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Always a starter, never a finisher

There's always that one guy that has this cool new idea he's working on, he seems so passionate about it and is excited to get it out there. 6, 7, 8 (let's just say many) months later, all has gone quiet. And the conversation goes a little like this...

"So what's happening with that cool new project you were working on?"
"Which one?"
"You know, the one where you were going to..."
"Oh that, yeah I didn't really do much with that. I'm working on something much cooler now, it's gonna blow your freakin' mind!"

And yet in six months time, you'll be having the same conversation.

Well, as much as it pains me to say this, I'm that person. I've had so many "projects" over the past few years I've lost count. Has any one of them seen the light of day? Well yes, but that failed miserably. The point is, it's all too easy to get distracted and move onto something else, perhaps it's that hurdle where you're just not sure what to do next or how to do it, so instead of finding a way to tackle it head on, you take the easy way out and start something new.

I'm quick to blame my failings on the lack of capital, that I "need" to get my projects off the ground. And that justifies my avoidance. Of course, it doesn't, far from it. But I just don't know how to push through, not right now any way.

So here I am, I've been working on a project for about four months or so, and I'm stuck. I've hit a road block where I don't have the expertise to overcome my problem, nor do I have the cashflow to bring in someone that does. And instead of trying to find a way around it, or learning the necessary skills, I sit back and mope about it. The lack of motivation ever increasing.

Obviously, I need to overcome this, and I need to do it now. My question is, how?

(Disclaimer: I realise that this post could potentially harm any future applications I may submit to tech incubators and / or seed rounds, however I feel being open about this will help me to overcome this problem, and will make a better founder of me in doing so).
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Hoon Cho
start your day as a producer.
One way I found useful is to imagine in your mind that you've finished the starting phase of your project. Close your eyes and imagine you right there, and ask: what now? Asking that question forces you to think in your head the full pipeline - how long will the first draft implementation take, how can I find the customers after that, how much will it cost, and so on.

And what's best, if you have lots of ideas and you manage to do that in your head for each one of them, you will suddenly see that you have better answers for some than others. Ideally you will see that specific idea for which you might have a blog already on the topic, or you know some people in real life that can help you with product promotions, or some other coincidence that connects the dots, and then you'll know that you've struck gold because this idea connects with you (your past) and you have a tactical advantage in pursuing it. That's the best motivator to stick with it in the long-term that I found until now.
The Willpower Insight by Kelli McGonigal could help you a lot. What's the road block? Any way to ask for help from people, or Quora, StackOverflow, Google Groups, etc.?
Matt Kydd
There is always another part of the project you could be working on - even if it's mindnumbingly boring (like adding i18n).

Your brain is still processing the problem even when you're not immediately thinking about it - the solution will manifest in time - it always does.

Sometimes you just need to do something completely different for a week or two - walking is good.
I'm a programmer too, and I'm in your boots. I've spent 4 years as an entrepreneur, doing contract work to bootstrap a dozen failed ideas, and I'm poorer today than when I started (but I love it, it's great).

Personally, your post avoids mentioning one key factor that makes all the difference in my worldview -- Do you have more softwares now?
Can you roll out bigger projects faster? Can you deploy grander ideas with more finesse and less fuckup? I've launched plenty of my ideas. None of them made me enough money to keep them online. Now they are all private, and I use them in-house, and when a client says "Hey, I want an auto-optimizing split-testing number-crunching monstrosity, with an affiliate program!" I am like "yep, got most that built already."
I can empathize with where you are on this. I had to learn to move from being a starter to a finisher and it's been hard. My issue was the difficulty of relying on others technically and when they didn't finish I'd be left helpless. First step was to learn to code myself, that was a bit one. Second was learn to finish product and not just leave it dangling when I ran into a problem.

That's the hard part.

I found the only real way was to learn to love learning. Stackoverflow, Github, googling blog posts. If I had road block google for advice. When I didn't understand the advice learn the more fundamental thing I didn't know. Keep diving down until I could come back up again and clear the road block. Rinse. Repeat.

Part of this, I think, is related to realistic goal setting and time-tabling. Figuring out how to strip an idea down to a true MVP. Building small chunks without stressing over how long, knowing I had to go through this learning cycle which slowed things down. To be honest, learning to appreciate test driven development helped too, as it allows me to build things in small manageable chunks, and the thrill of building a small test, watching it fail, writing a small amount of code, watching it pass, gets me into a state of focus where I can get a lot done and solve tough problems.

