Chapter 9 – Completion is Overrated

There’s a half-completed sweater in the knitting basket. There’s the first three chapters of a novel in a drawer. There are the specialty tools that you bought to make the ornaments for baby’s first Christmas, even though baby is now entering the fifth grade.

When you see a reminder of something you’ve left undone everywhere you look, you are automatically going to feel exhausted. Half-completed tasks create what productivity guru David Allen calls “open loops” in your mind, and those open loops take up a lot of bandwidth.

There are plenty of good reasons to have stopped moving forward on a project. You might have simply lost interest. That’s fine. There are no starving creative artists in Antarctica being deprived because you didn’t finish what’s on your plate, so to speak.

You might have stopped because you made a mistake or hit a wall, and your misguided perfectionism won’t let you keep going. This could be a good time to make some 5-Minute Art about that perfectionist voice and see if you can’t liberate your project from her thorny clutches. It’s not like there’s really a right way to do creative things .

Fear of commitment can sometimes play a role, too. Allowing yourself to get too deep into a project might mean that it’s actually important to you, and it might have a real impact on your life, your work, and your relationships. So you keep it casual. Being a creative Casanova might feel like it’s protecting your heart, but ultimately you’re setting yourself up for dissatisfaction. What do you suppose might happen if you committed fully to your work?

I’ve also seen people quit mid-project because they find themselves in what the master consensus facilitator Sam Kaner calls the “Groan Zone.” He uses this expression to describe the point in consensus facilitation where diverse opinions have been expressed, and it feels like you’ve reached an impasse and will never find common ground — which is often the moment right before some new and beautiful solution emerges. I find it works equally well to refer to the sloggy middle of any project. Once that new-project smell has worn off and the end seems too far away, it’s easy to let boredom and discouragement take the wheel. Try creating some mini-goals, or even micro-goals, and make sure you’re rewarding yourself for your incremental progress.

Little Changes Action Step: Have a frank conversation with your inner, wise self about one of your half-done projects, and make a swift decision to either let it go or to schedule time in your calendar so you can get back to work on it.

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