Note: This post contains affiliate links. Read my policy here.
All right, so I’m totally guilty of this one.
Years ago, I read a great crime novel. Suspense, drama, intrigue — you name it. So I figured that the author’s other books must be pretty awesome too.
As a result, over the years, I’ve visited my local library and borrowed one after another of her books. And some of them weren’t bad. The rest? Awful.
I was happy enough reading the good ones. But guess what I did with the snooze-worthy ones?
Yeah, I read those too. Cover to cover.
Those novels weren’t the least bit compelling in the first few chapters. They weren’t remotely thrilling at the halfway point. They were — at best — meh all the way through.
But I finished those suckers anyway.
Yeah, yeah, I know. Total waste of time. To make matters worse, I wasted more time in complaining to my poor husband about how crummy my latest read was.
Of course, you can clearly see how utterly silly it was to keep throwing away precious hours like this!
But think for a second. I bet that you’ve got at least one time-wasting story just like mine.
And that’s where “the art of non-finishing” comes in . . .
When not finishing is the best possible choice
Courtesy of interlibrary loan, I recently got my hands on a copy of Tim Ferris’ wildly popular book, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich. While I’m not reducing my working hours to a mere four hours per week any time soon, I wanted to read Ferris’ story and discover how he managed his time and streamlined his business.
Some of Ferris’ ideas are . . . well, more than a little out there! But among the nuggets of insight I found scattered throughout the text was this concept:
The art of non-finishing.
Ferris states the principle simply as this: “Starting something doesn’t automatically justify finishing it.”'Starting something doesn't automatically justify finishing it.' -Tim FerrisClick To Tweet
All of us feel compelled to finish what we start.
Think for a second about all the times that you don’t apply this principle . . .
A Lousy Film
You head to the theater to catch a new movie. It’s awful at 15 minutes, and — at 30 minutes — it’s even worse. You stay for the whole thing and grumble for the rest of the day about the unoriginal plot and miserable acting.
A Bad Client
You run a small business and start talking with a prospect about the possibility of tackling a project together. After some back-and-forth, you realize that this prospect isn’t at all the kind of person with whom you want to work or that this project isn’t up your alley. You press on with negotiations, despite the obvious red flags.
The Wrong Tools
You start peeling the sticky tags off your new dish set — only to discover that each one leaves that maddeningly sticky residue. You try some dish soap, a scrub brush, and your trusty fingernails. But it’s taking forever, and you’re not even getting all the goop off.
You realize that a bit of Goo Gone would make quick, effective work of the stickiness. But you spend an infuriating hour scrubbing by hand instead of popping over to the store to pick up a solvent that would finish the job faster.
Seriously, just stop.
Are you familiar with the economic concept of sunk costs?
The idea is this: A sunk cost is a cost that you’ve already incurred and that you can’t recoup.
In the examples above . . .
- You’ve already spent $10 on that movie ticket, and it’s gone. No refunds if you don’t like the film!
- You’ve already spent business resources chatting with a dead-end prospect. You can’t get that back.
- You’ve already spent time (and soap) scrubbing sticker residue, and you can’t recoup that.
But what if you simply stopped what you were doing when you realized that what you were doing wasn’t a good idea?
Not finishing is a strategy that recognizes this fact: even though you’ve wasted some time, money, or other resource, you don’t need to keep wasting your resources.
Ferris insists that, if something is boring or unproductive, you should quit it immediately. After all, what’s the point of continuing to waste your resources once you recognize that what you’re doing is a waste of resources?
So stop what you’re doing.
Take a look at how you’re spending your time, your money, your energy today and ask yourself, “Is it worth it? Is there a better way? Should I stop doing this activity altogether?”
And share your story!
What have you kept doing despite realizing that not finishing it — or doing it differently — would be the smarter way to go?