Starting and finishing...with the seasons

I decided to finish work early today, so I could get out into the garden to weed and trim and clear out while the sun was shining and my energy tank was full.

The cherry trees have finished blooming in our yard. Same with the tulips and the daffodils.

(The lilac bushes are about to start. Same with the wild lilies and the irises.)

We think of spring as beginning—new life, new growth, new newness.

But it’s also a time of finishing. There’s constant finishing, all around me, as one or another tree or shrub does its thing, has its 15 minutes of fame, and then goes quiet again… That is, until next year.

What are you finishing this season? What are you starting?

What self-beliefs are you choosing? Wanna choose some different ones?

You’re not categorically “bad at finishing”—it isn’t a fixed personality trait of yours. You just haven’t gotten really good at it yet; you haven’t allowed yourself enough opportunities to practice and cultivate a finishing mindset and skill set; you’ve carried an old story forward into the present, so that the only thing that’s preventing you from being a finisher now...is a belief you have about yourself.

That’s it! Just a belief. Not a fact or a condition, but something you’re playing over and over again in your mind.

You could just as easily choose to believe the opposite.

If what you believe doesn’t make something true or false (that’s what your actions are for), why not believe something about yourself that feels better? Something that encourages you, something that’s uplifting, something that creates an energy of possibility and capability.

And then what if your actions followed suit? On their own? What if you became someone who finishes what she starts simply because you convinced yourself, via your chosen belief, of the possibility?

If that doesn't quite land with you, here's a cheeky alternative: Why not decide that what you believe, either way, doesn't actually matter as far as your behaviors are concerned? What if you don't need to first believe that you're a strong finisher in order to become one? What if what you believe as far as your finishing capability is irrelevant?

Snack on that food for thought on this fine Friday—and, if you’re up to it, share one of your new chosen beliefs in the comments...or declare your decision to separate your beliefs from your actions. Whichever feels best for you.

Cutting loose vs. letting loose on a Friday

“Sometimes the biggest gain in productive energy will come from cleaning the cobwebs, dealing with old business, and clearing the desks—cutting loose debris that's impeding forward motion.”

David Allen wrote this in his book, Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Getting Things Done.

I haven’t yet read that book, but the concept is something I help folks put into practice on the second Friday of the month when I host Get It Done Day. The event is free and open to whomever wants to show up, and it’s largely about what Allen says: sweeping away the dust, finishing up projects, and making space for clarity and peace. It’s pretty nice that it’s held on a Friday; the participants get to glide into a weekend with a huge feeling of accomplishment, productivity, and energy.

It’s a better alternative to the burned-out, brain-fried experience that so many escape from on a Friday at 5 p.m.—and then escape TO some sort of over-medicating situation (booze, greasy food, late night, un-boundaried decisions) in an effort to recover...to compensate for what felt bad about the week...for the procrastination and the flagging energy and the unavoidable avoidances. In an effort to find balance.

Get It Done Day is about cutting loose. (Cutting loose isn't the same thing as letting loose.) Get It Done Day doesn’t remind me of my wild Friday nights, tearing it up at the Lithuanian Dance Hall in my Baltimore days or at the back room of Rapture in my Charlottesville days.

But it does feel fun. It feels like camaraderie and good collective energy to tackle the stuff no one wants to tackle...but that we all know we must tackle eventually.

I’ll wake up tomorrow feeling pretty damn balanced, not because I'm letting loose tonight, but because I cut loose on a Friday afternoon, when it would’ve been easier to write off the week and hope for the best when Monday rolls around again.

If you’d like to invite some sensible balance into your weekend, come join us for one of the next Get It Done Days, always on the second Friday of the month. (Use that hyperlink to register; it's FREE, but I require a headcount.)

Now, go eat a banana and get some rest. Don't do anything that’ll make you feel like garbage tomorrow.

Why you procrastinate

Have you ever considered the purpose of procrastination?

TO AVOID DISCOMFORT.


