’ve had several books that I have been “working” on for months, but each time I start, I get so involved with a specific part of the topic, I instantly have a new book and have to move pages of work under a new title. My original book is half finished and three others are in about the same state give or take plus a couple or three more in progress.
    As of today, I am setting a very realistic goal to have the first book finished by the end of July. I have too much on my plate to start back on it prior to late April, so I think that would be a safe date that is still “forcing” a final time frame. BTW I type about 60 wpm so that’s 3600 an hour, and according to the figures above, I should be finished within 14 hours of actual typing. If I only work on the weekends when I can get a clear mindset, then that would be 7 weekends to finish and another 8 weekends to edit, polish and finalize everything. This sounds reasonable but firm. Still I know the ADHD will kick in at some point, but I’ll make the deadlines. Thanks for helping with the focus. I had never broke it down like that before.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Awesome Steve!

      Write down your ideas for the other books when they come to you, then immediately go back to your “deadline book.” I’m like you in that I have 7 books in queue. But I am only working on one at a time.

  2. Steve Pate says:

    Mine, by the end of today, to have a web site purchase, and a by the end of the weekend to have three blog post written. Then by the beginning of April, have the post running. There, now its in cyber world as a form of an accountability.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Did you knock out part one?

      1. Steve Pate says:

        Hit a roadblock with the my bride. I need to do a little more explaining the why. But Today it will happen.

      2. Steve Pate says:

        Done and done. now- time to get educated.

      3. Matt McWilliams says:


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