John Jago

Doing things until completion

There’s a habit I’ve been getting into recently, one I call “doing things until completion”, which means that once I’ve started something, I keep doing it until the activity reaches a state of completion.

This is because once I start something, it’s easier to keep going and finish than it is to start and stop multiple times.

Let’s illustrate it this way—suppose my kitchen is a mess, with many dishes needing to be cleaned and put away—hardly a fun activity. One approach to tackling the mess is to clean some dishes, but not all, and call it good for the time being. I’ve made progress towards the desired end state, but I haven’t reached it. I’ve also put myself in a situation where I have to repeat the hardest thing about cleaning dishes—the act of getting started.

On the other hand, suppose that once I start cleaning, I clean every single dish, leaving the kitchen spotless. Although it takes more time and energy in the moment, it is overall easier than breaking up the cleaning into multiple sessions, since I don’t have to get over that “getting started hurdle” multiple times, as that hurdle requires a tremendous amount of mental energy to overcome1.

Another analogy that I like is a train. It takes a lot of energy for the train to build up momentum, but once it’s going, it doesn’t require all that much to maintain the momentum.

  1. I’m not the only one to notice this. In psychology literature, this appears to be referred to as activation energy, a term borrowed from chemistry. ↩︎