The discomfort of starting something new or finishing something difficult, the discomfort of being a perfectionist who might not be able to do the thing perfectly, the discomfort of working on an undertaking that elicits some level of stress.

But there's often a bit of a fight against procrastination. We do it and we self-flagellate at the same time. We know it's not serving us to procrastinate...and yet, we can't seem to stop ourselves from avoiding the discomfort that we know the work will entail.

What I propose to you is to bring some awareness into the picture.

Instead of procrastinating blindly, thoughtlessly... And instead of railing against your procrastination—fighting it, obsessing over it, trying to force your way through it...

Shine a light on your procrastination. Focus your awareness on the why of it. Examine it—as well as your perceptions, sensations, thoughts, and emotions about it—without judgment.

When you notice yourself picking up a novel to read instead of researching that grant that could finance your painting career for a full year, do just that: Notice it.

When you keep telling yourself you'll begin writing your website copy just as soon as you've cleared out your email inbox (but you haven't yet put down that novel in order to tend to the email, let alone the web copy): Pay attention to yourself.

This awareness will become habitual, inserting itself earlier and earlier into the chronology of events, so that you'll start to observe yourself as you're following the distractions and avoidances, not just after the fact. Then, you can introduce some gentle inquiry to your procrastination-in-progress:

“Why am I avoiding this thing?”

“Where is there discomfort for me in this undertaking?”

“Am I sure there's discomfort, or might it be just that I'm fearing possible discomfort?”

And that's it. No cajoling or strong-arming necessary. This focused awareness is enough.

I’d love to know if this lands for you; leave a comment below and tell me!

When quitters win and winners quit

In our conscientious effort to finish what we start (“Quitters never win and winners never quit”—anyone else remember seeing that on a motivational poster in your middle school classroom?), we forget that there actually exists many perfectly legitimate—nay, important—instances when cutting and running is best.

Three examples that are most common among the clients I serve:

BAD BOOKS

Obviously ‘bad’ is subjective, but if you’re not enjoying it, it’s time to put it down. Plain and simple as that. You don’t need to power through; in fact, powering through means losing the opportunity to read a possibly excellent book from the number of books you’ll read before you die. (I’ve got a great article on this; leave a comment below if you’d like the link.

PROJECTS THAT HAVE BEGUN TO FEEL LIKE CHORES

If you initiated it to have fun or to express your creativity or just because it looked kind of interesting, but over time it’s become something that resembles homework: Let it go. This isn’t the violin you begged for, were gifted by loving parents, and are now obligated to play for the rest of your life. You are an adult now—one who understands the importance of commitment, but is no longer required to pursue hobbies that have lost their sparkle.

RELATIONSHIPS THAT HURT

Ahh, this is a hard one because aren’t we supposed to work (and love each other) through the rough patches? Yes...and no. Some rough patches are untenable. Some rough patches turn out not to be patches so much as a giant swath of land that disappears into the horizon. A friend who is a narcissist. A sibling who will not relent or respect. A partner who is as destructive as he is codependent. An angry, abusive parent. If the relationship hurts you a good portion of the time, you’re not a quitter for leaving it; you’re a saver—of yourself.

What’s something that’s no longer serving you...but that you’re struggling to walk away from, because you see yourself as a committed finisher?

Small Steps, Tip #4

Today was a glorious day of STARTING.

We just wrapped up April’s (free!) Get It Done Day, where four intrepid souls joined me in beginning Those Tasks We’ve Collectively Avoided For Too Long.

Some of these tasks were organizational, some administrative, others generative or creative. Regardless of the nature of the tasks, we all had our reasons for procrastinating on them until today.

And you know what the best part was? It didn’t even matter why we’d put off starting our various projects; each of us decided that today was the day we’d make inroads on them, no matter what happened last week or last month, no matter how we might’ve failed to start sooner.

Today—we determined both separately and together—would be our starting line.

(And this was the kind of race where no one’s actually racing anyone else and everyone gets a trophy. ‘Cause that’s how I roll.)

