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5 Common Reasons You Don’t Complete a Project & How to Move Forward

5 people looking for common reasons

As Professional Organizers Diane and I often get calls from people who are overwhelmed by projects that have been hanging around for what seems like forever. It might be a huge project like clearing out a cluttered home to put it on the market, dealing with unopened boxes scattered around since a move 5 years ago, or paper that has taken over an office and spilled into the rest of the house. We have found that most people have common reasons for leaving these projects hanging.

These people are not stupid or lazy so why can’t they do this?

These are the 5 most common reasons:

  1. Not having a plan
  2. Poor sense of time
  3. Failure to prioritize
  4. Perfectionism
  5. No accountability


1. Not Having a Plan

Often people will look at an organizing project and decide their first step is to go out and buy containers without any idea how many or what size container they might need. They do not break down larger projects into small doable steps. Also, they neglect to look at what times they have available to do the work.

A quote from Benjamin Franklin says it best, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

Move it Forward:

As you formulate your plan, set a due date by which time you expect to have the project completed. Then schedule “do” dates for each of the smaller steps to get you to the finishing line.

2. Poor Sense of Time

Many people have a distorted idea as to how long a project can take. This works both ways. They may look at a completely hoarded up home and think it can be sorted through by themselves after work in a month or two.  Or they may look at a box of items from a move and think it will take hours when, in reality it may only take 30 minutes or less (unless the box is filled with papers). They often neglect to figure in transition times between one task and another.

Additionally, they don’t set a firm beginning time and a time to stop for the day.

Move it Forward:

By setting a timer and monitoring how long it takes to do tasks, you begin to get an understanding as to how long tasks will take and plan accordingly.

3.  Failure to Prioritize

If people fail to prioritize, they end up working a little bit of time on a lot of parts of a project and then fail to see forward movement. If you have taken the large project and broken it down into smaller parts, decide which part to work on first.

What task will show the biggest change? Which task can be completed in the time allotment for the day?

Move it Forward:

If you can make it work in your schedule it is better to put in 15 – 30 minutes a day and see continual progress than to do a marathon session once a week. Doing something to move the project forward is better than doing nothing. Each time you complete a session you congratulate yourself and know that you have met a goal.

4. Perfectionism

Perfectionism can keep you from completion. It might be that you feel you need to research just a little bit more on how to handle a problem with the project.  Or you feel you don’t have the time right now to get it done perfectly so you don’t start. This is probably the hardest of the common reasons to overcome as it can keep you stuck for a very long time.

You are afraid that you will make a mistake, so you don’t do anything at all. It is difficult for some people to say, “good enough” and move on.

Move it Forward:

It’s great when you realize that it is best to say “done” for now and know that you can go back at another time and make it better.

 5. No Accountability

Most of our life we have been accountable to someone – our parents, our teachers, our boss. If you are working on a project by yourself and for yourself, you may not feel you need accountability to anyone. This makes it easier to just let things slide or work on other projects that are more rewarding at the moment.

Move it Forward:

On the other hand, if you share what you are doing and when you plan to accomplish the project with someone, you are more motivated to work your plan and complete your project. That someone can be a friend, a family member, or a professional organizer or coach. Just knowing that you want to share your wins on the project is a strong motivator.

In Conclusion:

If you find yourself stuck and unable to move forward on your project, check to see if one or more of these common reasons applies to you. Maybe you need a kickstart to get you going again. Maybe you just need the accountability. If you recognize that you could use some assistance to complete that long lingering project join Diane Quintana and me in our Clear Space for You virtual support group.

Jonda S. Beattie, Professional Organizer owner of Time Space Organization, and co-owner of Release, Repurpose, Reorganize. She is based in the Metro-Atlanta area. As presenter, author of four books as well as a retired special education teacher she uses her listening skills, problem solving skills, knowledge of different learning techniques, ADHD specialty, and paper management skills to help clients.



  • These are all excellent points! And I love the “move it forward” ideas to go with each too. Another reason that people get stuck is they don’t know where to begin. That can paralyze them to inaction. The overwhelm sets in, and then things sit. But all of the other points you made can help with that one too.

    I recently started a home organizing project to live with less. I have a plan, but it does not have a specific date, and that’s OK for me. I recognize that wouldn’t work for everyone. But in my case, having a daily repeat to “edit & release stuff” is enough to hold me accountable and move me forward. I didn’t think I had any accountability around this project until I read your post. I wrote about my experiment in this week’s post, which is a form of accountability. Thank you for helping me make that connection.

  • Seana+Turner says:

    I was just talking with a friend about someone she knows who struggles with #5. When the boss is putting the pressure on, or there is a deadline, he gets things done. But with the personal things in particular, when there isn’t anyone applying external pressure, the challenge is real. I offer coaching, and sometimes just knowing someone will be following up and asking how you did on a particular task or goal is enough to get people going!

  • Great post! Many of my clients need accountability. Someone to be there and make sure they get things done when they want it done. They also need inspiration and creative ideas to support their goal.

  • That Ben Franklin quote is going in my personal quote collection! I liked this article because it shows that everyone’s different. Each stalled project has a unique reason behind it, and this list give helpful categories for figuring out the specific reasons.

  • You hit every roadblock here. I too have found that having a poor sense of time or not realizing how long a project will take is a project buster. I’ve also found that wanting to do something else, rather than completing a task creates lots of static.
    Your move it forward ideas are what so many people need. As you pointed out, knowing that something is good enough, hopefully results in a positive shift.

  • Julie+Bestry says:

    You pared it down to the essentials! If we’ve got the skills, we can do 1, 2, 3, and 5 on our own. Sometimes, we just need to remind ourselves (or be reminded) to develop a plan rather than do something by the seat of our pants, practice our time awareness, actually think about priorities, and seek support for accountability. (Oh, how I love to talk about accountability!) But I believe #4, perfectionism, is the hardest part, and maybe near impossible to conquer on one’s own. Practice helps, but I think an accountability partner (including we organizers) must take into account (no pun intended) the idea that we can provide that anti-perfectionist angel on the shoulder. Jonda, I just love how you laid this all out so clearly.

    • Thanks, Julie. We hammered these points in our Clutter Support groups. And we are continually telling the members to acknowledge all that they have accomplished and give themselves credit for a job well done. We remind them that they can always come back later and polish it more if they want to.

  • Amazing reminders! I come up against the ugly beast of perfectionism all the time – both personally and with clients. Always a work in progress and you’ve got all the essentials NAILED in this post. Thanks for sharing.

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