The Art of Nonfinishing: 7 Time-Saving Ideas

The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.
William James

The art of nonfinishing (which Tim Ferriss mentioned in The 4-Hour Workweek) is a key to productivity. We are productive not because we accomplish many things, but because we accomplish the right things. If we accomplish many things but a lot of them are unnecessary, then the value we produce won’t be as good as it should be. On the other hand, if we can prevent ourselves from doing the unnecessary, we will have more time to do the right things.

So, when we do something and realize that it’s no longer worth our time, we should decide to stop. Don’t hesitate to leave it unfinished. Just because you start doing something, it doesn’t mean that you must finish it. Save your time and get more value by doing something else.

Here are 7 time-saving ideas you can use by applying the art of nonfinishing:

1. Reading

If you are reading a book and no longer feel that you get enough value from it, then stop reading it. Leave it and move to the next book. The same principle applies to reading magazines and articles.

2. Listening

There are a lot podcasts you can listen to. If you find that the one you are listening to is not good enough, simply stop in the middle of it. You can then use the time to listen to another podcast.

3. Watching

If you are not entertained by the movie you are watching, then leave it. Why should you waste another 90 minutes if you know within 30 minutes that it isn’t worth your time?

4. Commitment

Do you have a commitment which just drains your energy? For example, maybe you commit to do a kind of social work but after doing it for a while, you realize that it doesn’t fit your strengths well. Or perhaps the cause doesn’t matter to you. If these happen, try as well as you can to cancel the commitment. You can then use the time and energy for another commitment or simply reduce the number of commitments you have.

5. Project

There are times when we work on a project but later realize that it won’t succeed. The wise thing to do is to just stop where you are. This way you can save a lot of time, energy, and money which can then be used for a more promising project.

6. Traveling

Maybe you are on the way to go to a place, but something happens that makes it no longer worth it. For example, you are going to your favorite restaurant, but you hear that there is a bad traffic jam ahead. If you don’t think the restaurant is worth a one-hour traffic jam, then turn around as soon as possible and go back home.

7. Career

Maybe you are now in a career which, after some time, you find is not fulfilling. Perhaps you do not work in your passions, or the workplace doesn’t allow you to grow to your maximum potential. If such things happen, take the decision to switch to another place or even another career. I know it’s easier said than done, especially if you have been there for years, but work takes so much time of ours that I don’t think we should tolerate something unfulfilling. It’s better to act now than to wait until everything is too late.


The art of nonfinishing can be applied to many other things beyond these seven ideas. I want to be wise by knowing what to overlook, and I hope you do too.

Photo by laffy4k


  1. […] The Art of Nonfinishing: 7 Time-Saving Ideas [] Hier erscheint jeden Morgen von Montag bis Freitag ein ausgewählter Link […]

  2. Good points, Donald. I’ve long been a believer in your #1. I’m sure that I’ll never get time to read all of the useful things that come along in my life. So I don’t want to miss one more of those by spending time on a book or article that doesn’t benefit me in some way.

  3. I’m sure that I’ll never get time to read all of the useful things that come along in my life.

    I have the same experience, Mike. There are so many good books (and articles) to read, but there’s so little time. So there’s no choice but to be selective and leave some of them unfinished.

  4. […] der anderen Art, nämlich wie man Zeit sparen kann, indem man Dinge bewusst nicht zu Ende führt: The Art of Nonfinishing: 7 Time-Saving Ideas. Ein Artikel, der sich von den üblichen Blogbeiträgen durch einen anderen Ansatz […]

  5. I have another one for you: Social events – if you do not enjoy yourself because of something inherent in the environment, the people or the event, go home! This is fairly tricky to pull off sometimes, because normal people do not behave like that.

    With friends, I try to be explicit about what I do not enjoy doing and then combine that with rather weak pretexts to leave if those things appear anyway. I would like to do this more congruently and be able to talk to people more directly, but I am yet way to shy to explain such things to certain people.

  6. Snigel,
    I didn’t think about social events, but that’s an interesting idea. Thanks for sharing it.

  7. […] Read Donald Latumahina’s great article on The Art of Nonfinishing; it’s an important concept for busy writers (and other busy people, too…). And this […]

  8. I have another to add: food! I know we were all taught to clean our plates, but we need to get over it. If the food is bad, or bad for us, why do we force down gobs of it? And when we’re full, why not (shocking, I know) stop eating? I don’t have time to burn an extra 1000 calories every day, so I prefer the ones I do consume come from good-tasting, good-for-me food.

  9. Annie,
    That’s an interesting idea that most people don’t think about. I’m still accustomed to clear my plates, but this is an idea to consider.

  10. Excellent points. I would like to add delegation of a part of your hectic schedule by way of outsourcing also as one of the options.

  11. Nice, I’m looking to have a view about your ideas on my blog too.

  12. Between, remove the Google ads from just below the post tile.

    One of my colleague got his Adsense Account disabled after having this ad placement.

  13. Jitendra,
    Thanks for informing me about the ad placement. I’ve now added an “Advertisements” label above the ads like what Smashing Magazine does.

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