home, life, organization

3 Secrets to Completing Unfinished Projects

Question:  Do you prefer to start projects, or finish them?

I pulled the idea from this post on one of my favourite series called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  It’s something I ask myself quite frequently when I’m about to embark on another DIY adventure.

The post in The Happiness Project’s blog describes Dianne Volek’s theory of openers vs. finishers.  It goes:

  • Openers get satisfaction from starting something new.
  • Finishers enjoy the getting the very last drop out of everything.

This theory makes sense for material objects, but I thought I’d find a way to apply it to larger creative projects instead.

My partner likes to point out that I enjoy starting things and not finish them.  He’d probably agree that I am more of an opener.

One of my favourite things to do is open a fresh can of paint.  I love the feeling of using my paint mixer drill bit.  I enjoy watching paint dry (really!) because it’s exciting to watch the transformation from old to new.

There’s one problem though:  I don’t like finishing painting projects.  I procrastinate painting walls and trim because it’s boring, except for the time we painted our walls and ceiling contrasting shades of grey in the living room.


Because I’m an opener, I thought I could share some tips for how I get around to finishing things.

Easier said than done, right?

  1. Do It Slowly

    I often have a need to do things now.  I like it when things are done as quickly as I can because I know if I don’t do it asap, I’m less likely to do it in the future.

    I’ve learned that quickly doesn’t always make for a quality result.  I’ve painted over wet drywall, spilled materials, and been slow to wash brushes out because I run out of time.

    Plan:  Perhaps I should learn to break things into smaller chunks.  I should learn to schedule small tasks for different afternoons so that I can allow the paint to dry, and so that I can make time for brush cleaning.

    Here’s the second bedroom project that has stalled for the moment.  It’s empty and out of the way, so it makes for a good trial run of this theory.

    The second bedroom is prepped for painting and is ready for a slow and steady approach.

    “Slow and steady wins the race.”

  2. Do It Quickly

    Not interested in going slow?  There’s another idea by Gretchen Rubin that speaks about marathoners vs. sprinters.  It was mentioned in podcast #4.

    On marathoners, she says, “…It turns out people like to work at very different paces.  So, imagine you have a project to work on.  Some people are marathoners.  They like to work long in advance.  They like to work slowly and steadily to have a lot of room before they hit the deadline.  They might finish early because they don’t like that feeling of being squeezed up against a deadline…” (Rubin, 5:55-6:43)

    On sprinters, she says, “…Sprinters love the adrenaline of a deadline.  They like to be up against the wall.  They like the long hours and the intensity of it.  They feel like that’s what crystallizes their thinking, and what feeds their creativity…” (Rubin, 6:53-7:13)

    The idea of long hours and intensity speaks to the sprinter inside of me.  It reminded me of the time I painted my dining room.


    I completed the project in a weekend.  I liked the pace and the intensity, and this room only needed minor repairs.

    In the kitchen, my sprinter pace added time to my project.  I didn’t allow for things to cure before adding more coats of paint.


    Plan:  Sprinters should let things dry and cure before powering through to the next task, and take time to do other tasks during those breaks.

  3. Keep A Written To-Do List

    I keep a revolving mental to-do list in my head at all times.

    However, I should probably start writing it down based on this article on the effectiveness of to-do lists by Hannah Marriott at The Guardian.  Daniel J. Levitin, the author of the study in the article, wrote,

     “The human brain can only pay attention to three or four things at a time, so writing down a task we plan on getting to later is essential.”  (Levitin, 2015)

    This could explain why I spend several trips going to the hardware store each weekend.

    Plan:  Write down and gather what I need to complete the project before the project begins.  Maybe it will curb overspending as well.  One can only dream.

Are you an opener or finisher?  Do you prefer to do projects as a marathoner or a sprinter?

Go forth and complete those unfinished projects!

2 thoughts on “3 Secrets to Completing Unfinished Projects

  1. Good tips! Sometimes I’m an Opener and other times I’m a Finisher. It seems to depend on how excited I am about the project or maybe whether I feel optimistic that it will look great when it’s done.

  2. Yeah, I’d say it definitely depends on the project. Some I am anxious to get done and some I start without the end result completely formulated. I love the molding around your windows. I definitely am a list maker though!

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