loose ends & the peace of completion

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Ladies and gents, I present to you:

The rumpled, half-crossed to-do list.

Soft as tissue. Delicate. Has spent time in a folder, a purse, a pocket. Fuzzy edges. Good intentions. Lost. Found. Forgotten. Silent, subtle anxiety.

Almost romantic, huh?

Maybe you have the digital version. Some fancy-pants color-coded ding-beep gadgetry purchased with great excitement whose use has…waned.

What happens to all those ignored to-dos?

Some vanish; they become irrelevant, or absorbed by someone or something else.

But the others — the lurkers — they wait for you. Some beg, some nag, some erode. They all leach. Your un-dones will zap your energy, momentum, and focus. The only thing to do is zap them back. Here’s how:

1. Make an “incomplete list.”

As simple as it sounds, everything that feels incomplete to you goes on the list. Sometimes things that you normally wouldn’t think of as to-dos pop up. Good. Put them on the list. It might look like this:

  • return emails
  • oil change
  • the living room – needs a coffee table?
  • apologize for missing Sara’s bday
  • throw out gross leftovers
  • mail printer warranty
  • plant new herbs
  • get shoes that match brown skirt

2. Issue pardons.

Look over your list. Is there anything that really doesn’t need to be done? You told yourself you would plant new herbs, but now it doesn’t feel important? Cross it off; if you can release it from the list with a clear conscience, do.

3. Do the 5 jive.

Circle all the tasks that you can do in 5 minutes or less, and set aside some time to burn through those tasks. Done and done!

4. Abide the 48 hour rule.

For each remaining task, make a note of what you could do in the next 48 hours to get the ball rolling. Could be get stamps so you can mail your warranty, put the shirt in your car so you can take it shopping with you, or schedule an oil change. If you take a little action now, you’re more likely to follow up soon.

5. Commit to completion.

Vow to eliminate this list. Give yourself a reasonable time frame based on the length of your list and the time you can allot to it. Do your best to release or complete every. single. thing. by your goal date.

6. Enjoy a clear head and a clean conscience!

Are you ready to experience life without backlog? Ahhhh. Breathe easy.

What’s on your incomplete list?

Let us know we’re not alone in the comments!

Gathering light,

12 thoughts on “loose ends & the peace of completion

  1. Great tips! I am very much a list-lover – Just made one last night of things I need to get done today and tomorrow:

    – Change car insurance billing address
    – Take out cash for body shop repairs
    – Call insurance company regarding rental car reimbursement (Can you tell I’ve been in an accident recently? 😛 It wasn’t my fault and I wasn’t even in the car when it happened … but of course it’s still an incredible pain in the ass to ask for the reimbursement I deserve on everything I had to pay for as a result …)
    – Mail bills
    – Pick up lab reports
    – Find out office hours (I’m a graduate student and TA too!)

    I also have a few other school-related stuff I want to get done before the end of the week, but I have a big to-do list today so I’m not worrying about it so much right now.

    Hope everyone has a great week crossing off their incomplete lists!! :)

  2. It took me a long time to embrace the list. I saw the list as a glaring evidence of my inadequacy on a good day. Then my husband who is far more pragmatic and linear thinking than I showed me how to use a list effectively.

    I had made lists only of BIG goals, and often unrealistic ones. Things like return emails and toss moldy food did not go on my lists because I knew I had to do them. I did not make the connection that the food only got moldy because I chose to ignore it.

    Putting the obvious tasks on my list allows me a sense of completion and success. My second lesson was in breaking down large goals. Rather than relaunch website on Labor Day as my goal, that job gets it’s own list of doable tasks. The main thing about a list is that it evolves. The herbs that seemed so important in May are not so critical in September. That is not a fail.

    I write this for myself. Thanks for reminding me!

    Now onto the list…

  3. Such a great post! Thanks for the ideas.

    I live by the list so much so that sometimes I refuse to live by the list. I’ve been collecting them for ages and am now starting to turn them into little books…because I’m a bookbinder preoccupied with lists!

    If anyone out there has a list they want to contribute I’d love to include your worn, crossed out, forgotten list of any kind.

  4. I dig these approaches! Re-thinking the to-do list majorly helps me to feel less like it’s taking over my life.

    My own approach has been to counteract the to-do list with the TA DA! list – a list of the things I *did* accomplish during the day. It’s amazing what you’ll discover there. We often think we didn’t do anything all day, but we’ve actually done a lot!

  5. this is an amazing idea. i make so many lists everyday – what to do after work, what to do before work, what to buy at the store, what to download from itunes, what to tivo. it gets maddening and i never actually feel accomplished. this looks like a great way to get past this hump. i also really like the step where you said to re-evaluate the list. i usually feel really guilty about the things i no longer want to do but are still ON THE LIST. i just need to let them go… :) thanks for your help!

  6. Ahhh, the backlog. Someone once told me that every little thing that needs to be done is sitting there in my brain taking up a tiny bit of space. Enough of those and it becomes full, blocking any new ideas and sucking up all of my mental energy. I’ve since started to create a success list from the day before and a to-do list for the day ahead, always including one project from the “I’ll get to it later” list. Clean out the junk drawer, wash the car, go through my stack of magazines, whatever. Clearing out the nooks and crannies in my house also seems to clear out the ones in my head.

    Thank you for this post!

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