How to start projects and never finish them

My vicious cycle and how I can break from it

I have problems with commitment.

I’ll have an idea for a game, or video, or song, etc. And it’s the best idea. Aw yeah! The very best idea ever. Indubitably.

Then I get super excited to work on it. I’ll think about how fun, engaging or compelling it will be. How it’s going to take the world by storm with its lustre. How I’m going to be interviewed on TV for being the creator of it. I usually imagine myself coolly brushing off the accomplishment during the interview (“Oh, it’s just a little thing I worked on in my free time”).

Then comes development.

I sit down at my laptop at my desk, put on some music, and get to work. Maybe I’ll brainstorm some ideas on paper or in OneNote first. Maybe I’ll mock up the app or artwork in Figma. Maybe I’ll start working on the game mechanics in Unity. Maybe I’ll play around with some drums in Ableton. Whatever the project in question is, I just dip my toes into making it at first.

Photo by Tirza van Dijk on Unsplash

After about one to three days, I’ll have a prototype of what I want to make, unfinished or finished. If it’s unfinished, it usually means I hit a difficult obstacle and couldn’t figure out how to surmount it. If it’s finished, it means I managed to pull all the pieces together smoothly.

But it’s at this moment in time that something happens.

I feel the satisfaction of getting pretty far in the project. I think proudly of myself and remind myself of how few other people would have made it this far. But when I remember that I need to extend this prototype for it to be a finished product, I get lethargic. Suddenly I think about how tedious it will be to create a large amount of content, to polish everything, to improve user experience, etc. If the prototype is unfinished, I get extremely bored while trying to push through the final obstacle, whether it’s Facebook Oauth for an app, or creating the right horn sound for an instrument in Ableton.

This boredom and lethargy then leads my mind astray from the task at hand. My mind meanders around: I’ll watch gameplay videos on Youtube, clean up my email inbox, listen to my favorite song of the moment on repeat twelve times over.

Then suddenly, I have an idea!

The idea is for a game, or video, or song, etc. And it’s the best idea. Aw yeah! The very best idea ever. Indubitably.

Then I get super excited to work on it. I’ll think about how fun, engaging or compelling it will be. How it’s going to take the world by storm with its lustre. How I’m going to be interviewed on TV for being the creator of it. I usually imagine myself coolly brushing off the accomplishment during the interview (“Oh, it’s just a little thing I worked on in my free time”).

Then comes development.

I sit down at my laptop at my desk, put on some music, and get to work. Maybe I’ll brainstorm some ideas on paper or in OneNote first. Maybe I’ll mock up the app or artwork in Figma. Maybe I’ll start working on the game mechanics in Unity. Maybe I’ll play around with some drums in Ableton. Whatever the project in question is, I just dip my toes into making it at first.

After about one to three days, I’ll have a prototype of what I want to make, unfinished or finished. If it’s — —

Photo by Paul on Unsplash

WAIT A MINUTE!!

What happened? Where did the time go? What am I doing right now?

I stop everything and suddenly these thoughts are scrolling through my focus. I quickly check my “Projects” folder. Hmm… I recognize those names. THAT was the project I was working on at the beginning of this week! THAT was the project I worked on last week! THAT was from last month! THAT was from last month too!

I’ve been in this cycle for almost my whole life now. I guess that’s not to say that I don’t ever finish anything, but it definitely takes a lot more time and effort for me to finish a project.

Why does this occur?

One of the biggest reasons why this happens is that I just get bored after the initial rush of enthusiasm. Plain and simple. It’s a phenomenon Philip coined “Mid-Development Hell”. We all love to start a new thing and imagine what it could end up like. But that feeling is temporary, and often can’t hold us through the actual work of making the thing.


Ok so how do we mitigate this?

Well if the main problem is the mid-development boredom, how can I revitalize myself when this happens? I think the easiest way to do this is to engage with the project with another human being! This means:

  • If it’s a game, play it with someone!
  • If it’s a song, listen to it with someone!
  • If it’s a film, watch it with someone!
  • If it’s an app, use it with someone!
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Whatever it is, talk about it with someone! Talk about what you want it to be and the biggest obstacles to achieving that. Perhaps they could help you surmount the obstacle! Or maybe they see that you’re taking the wrong path, and propose a different path for you. It’s good to listen to an outside perspective to combat your own tunnel vision.

I don’t engage with other people with my projects enough.

This is one of my biggest problems. I just keep them to myself, and maybe share a screenshot with someone through Messenger. I think it’s because I don’t think my project is polished enough to show to another person.

The fallacy here is that if I don’t show it to someone while it’s unpolished, it will likely never get polished anyways. Because I might abandon the project out of boredom.

The other problem I have is lack of commitment.

It’s difficult for me to commit to a single project and solely work on that for a long period of time. I have a very meandering mind, and I always seem to want to make something other than what I’m currently making.

The mitigation for this problem is simply discipline. I need to learn to discipline myself to stick to a single project at a time. One way to do this would be to assign a deadline. That way I’ll pressure myself into working on it, and finishing it in a timely manner.

Photo by Corinne Kutz on Unsplash

Another solution would be to write updates of my progress on the project on every week. I could make a website for the project and host a development blog on there.

A third solution would be to tell all my friends that I’m working on this project and that I’ll release soon. This is known as “social contracting”. I can post about my commitment to this project on my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. I can even link the development blog posts in social media posts to get my friends reading them.

These are all great solutions to the biggest problem in my life. Now I have to put them into practice.

A snippet of Kedifight in development

Currently, I’m working on a 2 player, 1 keyboard cat fighting game with guns, grenades, and cuteness called Kedifight (kedi means “cat” in Turkish)! I am finally finishing up the main gameplay and level. Hopefully I can finish it and release it without getting distracted by something else to do. Stay tuned!

Can you relate to any of this? Have you been stuck in mid-development hell before? If so, how have you tried to overcome it? I look forward to your replies!

Thank you for reading! :)