Though we worked independently throughout the morning and afternoon (FYI: just an hour at a time—any more than that, and we’re asking too much of our bodies and brains), we checked in with each other on several different occasions via video conference call.

We laughed. We cried. (Just kidding, no one cried.) We mostly got it done. At the very least, we started something we’d previously put off starting.

Do you feel how huge that is? If you’ve ever avoided beginning a project, you’re likely nodding your head in agreement right now.

Sometimes we’re afraid to start a project because we don’t believe we have what it takes. Sometimes we (think we) don’t know the first step. Sometimes we convince ourselves we need to be able to finish the project before we can start it; we need to set aside a whole day or a whole month before we can even look at the thing; we get really All Or Nothing about it.

We don’t do ourselves any favors when we let our clever excuses run the show. They might be clever, but that’s about all they’ve got going for themselves.

If you’d like some support in locating your starting line, come to the next Get It Done Day. It’s free, but you do have to register. I can’t wait to see you there.

A procrastination solution that requires just one day of your time

Without exception, I use my time far more efficiently when I know someone else is paying attention.

If I go to the bookstore on my own, to hunt for a particular book, you can bet I'll wander to my heart's content, remembering this book and that book and detouring myself the entire time. An hour or more can be lost like this.

Sure, I've got a goal (to locate that one book), but it's pretty meandering as far as a plan is concerned, and it's definitely aimless in the sense that it doesn't live on a timetable—so, I've more or less made it forgettable from the outset.

If, on the other hand, my husband's waiting out in the car and we agree I have 15 minutes to find my book, I'm focused first on accomplishing the mission at hand, and only then would I permit myself to wander around with any remaining time.

As with the first example, there's still the same goal (to locate that one book); however, this time it's set within a specific context—a husband waiting patiently and an increment of time that's trained squarely on the objective, not on the experience.

An important aside: I absolutely believe in focusing on the experience much of the time. In fact, I'd go so far as to say I'm someone for whom the experience is often prioritized over the objective.

But, when it comes to doing what I know I need to do with this one life of mine (and when it comes to doing what I want to do and staying married to the person I want to be married to, lol), I try to remember that focusing my energy on the objective is sometimes undeniably important.

And in many cases, dealing with the objective first (and positioning it within a meaningful context—on a timetable, as part of an agreement, etc.) actually affords me the opportunity to be present for the experience.

ENTER GET IT DONE DAY.

 

Get It Done Day is a FREE virtual event for anyone who struggles with procrastination and has been avoiding a specific something (or somethings) for a good, long while. The objective is to give you a designated time to finally complete That Which Inspires Dread.

It’s free, but you must register. Hop over here to add your name to the list.

A new way to approach your unfinished project

There are some projects you’ve left unfinished because they no longer appeal to you.

Part of you still feels bound to them because you’re not a quitter, and you equate quitting with a personal failure to follow through.

Here’s something I want to give to you today: PERMISSION.

Go ahead and quit the thing or things you’re no longer interested in; I promise you it doesn’t have to mean anything about your character if you don’t want it to. This is something you get to decide.

But what about those other unfinished projects that still appeal to you, but also scare you on some level?

What happens if, for example, the book you began writing years ago doesn’t wind up being quite as amazing as you’d hoped? You don’t get an agent; the manuscript goes nowhere. Your dreams are dashed. Life as you know it is over because you’re now a failed writer. (Or so you believe.)

What if it winds up being so successful, and you can’t handle the exposure that comes with that? You lose your anonymity; suddenly, you feel pressured to produce more writing—and on a timeline—in a way that spoils the joy you once felt about your craft. You’re now an unhappy—albeit published—writer. The reality of the thing you thought you wanted isn’t so hot after all. Bummer.

Finishing writing the book feels high-stakes either way. And not finishing it feels like a safe way to keep your control over the whole enterprise. In your mind, why give the power away when you can keep it for yourself and not risk anything?

To leave something unfinished then is to stop it from advancing to the next step (especially a next step that might leave you feeling powerless). As long as your project stays in unfinished limbo, nothing bad can happen.

