Ever since starting (or rather resurrecting) Finish It Friday, I’ve been thinking about the power of completion. It feels so good to finish things and yet, it's often difficult to do so. Why is that? Here are my thoughts and theories on this pressing subject, and I’d love to hear yours. What gets in your way of getting things done?
Why completion feels so good.
Getting things done, in my opinion, always feels good. There's an endorphin rush that kicks in whenever I check something off my to-do list. If you’ve ever added something to your to-do list (after completing it!) just so you could check it off, then you know what I’m talking about. There’s power in that little check mark, isn’t there?
With lingering projects it goes deeper. Incomplete tasks are mind clutter and these lingering to-dos nag at you. They vie for your attention, and every time you see remnants of them (undone tasks on your to-do list or a pile of papers to go through) there’s that sense of “I should be taking care of this…” So it feels even better to get a lingering task done…yet the longer it lingers the harder it is to do.
The most obvious answer is lack of time. You’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy. And yet, busy is just a choice as to how we spend our time. Busy means we’re filling our time with lots of to-dos…instead of just a few and giving ourselves some breathing room. Quite simply, instead of spending our time on half-started, not yet complete projects (or phone calls to schedule appointments) you and I are choosing to do something different with our time.
Now, I realize you don’t have full say over how 100% of your time is spent. (Wouldn’t that be nice?) But certainly how you spend some of your time is your choice. (You’re choosing to read this blog post right now, for example.)
So…why then, if we have say over how we spend some of our time, do we to put off some tasks and projects and instead spend our time starting new ones or doing something else altogether? I think it is this: every task lingering on your to-do list (or on your psyche, for that matter) has some unpleasant aspect to it. Something about that lingering project or task doesn’t feel good.
Perhaps you want the project to turn out really, really good (OK—perfectly) and midstream evidence is suggesting that this isn’t going to happen. By not finishing the project, you can hold onto the illusion that perfectionism is possible, or avoid the discomfort of accepting that perfectionism isn’t possible. Either way, in the moment, not doing the project appears to feel better than doing it.
Keep this in mind: a finished project is never perfect. It may be really, really good…but perfect is an impossibility. What’s more important is this: a finished project feels better than one that’s stuck midstream. So, you are far better off finishing the project imperfectly than staying stuck wishing it could be perfect or fretting over the fact that it isn’t turning out perfectly. Or, as I teach in my organizing workshops, instead of striving for perfection, strive to become a happy and productive “imperfectionist.”
Perfectionism isn’t the only reason projects linger. Sometimes they linger because we aren’t sure what to do next, and figuring it out can put us in a vulnerable position. You have to make a phone call to the insurance company to find out if your mammogram is covered, for example. And if you don’t like to be told no…well, this can be an uncomfortable position.
There are a number of other reasons projects linger, but let’s switch gears and talk about what to do about it.
How to tap into the power of completion…
Make a list of your started but unfinished tasks, or a list of lingering, nagging and annoying to-do’s. Pull out a piece of paper and brainstorm for five minutes. (Your list, by the way, doesn’t have to be perfect. You can add to it as you go.)
- Get concrete about why the tasks are still lingering. Keep your eyes open for the “I just haven’t had time” reason. Remember, you’re simply making different choices about how to spend your time. What’s the real reason this task is lingering? When you find the real reason (or reasons) then you can look for ways to move the project forward.
- Scan your list for anything you can renegotiate with yourself. Just because you start something doesn’t mean you have to finish it. If you’re no longer feeling the love for that craft project you started five years ago, decide not to finish it. X the item off your list, and donate any remaining usable supplies. Do this for any project you simply aren’t going to do. Deciding not to do a project feels about as good as finishing one you do want (or need!) to do.
- Pick one task on your list and decide to finish it! Now…you don’t have to finish it today—it’s only Monday after all and we finish things on Friday around here. ;) Instead of focusing on finishing, focus on moving it forward. We’ll call today “move it forward Monday” and your goal is simply to spend five minutes moving one of your icky’s forward. You can do that right? Then, do the same thing every day this week. Move your selected task or project forward for five minutes and then stop if you want to.
- Make plans to join me on Friday for the next round of Finish It Friday. When you do, you can see for yourself the power (and powerful feeling) of completion!
In the meantime, be sure to share your thoughts on why you think it’s so hard to finish things. I’d love to hear your personal experiences (and your theories!)
Oh, and by the way, I did make that appointment and finished up another huge project, too! It is very empowering, and addictive I must add!