Dealing With Accumulated Incomplete Projects

Most of us are haunted, not by ghosts but by relics of our past in the form of incomplete projects. Like ghosts, these items take a variety of forms: books that we started but have not finished, crafts or arts projects left half-done, plans and goals we haven't completed. As long as these items linger in our homes or offices, they haunt us, keeping us from feeling at peace or restful because, at some level, we always know that there is something we need to do. This incompleteness bothers us, making us feel bad about ourselves and undermining our self-esteem.

When you are ready to exorcise your ghosts, begin by taking stock. During the time away from working on these old projects, your life, needs, desires, and interests have likely changed, and projects that once seemed important may no longer matter. So a project started three years ago may not be worth finishing now if it is not relevant to your present life. If a project will not really have any significant impact, why bother? Chances are, these projects were set aside in the first place because they weren't all that important. If the only reason to finish them is to check them off your to-do list, save yourself the trouble: clear them out and check them off your list. You have not failed by not completing something whose importance is not great enough to be worth doing at all – enjoy the relief of crossing unimportant projects off your list without bothering with them and expend your energy and time where it does matter.

Determining that a project that was started or planned but not finished is no longer important does not mean that the prior time invested in it was wasted. The effort expended may well have been an essential part of your learning process that got you to the point where it no longer matters. This could mean you have made progress on your life’s journey, by reaching a greater understanding of what is really important.

The second consideration is whether you have the resources to finish the project: are all of the parts and supplies needed available? If they are not, can they be cost-effectively acquired? Does the project’s ultimate value make investing in acquiring any missing elements worthwhile? A prior investment cannot be redeemed by spending more if it has no real value to begin with.

Next, decide the level of priority for each remaining project. Pick those that will make the greatest positive difference in your life to do first. Sometimes the most positive difference will be the relief of removing an oppressive task, such as doing your taxes, from your to-do list. This may be greater than the benefit of any pleasurable activity – pleasures can rarely be appreciated when something stressful is hanging over us.
Since we often feel oppressed by the need to do tasks that we actually fear, breaking projects into tiny pieces will not only make them easier and more likely to get finished, but will make us feel better about doing them as well. Feeling overwhelmed just means that you need to focus on only one task at a time, and only the part of it that is actually possible now. 

The keys to wrapping up your remaining projects are likely to be:

Don’t be haunted by your past – put all those ghosts to rest by taking appropriate action.
If you need help figuring out how to break a project into small pieces, e-mail me. I love solving these kinds of puzzles. It’s more fun than jigsaws or crosswords.

Thanks to the student who suggested this topic on an evaluation form.


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