The truth is some people aren't completer-finishers, naturally. The key is to develop coping strategies for while you have to be one, and once you've proven yourself, built something to a stage where you can hire additional folks, hire well, smartly. Focus on hiring complementary skills to your own. Hire someone who is great at dotting 'i's and crossing 't's and finishing, working through the thorny issues, but maybe isn't so strong at initiating things. The best of those are just as aware of their strengths and weaknesses as you are of yours.
Define small goals, simple hypothesis you can test. prove and build upon. Then try to advance your ideas one little step at a time.
The step-size is hard to define though.
Couple of things: (1) You need to find a GREAT team of people to work with. You can't do all the work yourself or expect yourself to be good at everything. (2) LOVE what you do. Don't start working on something just because it's easy. If you don't love what you do you'll get stuck and not have the drive to keep moving forward. (3) Read Scott Berkun's Making Things Happen (a great little book on why projects fail) and Eric Ries's "The Lean Startup". I'm sure you'll find some great wisdom and advice there. Cheers. PS: Don't forget to ENJOY YOURSELF!
Do some contract work for a while, that'll teach you to finish.
A starting point would be to share your problem... Maybe this way you will find someone that is willing the help you for free, not in the terms: " build this for " but rather in the terms of " teach me master ", I know it because I had this problem, and I still have it from time to time, I am referring now to the "brick wall" but rather "start to finish" problem. So ....what's your problem? Is it programming? (Yes I suppose it is) what language, what code... etc.? Good luck with it
thankfully I am able to finish my projects - as hard as it seems :]
A huge thank you to all of you who have commented offering advice, it's greatly appreciated.

My problem (each and every time) boils down to programming. Whilst I can handle the front end, I come unstuck trying to make the magic behind the scenes happen. I have a very, very basic knowledge of php, just enough to customise a CMS like Wordpress - which is what I'm using to handle the content in the early stages of the project.

I'd love to get more people involved, and most certainly would like to build a team, but at the moment I'm unable to offer anything more than equity - which at such an early stage is pretty much worthless, and for obvious reasons I'd like to keep dilution to a minimum until funding.
Check out, CS253 - Web Application Engineering - Building a Blog and Software as a Service, sounds like what you need practically.
Sounds like you are writing about me. I am in same boat. One solution I can suggest is to get somebody onboard and I mean a like minded partner and not an employee. He will help you to stay on course.
You need to be self motivated to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes. Another project is not an option. there is usually a solution to a problem if you work hard at it.

I know a guy who has these "killer ideas" and in 6 months they go no where. The reason? He's lazy and realizes its going to take actual work to get it off the ground.
If you start smaller projects, you're more likely to be able to finish them. I've heard this often, but ignore it just as often and find myself in a situation precariously similar to your own
Daniel I read your post and know exactly how you feel. I think the best way to get past roadblocks is to connect with those around you who can help. It so happens that I am a back-end developer with strong knowledge in WordPress and would love to help you out if I can. Shoot me a message and maybe we can talk.
No wonder we are in same boat. I am not a great source but I would like to share something based on my own experience.

1- As +Hoon Cho said; Be a producer. The first thing you do when you get up should do something which gives you feeling that you're producing; be it jogging,prayers,preparing plan or even writing the unfinished code. Make sure you Don't read emails or blogs.

2- Divide your goals into tiny goals and then more and more tiny goals unless their duration does not go beyond 10 mins or even 5 mins. So if you think you can format your web page in 5 minutes or push changes on remote server and test it up then it's definitely going to give you good feelings.

3- When you divide your task into various subtasks, let's say your total task to finish up your products are 10. If you complete 2 out of them then don't think that you only did 2 tasks yet rather than you imagine that only 8 tasks are left. This is really going to give you a great feeling. I learnt this technique from this article(

4- Your first task of the day and last task of the day should be something that you actually COMPLETE and gives you great feelings. It will eventually effect on your next day performance.
Being a person of the same nature, I found that parts of Eric Ries's "The Lean Startup" was quite helpful. The whole idea of getting a minimum viable product (MVP - a product that does the bare minmum and isn't necessarily of the best quality). If you idea is as good as you think it is, even the MVP will get enough buzz that it will make you excited again. I personally think about it like this (not that I succeed in not jumping form one idea to another but...): When you come up with an idea, it's as if you're at the start of a runway in a plane (In this case you're the pilot!). You have however long the runway is to get the right speed and take-off or you'll crash (In this case, get bored and think of something even more exciting). Now, this might not apply to you but it certainly did/does to me. You shouldn't give yourself time to think of another idea. You should spend so much time and effort on your current one that you can launch it in one form or another before you're bored so that the feedback can hopefully give you the re-excitement you need by that stage. Now the length of the runway depends on the time and effort required to implement the idea, but I find that it's never more than 6 months. Does anyone agree?
I'm so sympathetic with your position; as we speak I'm emptying out a dozen half finished git repos from my laptop's hard drive.

