Finishing Projects

As a naturally curious person, I find I’m often researching new subjects, learning new skills, and trying new things. (I’m sure you can relate, but Wikipedia is like a big giant black hole of time.) This typically means I have a lot of half-developed talents and unfinished projects.

I actually did finish a (small) project lately, and it got me thinking about what the difference in motivation is between projects I start and finish and those I abandon.

In this instance, the small project happened to be an engagement website (for myself and my new fiance! I guess this is what happens when engineers get married…) Now I wrote an article a while ago about the difference between academic vs. “real” programming, and I’d been meaning to learn some web development lately. Learning to program “real code”  was sort of a vague, ephemeral goal, but the engagement website and server was a tangible, defined thing, along with a “client”, so to speak, and that’s what gave me the push to finish something.

In general, I’ve found that having a tangible goal as the outcome is the key to success. For example, as a mechanical engineer I’d like to be a better machinist, but I need to have specific things I want to machine or I won’t develop the skill further. I’d like to be a better web developer, but I need specific projects to work on.

Of course, I’ve noticed that at work, where we have clients and due dates, things tend to get finished as well. What do readers do to motivate themselves? Are do they start a lot of projects and not finish them?

One response to “Finishing Projects”

  1. Darren Landrum

    I am 100% with you on this one. Some time ago, I won a PropStick propeller board. Since then, it’s been sitting off to the side because I had no idea what to do with it. I’m not into robotics, which seems to be the number one application of this thing.

    And then I discovered that it’s just powerful enough to do some basic signal processing, even though it has no multiply instruction. Now, I’m trying to learn its ins and outs so I can make a basic MIDI-controlled polyphonic synthesizer, the design for which is finally starting to gel.

    Unfortunately, the Propeller is proving a very frustrating chip for me, even though I have both embedded and signal processing experience. However, the idea for this synth is still there, and I want to finish it, even if I end up using a different platform.

    Making an LED blink is enough to make sure the toolchain works, but it’s not a good enough end goal for anything else. I want something I can use elsewhere in my life.