Do you have an unfinished goal? A procrastinated project? A lingering to-do? Welcome to my world.
Here’s a picture of one wall of my office. The two bins you see here are full of yarn projects. They haven’t been opened in almost 6 years. They’ve been unmoved for so long, my 5-year-old daughter has decorated them. More yarn projects are lingering on top and a variety of art projects (along with old, un-archived hard drives) on the shelves in the closet. But there’s my little dachshund, Peanut, in her bed so everything is going to be all right.
Your ‘un-done’ items can leave a ‘hole’ in your mind – an area of incompletion. A place where there’s a ‘nagging’ empty space that can keep you up at night.
The mind hates unfinished tasks.
It lingers on them and remembers them, won’t let them go. It’s called the Zeigarnik Effect – when the mind holds onto something longer if it’s unfinished. That’s why we can’t get that song out of our head, or why cliffhangers are so successful. Our mind wants to complete tasks and get them out of the way. Because once you finish them, you let them go. Often, forgetting them completely. When’s the last time you remember the details of folding laundry after you crossed it off your to-do? The mind wants to “dot the I’s and cross the T’s” to unclutter itself.
Holding on to a lot of incomplete tasks can be very stressful. Knowing that you have tasks or goals or projects undone, weighing down on you, can make you feel like a failure. Then there’s the overwhelming feeling of not knowing where to start, even if you could find the time to knock into some of it. This creates the perfect situation for procrastination.
And, like procrastination, the solution can be as simple as ‘just do it’. The first step is to take a hard look at all your lingering tasks and decide to finish them or end them. If you’re going to finish them, do so. If not, let them go. Get yourself a copy of the Mari Kondo book and do some synergistic physical and mental declutter.
Wrapping it Up
Sometimes ‘just do it’ is harder than it looks. We can come up with all sorts of excuses for why we want to continue to procrastinate, instead of ‘tying a bow on it’ and completing a task. There are several reasons why people do this – fear being the prominent one (of success, of failure, of what’s to do next, etc.), but they come back to the same place – they’re still incomplete. Here are a few of the more popular excuses for not completing a task.
- Not Enough Time: This one’s the running favorite of all the excuses. Everyone has at least 15 minutes a day to schedule for a task, it’s just a matter of finding it. Before work, after the kids go to bed, at lunch, whatever works for you and whatever it takes to get that task done and out of your brain.
- Too Tired: Check your sleep schedule – are you getting enough? Or your calendar – are you overbooked? Maybe try cutting something out (that could also give you the 15 minutes you were looking for).
- Unmotivated: Sometimes when we don’t ‘feel like it’ just starting can be a great motivator. Action begets motivation – committing to a short period of time (there’s that ’15 minutes’ again) can be just the amount of action we need to jump-start our motivation. Also, sometimes scheduling something for a particular time of day helps as well. If you have something you don’t really want to do, Mark Twain said to do it first thing to get it out of the way – ‘eat that frog‘ as he called it. Nothing could be worse than eating a frog, so the rest of the day would be like cake in comparison.
- Too Many Distractions: This one is a tough one. We’ve got family, pets, friends, work, relationships, books, movies, music, food, hobbies, internet, the list goes on. There are more distractions in our lives than ever before. The only way to overcome our distractions is to overcome them. We have to dig deep and find the strength inside us to make our tasks a priority. One little trick I use is the Pomodoro technique. Basically, you set a timer (usually for 20 minutes) and while that timer is running, only do your task until the timer is up, NOTHING else. After the timer is up, then you have a five-minute break to take care of anything that came up during your 20-minute session. You do 4 of these little ‘pomodoros’ and you get a 15-minute break. There’s a whole scheduling aspect to it as well, but I just do the timer part.
When it comes to creative projects, unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules. Some creative projects need to be left to breathe a bit, others are just taking up space and need to be let go. That’s really up to the artist to figure out.
Hopefully, this will give you the tools you need to help you find your way to an empty ‘In’ box, and an uncluttered mind.