The best advice I've heard so far:

- Start with the end in mind: picture yourself half-way through, and then at the end
- Always be shipping code: try to ship one feature a day, or weekend, or whatever
- Do the simplest thing that could possibly work: try not to get caught up in overengineering early on
You also need more than verbal support. I learned this in the many attempts in various businesses. Unless your family and friends are willing to SUSTAIN, not just "morally support" you or your ideas, or unless you have some experienced "connections" that can direct you and mentor you, it's almost a lost cause from the get-go. (By the way, "sustain" here means "willing to help you in any way you ask them to," "to be your right hand," "to do whatever is needed" to help you succeed in your endeavour.)
I've always been that person too. I've had so many ideas that I've then researched, built business plans around, developed the logo and web site. Then hit a stumbling block and suddenly I have a 'better' idea.

But just this month I've flipped it around. My idea requires no capital outlay which is convenient but instead of spending weeks or months doing market research, writing business plans and building the web site, I have just gone out there and got myself a customer.

It's now three weeks in, I have a second customer (referred to me by the first) and I can see that I can do this and it doesn't matter that I don't have a web site or logo yet. I now know that I will get that part done in due time. I am now just focusing on delivering what I have promised to my customers.

It feels great!!!
Find what your passion is and work on that. Passion is the only thing that will likely motivate you to work on something when it's obviously not succeeding, not going the right way, not working out. Passion and a vision of something that needs to be solved.

If you don't have that fire that makes you work on your vision even when nobody's watching, unless you're lucky and build something that is constantly on a growth path, you'll keep being in this cycle.
Find what you are afraid of and confront it directly. Whatever it is just put yourself in a position to confront it over and over until it's something you can overcome.
I have the same issue as you the minute I have resolved every big problem. It then is all about implementation and debugging and I lose interest. Solving the problem is what makes me tick. Once you know exactly what makes you tick, you might have better tooling to tackle it.... Just SHIP IT.
Coffee is for closers!!! Just kidding. Totally feel your pain.
Do a PhD --- they keep you until you become a 'finisher.'
ohh lord! is good to see that i'm not alone on this road! well man, the guys already said everything that you need to know.
One problem (it seems) is that you feel without capital no one would be willing to help. Talking to people with the expertise you need to get over the hump would help. What kind of knowledge or skills are you lacking? I'm one who would be willing to help where I can. I'm an all around programmer (HTML, CSS, JS, PHP, MySQL, etc.). Send me an email if your interested in some dialogue.

I run into the same problem all time. Usually just talking to someone helps a lot. Get's me excited about the idea again and helps me push through the trough.
Half of your problem is the paradox of good taste, and the other half is hubris. The paradox of good taste is that if you have good taste then you'll probably hate the first things that you make, because you're terrible at it. But you won't get better unless you make terrible things first.

Hubris comes in because at some level you believe that you are better than you actually are, and you can't stand to prove yourself wrong.

So the key to finishing things is, fundamentally, humility. Resign yourself that what you produce will be crap. Realize that you are probably an average, or even below average maker. Accept this, truly accept this, but keep making. Over time, with patience, you'll get better at both your craft and being realistic about your capabilities, and you'll actually make something worthwhile.
I'm also a big starter and ideas person. I've started many things I haven't finished. However, at one point I just bit the bullet and kept. going. until. it. was. done. Took me about 3 years, but the outcome is that I know I can do it and that'll last with me forever. I'd suggest taking on a small project that you know you can do in a short timeframe, and practice finishing. Think of finishing as being more important than getting the perfect project/idea. Don't rely on having some partner who will fix your weakness in this case, because it's that important that you want to look back one day and see what you did, and know you can do it again.
The key to making something concrete is resource constraint. Set a budget and a deadline, keep an eye on them, bail earlier rather than later if it looks like it's not going to happen.
Stop.Just stop trying to do what you're doing and start training. Go get the skills you need to finish what you want to achieve. Then come back to it. Don't torture yourself or waste years working at a snail's pace on something that shouldn't take that long. The investment in skill-building will pay off even if your idea doesn't pan out, whereas wasting time on a project that is lagging due to skill/capital constraints is just a future-killer.
I've been in this same situation. One thing I realized is that my projects didn't really have a finish. After "finishing" one of my projects it started getting a little traction. I started putting more time to do SEO, marketing, features, etc. Turns out that there's always plenty to do. Breaking things up into small tasks has helped a lot in this area.

That project was the first one to get to the point of release. That's because my wife was the one who wanted to start the project. She pushed me and kept me motivated, which is probably why I was able to get it out in the first place. So this made me realize that in some cases I may need more than just my own motivation. It's good to have a support group to keep you motivated, even if they're not directly involved in what you're working on.

