Getting Out Of Overwhelm (Part 3 of 3): Finish What You Start

This is my favorite secret to productivity. It’s so simple, yet so often overlooked, probably because it seems almost counterintuitive.

However, I guarantee if you implement it, you will find yourself getting more done in less time, and with a LOT less stress and overwhelm.

Start by simply taking a look at your environment and your life, and observing what isn’t completed.

  • What unfinished projects do you have lying around the house?
  • Are there dirty dishes in the sink?
  • Sky-high piles of laundry?
  • This morning’s wardrobe rejects strewn across the bed?
  • Books or magazines you’ve never read, and perhaps never intend to read?

Take a look at what you’re putting up with on a daily basis.

What kind of clutter are you stumbling over as you pass it in the hall each day?

What needs repairing or sewing?

What needs to be donated to charity?

What do you have on display that you hate – but that you’re afraid to get rid of because someone gave it to you as a gift?

How many excess items do you have crammed into a closet, under the bed, or piled up in the garage?

If you’re like most, you probably have plenty of excess stuff you know you need to get rid of, incomplete projects like sewing, dry cleaning, or business and creative ideas not yet implemented, and several things that need to be put away.

This is part of a very grave yet common condition that I like to call “being human”.

And here’s the thing.

All of these “incompletions” are cluttering up not just your environment, but your headspace as well.

Why is that?

Because every time we set something aside “for later”, we automatically add it to the invisible list in our heads that is designed to make us feel like complete and utter crap about ourselves.

I’m not kidding.

When you put a dirty spoon in the sink instead of rinsing it off and placing it in the dishwasher, that spoon will become a plate, and a glass, and a bowl with another spoon, and a pot, and a cup. . . and pretty soon, you’ll enter your kitchen and think, What is wrong with me that I can never seem to keep this place clean?

When you start a pile for charity in the corner of your bedroom, but don’t finish bagging it up and hauling it off, that pile will become a mound, and the items will start to slide off the top and trip you as you walk past, and when you wake up at three in the morning in a dead panic about the state of your life, that pile will serve to remind you that, See, you don’t have your sh#t together!

When you set aside an invitation to an event you have absolutely no intention of attending, it takes on a life of its own. It sits there under a stack of mail, simmering quietly, all the while letting you know every time you walk by, You are not only a jerk for not attending this event to begin with, but you’re a jerk for not RSVPing in time!

Shall I keep going, or are you getting the picture? :)

To make matters worse, all of these statements are made just loudly enough that your psyche can hear them, but not quite enough that your logical, reasoning mind can be jolted into action.

So you end up walking around with a vague undercurrent of dissatisfaction with yourself, unable to understand why it’s there.

So how you do get control of these incompletions?

The first step is to do a clean sweep of as much as you can.

When I first did this, I literally set aside an entire weekend to get things back under control.

The principle of momentum can really help here: once you get going, it’s much easier to pick up speed.

It’s actually amazing what you can get accomplished in a short period of time when you take Nike’s advice and Just do it.

That said, it isn't necessary to spend an entire weekend, and if you think scheduling a weekend around it will only make you procrastinate on the task (Let’s see, I think I have a free weekend next fall sometime. . .), my strong recommendation is to start where you are.

Here’s the deal. I don’t want you beating yourself up over this (or anything else), so if you can’t or don’t want to set aside time for this. . .

Just start with a pile that is in front of you.

The dishes. The laundry. The charity pile. The stack of old bills. Whatever.

Just start.

(And remember to really BE there for it, instead of letting your mind mutter that you really shouldn't have to do this thing that all the other humans are doing.)

Handling whatever's in front of you will give you an immediate sense of more spaciousness and ease.

Because the simple truth is that getting sh#t done makes you FEEL good.

And, HERE is what will skyrocket the effectiveness of this technique.

Once you’ve confronted an incompletion. . . keep it completed.

So, once you’ve tackled the dishes, then every time you use a dish, wash it. Or rinse it and put it in the dishwasher.

Once you’ve taken care of the laundry, keep it below hamper-level. As soon as you have enough dirty clothes for a reasonable load, throw ‘em in the washing machine. And when they’re done in the dryer, fold them and put them away, right then.

Once the pile of old bills is vetted, filed, and/or recycled as necessary, then every time you have a receipt or stub of some sort that needs to be saved, file it. If you don’t need it, toss it, right then.

The idea feels a little counterintuitive (or at least, it did to me).

After all, if you’re already so busy and so behind on everything you need to do, how will you ever find time to complete chores as they come up?

But once I began to put this simple idea into practice, it was like magic.

I immediately gained a more peaceful feeling, and I noticed that not only did my stress level go down, but it seemed like I actually had more time for things I enjoy doing, such as cooking, reading, and writing –and more time for creative and business projects.

And I started showing up for things on time, instead of rushing out the door 45 minutes late for everything.

I’m not sure I can fully explain the phenomenon, except to say that there is energy in things, and when you have a lot of unfinished business collected in your things, that energy drags you down.

The energy of an orderly environment, however, is serene and full of creative potential.

If you’re skeptical that this simple method works, I invite you to simply try it out yourself and see what happens.

I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

And your angry piles of unfinished projects will no longer verbally abuse you. :)

Until next time. . .

Helen Hunter Mackenzie