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Jon Acuff on How to Finish What You Start (Including That Book You Want to Write)

Brad Johnson talks to bestselling author Jon Acuff about his new book, “Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done” in the Elite Advisor Podcast.


Nine out of 10 Americans say they want to write a book, yet a small percentage of those folks will actually start writing—and even fewer will ever finish their manuscript. In the rapid-paced world of financial services, I’ve found finishing that first book can be an even more monumental task, so I’ve distilled tips from my podcast with New York Times bestselling author Jon Acuff to help you all FINISH!

Jon Acuff is a master finisher and someone I highly respect, in part because he has written (and published) six books. As someone who has yet to complete my first book, I can attest to the fact that this is no small accomplishment.  

Jon’s latest work, titled Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, is filled with valuable lessons on finishing that he gleaned from his entrepreneurial journey, which included three years working for acclaimed financial expert and broadcast personality Dave Ramsey.

Listen to my interview with Jon Acuff

What Jon Learned While Working with Dave Ramsey for 3 Years

It all began for Jon back in 2008, when his new blog went viral.

This garnered him a lot of attention, including a small book deal, then a handful of speaking offers. One day, somebody on Ramsey’s team invited Jon to speak at their weekly meeting, during which an influential author, musician or pastor would typically address employees at the Financial Peace University headquarters. Jon did this three times until Dave himself said, “Hey—essentially, I want to show you how to do what I do.”

It will likely come as little surprise that Jon learned many great principles of success while serving under Ramsey.

In particular, Jon credits the experience he gained as a public speaker as critical to his personal development. Of Ramsey, he asserts: “He really changed my ability to speak.” 

How? Quite simply, Ramsey asked Jon to be the opening speaker at FPU events. Jon received a crash course in public speaking as he saw his audience size expand from 80 to 8,000.

The opportunity to work on Ramsey’s team as an employee also taught Jon something he has never forgotten: “As an entrepreneur, I wanted to do my own thing. And you can’t do your own thing in somebody else’s company, with their resources.”

Jon Acuff’s Secrets to Publishing Six Books

Jon is a veritable repository of information when it comes to writing a book. As an aspiring author working on a book myself, I really enjoyed this part of the interview. Here are just a couple of the secrets Jon shared on the podcast

  1. Jon says he’s noticed that, as he nears the finish line of a book, many new ideas start to flood in and this can cause him to feel like the book isn’t finished. A lot of writers falter here. Don’t try to force 50 new ideas into the book—stay on track, and simply save these ideas for your next book.
  2. Every writer should set a deadline and hold themselves accountable. Jon makes sure he has “skin in the game,” extolling the benefit of financial incentives—particularly for aspiring authors who are self-publishing and don’t have an editor to whom they’re accountable. For example, Jon suggests paying a designer $500 to create a book cover. This increases the likelihood that you will want to finish the book and not waste that money.

Four Goal-Setting Myths Busted in Jon Acuff’s New Book

Jon is the author of books titled Start and Finish, so naturally he has a lot of tips about successful goal setting. Financial advisors should take notes on this portion of the podcast. Here are four of Jon’s goal-setting tips that came up in our conversation:

  1. Make it fun if you want it done. Jon shared an example of a common goal: someone setting a goal to lose weight (one of the most common goals out there) and seeking to do so with daily long-distance running—when they HATE running. How sustainable is that? To increase your chances of success, make sure your goal attainment strategies include a sense of fun.
  1. Don’t set gigantic “over the moon” goals. This may surprise people: Jon hates it when gurus say things like, “Aim for the moon, because even if you fail, you’ll land among the stars.” Instead, he says a better strategy is to cut your goals in half and make them realistic and attainable. That first win will encourage you to continue, whereas failure is discouraging and will likely lead you to give up altogether. Dave Ramsey follows this principle—he is a proponent of the “snowball method,” which suggests people pay off their lowest debt first, instead of tackling the largest first. Psychologically, this has proven to be a more effective method of achieving goals, finance-related or otherwise.
  1. Don’t wait till it’s perfect before rolling it out. I often help my clients create their own proprietary planning process, and in many cases I find they don’t want to roll it out until it is—in their minds—perfect. Have you noticed how Apple (or any software company for that matter) doesn’t wait until their software is perfect before rolling it out? They roll out beta versions, and hone their process over time. That is how we should approach goal-setting. 
  1. Do NOT set goals for every area of your life all at once. When people get serious about reaching a goal in one area, they tend to want to establish goals in other areas as well. Many gurus even teach this: set a goal for each area of your life—financial, spiritual, physical, and so forth. Jon, on the other hand, says trying to do it all is like playing catch with seven balls instead of one. When seven balls get thrown at you, how many do you actually catch? If you set a goal to learn the German language, do you concurrently study Spanish and French? For best results, focus on what you’re capable of, safe in the knowledge that you can always set a new goal later.

Now, Let’s Look at Two of Jon’s Goal-Setting Strategies:

  1. Work toward something that actually matters. Sometimes, we exert our talents in areas that simply don’t matter; they do nothing to help us move in the direction we want to go. One example Jon shared is fantasy football – as a numbers guy, this is something he could easily get distracted by and excel at. The problem is, fantasy football doesn’t help Jon accomplish his goals, so he spends little to zero time on it. He’s not bashing fantasy football, but in this instance it serves as a good example. 
  2. Borrow somebody’s diploma. This involves simply noticing things someone is doing in their work and applying it to your own. The other person might work in a different field, yet there are takeaways you can “borrow” yourself. One example Jon shares was about something he learned about Twitter direct messages from a verified account he started following. “You don’t have to have the experience to learn from the experience.”

A Few More Lessons Jon Learned from Dave Ramsey

Click here to watch Jon Acuff share these lessons from Dave Ramsey

  1. People often ask Jon how he “balances” his life, and he echoes the exact response given by Dave Ramsey when posed the same question: “There’s no such thing as balance.” 
    For example, if you’re training for a marathon, you’re inevitably going to run more than you do other times of the year. This principle helps Jon with product launches: he knows he’s going to be temporarily out of balance, but it’s okay. It’s only for a season.
  2. A secret to Ramsey’s success has been his ability to stay connected to his core message. He’s been telling his personal debt reduction story for 25 years, yet he’s still passionate about the topic and the audience can feel it.
  3. Jon noticed how much effort Ramsey put into knowing the audience he serves. He doesn’t go off-brand much, and he’s really deliberate with his content.

You can listen or watch the entire interview to learn more about Jon’s experiences with Dave Ramsey, his goal-achieving strategies and his new book Finish.


Brad Johnson, vice president of advisor development for Advisors Excel, mentors a small group of the country’s most elite financial advisors. Find more episodes of The Elite Advisor Blueprint podcast at

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