Best of luck!
Strange that practically no one asked you what your particular problem is that you are stuck on? What is the problem?
i used to tell people about the cool personal projects im working on so that i can look more interesting to them. then i realised i dont care what they think and stopped telling them about my stuff. this was a good pressure reducer and made be complete more personal stuff. i am now very careful of who i chose to share my information with and also more careful about where i say i am in the phase of the project. its a nice change from the 'do things, tell people' philosophy.
Starting up is always fun and cool... but sticking to it as it grows and needs to become a business is though and time consuming, long time... I don't have a solution for you, it happens to me too... just have to deal with it and try to be successful on it. And remember, 90% of the advise you will get here comes from people that don't know what they are talking about, they just read a blog, book or listened to a podcast about entrepreneurship... so you will know more about your specific situation and what to do than whatever advise you get here.
You're probably an intuitive perceiver (as opposed to judgers). Instead of changing your personality, you can use your gifts to your advantage-- find opportunities where you can start prototypes and let other teams translate your prototypes into actual products. "Finishers" often have problems during the conceptualization stage, and they need "starters" like you.
What about a co-pilot?
I have the same problem, I start things but never end them. Lately I thought of a possible solution: Having someone working with you on the same project. Even if you both loose interest, just don't tell the other, and you might continue working on it just because you don't want to let the other guy down. Of course you should also be honest, if you really don't see it end well you should tell that. But if you have something else on your mind that you'd like to do, don't give in (or set certain hours for other projects) and continue--even if it were just to not let the other down.

Edit: Rereading, I notice that I'm assuming a guy as co-pilot here. A girl would of course be equally fine ;)
A female co-pilot is disastrous to the project because she will always have a headache. Hehehe...
Try putting yourself into a commitment - but a REAL one. The best example I can give you is a startup accelerator, or schedule a working day with a friend on a specific idea. I am just like you, and this is how I deal with such issues.
I'm sure most of the people commenting fell into exactly the same trap of trying to churn out the next big thing in record time only to hit a brick wall when reality throws up very real problems with your ill thought out venture. Lacking motivation is an issue every person has to deal with in their own particular way. All projects and ventures require more than passion and enthusiasm for completion (although that's enough to start) - confidence, belief, commitment, desire, mental-toughness, luck and pure bloody-mindedness are just some of the ingredients to finish what you started.

The suggestions here are great. Personally I believe the key lies in separating your professional day-job from your own hobby-time where you can remain passionate and inquisitive. When your professional life seeps into your personal-time you are left permanently exhausted - quickly draining the passion, enthusiasm and excitement you may have initially felt when embarking on your latest dream. Even moreso, setting incredibly unrealistic goals leaves you feeling deflated rapidly. At the risk of repeating a cliche from centuries ago: "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. (Laozi)"
+Daniel Meade I have all the same problem like you have and recently gave some hard thought about it. I'm not sure if this will work for you and also maybe someone already suggested something similar (I'm too lazy to read all the comments during work hours :-)) so just a quick note.

Like you, I am anxious about "this next big thing idea" from a few days to a month, then I drop it, and go to "next big idea I have". But what I noticed is that after a couple of months I usually drop something forever (just understood I don't want to do it) OR... and this is interesting - I get back to one of the ideas that I still believe in and work on it again for a while.

Because of that, I always thought that I am somekind of a quitter, but after thinking more about it, and I would like to call this process not 'quitting', but instead a rotation. I get bored by one, I jump to other, to other, to other, until I jump back to the first one again.

So, I decided to "exploit myself" like this: let's say I have this timeframe of couple of days, before my enthusiasm runs out and I jump to my next project - I have two rules:

1. Always note stuff I need to do or think about later;
2. During that time do small tasks (either new or those noted down last time), that have some visible result.

This way, I am working on all my projects for the amount of time that pleases me, I get something done and I don't call my self 'quitter' or 'not finisher' - I know that I'll get back to/finish them later or drop them for sure.

Of course as this is new idea I've came up with, I have no real results to show off right now, but so far so good - I'm constantly getting back to all of my ideas and doing something significant, step by step.

I hope this helps!
(I've struggled with this same challenge. Best of luck.)
Barbara Sher has named enthusiastic people who become immersed in one project and then move on to the next, as "scanners".

She has brought relief to many scanners by explaining that although in current society it is seen as failure if you don't complete, she suggests that your boundless enthusiasm and inquisitiveness can be very valuable, as long as there are also "plodders" on the team to tie up all the loose ends after your focus has moved on.

The title of her book for scanners has changed a few times but the best one to use to check it out at Amazon is:

Refuse to Choose!: Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams

Although I prefer the older title: What can I do when I want to do everything?

It contains some interesting simple ways to learn to love the way you are, including opening a box file every time you get interested in a new thing and throw all your papers in there. 

So although all the projects are unfinished, you do have a wall full of variously coloured box files to admire, containing all your notes,  as your accomplishment.

There are even scanner groups, like Scanners Night at screwworkletsplay dot com which also features a book too.
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