But, tell me: What if finishing your project is less about the project itself and more about who you need to become in the process of completing it? What if that’s what you’re depriving yourself of when you shove it into a desk drawer? What if you’re keeping yourself from experiencing a necessary personal evolution?

Drop a comment below if you want some accountability around seeing your project alllll the way through to completion. I got you.

Chronic starters and reluctant finishers: There's still hope for you!

Okay, so you've figured out that you're a chronic starter/reluctant finisher... But what do you do about it? Three ideas:

1. Take a quick inventory of all the pursuits you've started, but never finished. Do they have anything in common? Do they tend to be, say, craft projects? Product ideas for your business? Do you have a habit of beginning to organize a room, but then abandoning it before you're even halfway through? Look for patterns in your unfinished stuff & use your new awareness of those patterns as a guide going forward. (You might decide you're no longer permitting yourself to buy more fabric—at least not until you use what you have to finish what you've started.) Even if the finishing part is difficult for you, you can decide to temporarily quit starting.

2. Marie Kondo's gotten us all to think about what personal belongings spark joy, but what about the unfinished items on our to-do lists? Determine which ones stir up a feeling of dread, & which ones still bring you a little thrill—then, LET YOURSELF OFF THE HOOK when it comes to finishing what's no longer serving (or sparking joy for) you. Just because we start something doesn't mean we have to finish it. There are all kinds of reasons why we abandon this stuff; sometimes we're distracted or not fully committed, but other times, we're just not digging it all that much. That's okay. Not everything deserves a piece of our limited time on this earth. Decide once and for all to ditch what isn't doing it for you anymore. (But really DITCH it; donate the materials to your local community center, sell the fabric on eBay, ask your friends if they want all your beading supplies. Set the physical stuff—and yourself—free.

3. Nothing means anything until we assign it meaning. So, stop attaching meaning to the fact that you happen to leave a lot unfinished. It's a tendency of yours, is all—and a value judgment from your inner critic probably isn't the thing that's going to inspire transformation. Get neutral about it, and then we can work on shifting it to a behavior that better serves you.

Am I reading your mind? Awesome. I'm betting I can help you. Leave a comment below (or email me) and we’ll get something on the calendar.

You might be a chronic starter/reluctant finisher if...

  • you seem to always move the same few items from one week’s to-do list to the next week’s.
  • your life feels like a compilation of unfinished projects—a laundry basket of curtains needing hemming and shirts needing replacement buttons sewed on, a dusty stack of photos that are only half-digitized, a box of thank-you notes to be written, a closet to be culled and clothing to be donated.
  • even on a good day, you never actually feel ‘caught up’ because you know you haven't completed a whole slew of things you started long ago.
  • you have ideas—and you enter into them with gusto; taking those initial actions isn’t usually your problem when you’re excited about something. But somewhere along the way, your relationship with the project fizzles or is hijacked by something or someone else; you get distracted or hit a roadblock and the project falls by the wayside. Only, it isn’t a clean break; you’re thinking about it and your energy is tied to it, still... So you wind up with this albatross of unfinished business around your neck.
  • you say you’re ‘procrastinating,’ but you haven’t even set up a date by which you’ll finish the thing, so you’re not procrastinating so much as you’re just not doing it.
  • the half-done things you need to complete might be:
    • creative projects (your novel, that quilt you started, that tunic that’s still just a stack of pattern pieces, a partially knit sweater);
    • organization projects (photos and old home videos of your grandparents that need digitizing, a recipe box that needs sorting and filing);
    • home improvement/renovation projects (hemming those too-long curtains and getting them hung again, painting the half-bath, hanging the gallery wall in the living room);
    • ongoing ‘life’ projects (scheduling everyone’s annual doctor/dentist appointments, writing the overdue thank-you notes);
    • self-study projects (Rosetta Stone Spanish lessons, anyone?), etc.

Does some of this sound familiar? Take heart: I promise you finishing is a muscle that EVERYONE is capable of strengthening. And I can help. Leave a comment below, or shoot me an email, and let's chat.